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Icy Conditions Lead To Surge In Personal Injuries

AP/ Toby Talbot
In this Feb. 2, 2011 file photo, Harry Eastman shovels the snow off his garage roof in Barre, Vt. Doctors across the battered Northeast are seeing a spike in strained muscles from shoveling snow, and broken bones from slick stairs and sidewalks.

The past few weeks of ice and snow have caused power outages, school closures, property damage and dangerous driving conditions for Vermonters.

The ice has also led to a higher number of personal injuries.

John Larabee never expected to hurt himself by falling down. On New Year’s Day he, like many others, was salting and chipping the ice in a driveway, when he unexpectedly took a spill.

“Down I went,” Larabee said. “The snowbanks were frozen. I had put all my weight onto my leg, and shattered my leg.”

Larabee lives in South Hero. He’s 43 and spends a lot time outside. He describes himself as fit and agile. But even he ended up with a serious injury as result of the ice storm and the cold temperatures that followed.

And he says he has a long wait time for surgery because there are many others like him:

“I go into the orthopedics and there’s people coming out on crutches and people going in behind me on crutches,” said Larabee. “It’s all the same thing. We’re all laid up because of the ice.”

And there has been a spike in ice-related injuries. Stephen Leffler is the Chief Medical Officer at Fletcher Allen Hospital in Burlington. He says the day after that first storm three weeks ago was particularly bad.

"There was one day right after that first storm where we had nine wrist fractures come to the E.D. within a couple hours." -Stephen Leffler, Chief Medical Officer at Fletcher Allen

“There was one day right after that first storm where we had nine wrist fractures come to the E.D. within a couple hours,” said Leffler.

And Leffler says that’s a significant number. He says it’s not uncommon to see a few fractures on an icy day. But he calls this year a perfect storm of icy conditions.

“We have seen an outrageous number of people with fractures. I would say way more than usual,” said Leffler. “Because basically there’s been three weeks of persistent ice.”

And Leffler says it’s not just fractures. Some of the injuries have been more serious:

“We have seen some concussions and some more serious head injuries,” said Leffler.

Day after day of cold temperatures have prolonged the effects of the initial storm. And with temperatures dipping again, Vermonters can expect even more ice.

Even if the ice does thaw soon, that’s no comfort to John Larabee. As a house painter, he can’t work as long as he’s injured.

“I make my money on my feet. There’s not a lot I can do to replace that,” said Larabee. “We’re kind of in trouble here.”Larabee says it looks like he’ll be unable to work for at least a couple of months.

He says he worries what toll the ice will take on the elderly and people in more fragile condition.

Annie Russell was VPR's Deputy News Director. She came to VPR from NPR's Weekends on All Things Considered and WNYC's On The Media. She is a graduate of Columbia Journalism School.
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