By R. Michael Koch, MD, New York Group for Plastic Surgery
My patient was in a hurry on this winter’s day following a snowstorm—he needed to make the train, his wife had to drive the kids to school, and snow coated the driveway. He took the snow blower from the garage. Halfway into the job, the snow blower got jammed with a chunk of ice. He turned off the machine, and reached his hand in to clear it. Unfortunately, the blades were stuck under tension and began to move when the ice was removed; the tips of two of his fingers were severed.
Whether the winter brings many or a few snowstorms, residents of Westchester County bring their snow blowers out to clear driveways, paths and sidewalks. Snow blowers bring convenience and savings in time and money, but need to be handled with extreme care. As a microsurgeon treating hundreds of trauma patients each year, I see the unfortunate outcome of fingers and hands mangled or cut by home maintenance equipment.
Snow blower injuries include fractured bones, cuts to skin and soft tissue, and serious bruises or sprains. In more than 10 percent of injuries, the snow blower amputates the user’s hand, fingers or both. Most injuries happen when someone tries to clear wet snow or ice clogging the machine's discharge chute. The hand and/or fingers get cut or entangled in the mechanisms that propel snow through and out of the snow blower.
Fortunately I was able to reattach and restore movement to my patient's fingertips with microsurgery, which uses microscopes and precision instruments to enable transfer of tiny blood vessels, nerves and tissue from one part of a patient’s body to repair an injury in another part. But accident prevention is certainly best. Based on accidents I’ve treated, some tips to avoid a snow blower hand injury are:
- Keep hands and fingers out of the snow blower mechanism whether it’s running OR turned off—tension stored in the blades may turn them when the stuck object is removed. Follow the snow blower’s manual for tips on removing stuck objects safely.
- Take advantage of the safety devices built into most new-model snow blowers—do not disable them. Take time to review the key safety features in the owner’s manual.
- PAY ATTENTION! Most snow blower accidents I’ve treated happened when the user’s thoughts were elsewhere or they were distracted from the task at hand.
- Wear thick gloves when using your snow blower. They don’t offer complete protection from injury, but may lessen the impact and are preferable to thin gloves or none at all.
For most of us, using a snow blower is not an activity that we do routinely, like driving a car. So put on your thick gloves, take a few deep breaths, and put all of your focus into running your snow blower. You’ll get the satisfaction of a job well done, and done safely.
Dr. R. Michael Koch, a board certified plastic and reconstructive surgeon, is assistant professor of Surgery at New York Medical College, Chief of the Microsurgery and Replantation service at the Westchester Medical Center, and a practicing surgeon with the New York Group for Plastic Surgery. Dr. Koch specializes in microsurgical reconstruction, breast surgery and cosmetic surgery. http://www.nygplasticsurgery.com