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7 things your mother never told you to keep you out of trouble (and the ER)

January 21, 2014

Mark L. Friedman, MD, FACEP, FACP

1 How to slice a bagel: Place the knife gently atop the (vertically-oriented) bagel. Place your hand on top of the knife. Cut down onto the cutting board, not your hand. This works equally well when separating frozen hamburger patties. Always direct sharp tools away from any part of your body.

2 Never put your hand inside a glass. Use a scrub brush, swabbee, etc. Glass is very weak from the inside out and easily shatters from internally applied hand pressure.

3 Even one drink can kill you. I saw a man one day who after one beer (I measured his blood alcohol level post-mortem) fell asleep at the wheel and crashed into a utility pole. Alcohol slows your reaction time, impairs your judgment, and predisposes you to accidents. Alcohol consumption is a common theme in every kind of accident imaginable, including falls, cuts, sprains, fractures, etc. If you drink, don't get out of bed (and keep a foam pad on the floor next to it). In other words, don't drink irresponsibly or to excess.

4 Don't try to violate the laws of physics. This is especially true of gravity and momentum. As you no doubt (do not) remember from high school physics, velocity (V) equals ½ acceleration due to gravity (A) times time squared, or V = ½ AT(2). What this means practically is that after falling 16 feet (in the first second) you will be traveling at about 22 mph, and after two seconds about 44 mph. At that speed collision with a fixed object (the ground) is often fatal. A corollary of this rule is that the laws of physics are not suspended just because you are on vacation. If something seems dangerous, it probably is.

5 Power tools are dangerous. If I had a nickel for every carpenter missing his left index finger"¦ Actually, come to think of it, I have much more than a nickel for a few of them. Use a wooden stick as a "pusher" near the blade. Always use eye and ear protection.

6 Volatile means explosive! Have you ever seen an entire house blow up (just like on TV)? If you smell gas, get out of the house! Call the gas company from the street using your cell phone. Even the spark from turning on a light switch can set off this homemade equivalent of Armageddon. Never throw gasoline on a fire, leave the lid down when turning on your gas grill, or let your gas stove run for more than a few seconds before lighting it unless you want to risk the same phenomenon on a somewhat more localized scale (singed eyebrows anyone?).

7 Carbon monoxide is odorless, colorless, and deadly. Anytime you are dealing with combustion (your car, your furnace, a woodstove, a gasoline generator or other internal combustion engine) there is risk. Have detectors in your home. Maintain your car's exhaust system. Know the symptoms (nausea, headache, altered mental activity).

I have seen the results of all these things. Take my advice: You don't want to.

Originally published Jan 21, 2014 10:00:00 AM.