Falls are #1 Reason for Trauma Admissions
People slip in the shower or tub all the time. But when Daniel Peterson lost his balance in the shower, it almost killed him.
Peterson was in the small shower stall of his 1958 ranch home when he slipped and crashed through the glass shower door.
On the other side of the house, his wife Kit heard a thud, then a low moan. She went to see what the noise was and was horrified to find her husband of 33 years crawling out of the shower, a large piece of glass protruding from his stomach.
"Call 911," he told her calmly. She did.
Peterson was fully conscious and said the pain wasn't too bad. A retired nurse from the Veterans Administration, he knew to apply pressure to his gaping wounds, or what doctors would call "complete evisceration." His skin was shredded front and back but he stayed calm. "I just waited," he said.
Today, Kit Peterson says the glass from the shower door in effect "disemboweled" him. "His hands were holding himself in," she said.
She rushed outside and stood in the cold, afraid the rescue squad team wouldn't find them because it was dark. She tried to turn on the porch light. She remembered panicking because it didn't work. She fussed with it, feeling powerless. She was relieved when the paramedics pulled up and rushed into the home.
One of them told her: "Creighton University Medical Center is trauma tonight." It was then that a shell-shocked Kit started to grasp how bad her husband's injuries were. He was fighting for his life.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), falls are the leading cause of injury death among adults 65 or older. They are also the number one reason for traumatic brain injuries. In 2010, 2.3 million nonfatal fall injuries among older adults were treated in emergency departments, with a third being hospitalized. Falls are the number one reason for trauma admissions at Alegent Creighton Health Creighton University Medical Center.
At CUMC that night, the full trauma team was activated for Peterson. He had an initial assessment in the trauma bay and was in the operating room within minutes. The exam by the trauma team found a foot-long laceration that exposed his bowels. He had significant damage in his small and large bowels, as well as his mesentery, which connects his small intestine to the back wall of the abdomen and was causing a lot of bleeding. He also had several large lacerations on his back—with large shards of embedded glass. In the OR, Tommy Lee, M.D. and Joseph Wolpert, M.D. started damage control and examined the bowels for injuries and tears. Each tear was repaired with sutures. The surgery took almost five hours.
The next three weeks would be long ones for Peterson and his wife. "Day to day, I didn't know if he'd be okay," she said. Peterson remembered being disoriented: "I didn't know who I was for a while."
Even though his organs were exposed and his skin had been slashed in several places, Peterson knew he could have had it worse. His heart, lungs and kidneys were spared. The glass barely nicked his liver.
Both Peterson and his wife said his excellent overall health also helped. "He was always healthy. He never smoked or drank," she said. But as a retired nurse, Peterson understood the seriousness of his injuries.
"That Dan is here today is a miracle," Mrs. Peterson said. Medical shows on television had always been a favorite of hers but she never thought she'd see such life-or-death drama close up. "The care that he got from the trauma team was amazing. So was the treatment in the intensive care unit."
To save others from debilitating falls like her husband's, she made it her mission to get the word out about older glass shower doors. "I keep telling people in older houses, those built in the 50s and 60s, to take out the shower door immediately!" Their door has been replaced by a shower curtain.
Today, Peterson suffers some pain, but he's regaining his strength and walking. Doctors have been able to reverse his colostomy. He continues physical therapy. He's gone from two wound VACs (vacuum-assisted closure) to one. The wound VACs help draw his wound edges together, remove infectious materials and promote healing.
Both Peterson and his wife feel their faith is much stronger. "You don't know what will happen the next second," she said. "I also feel like I'm a stronger person. I'm closer to my Lord."
She also enjoys watching him improve. "The car was always immaculate and the yard was always immaculate," she said. "When he starts golfing and mowing the yard again, I'll know he's okay."