The 2013 ice storm is something 120 ER employees had never experienced before.
“When you live through a day like that, you never forget it,” said Kelly Smith, a nurse for and the assistant manager of Utah Valley Regional Medical Center’s emergency department.
Smith said she wasn’t surprised to see that day, Jan. 24, top the list for most patient visits last year. That day brought in an overwhelming 190 patients — 60 more than average. It was such bad weather that even the paramedics were returning injured.
“It was one of those days that you were kind of lucky to work on because the hospital pulled together as a whole,” Smith said. “No one person got us through that. It was all of us working together.”
The emergency department at the UVRMC handled nearly 50,000 visits last year. According to the volume of visits, the department was busiest on spring holiday weekends and on days of harsh winter weather in January.
In addition to the winter weather and recreational accidents, the emergency department still has to take care of the folks coming in for regular day-to-day complaints, chiefly abdominal pain. Besides sheer volume of visits contributing to business, Smith said sometimes the days with lower number of patients can feel busy when patients are really sick or in life-or-death situations.
“Then you have the mix of those two, like the ice day, where you have a high number of patients and you have really sick patients. I feel like those are the busiest and hardest days,” Smith said.
After the ice storm day, the busiest days of 2013 were St. Patrick’s Day, the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, New Year’s Day and then Jan. 19.
The numbers go up when people are out in the nice weather and have time off. Smith said some college students feel like they’re invulnerable in big groups, and they do things they wouldn’t normally because a bunch of people are watching.
“You also have that element of people being reckless and not making wise decisions, so people drinking alcohol while they’re driving their ATV or their boat or not wearing a helmet when they’re riding their motorcycle or skateboarding down the canyon,” Smith said.
She urged people to take the safety precautions they should — wearing seat belts and helmets, not driving cars or recreational vehicles while intoxicated and being aware of others around who could cause harm. Watching out for children, especially in environments where people are distracted, is crucial, Smith said.
“We see such unfortunate things, like little kids walking into fires … or they’re at the swimming pool and somebody’s not watching them,” Smith said as she became emotional. “It’s so sad. It makes me want to cry. It breaks my heart. We see some pretty sad stuff here.
However, she said she feels satisfaction helping people who can’t help themselves, relieving pain or stitching up a child’s laceration. She said people obviously don’t want to be there, so she does her best to make it the best experience possible.
“We see people on their very worst days,” Smith said. “That’s a great thing about working in the ER is you get the opportunity to change someone’s life on the worst day of their life.”