Rabbit season? Duck season? Trauma season!
Victoria Day is coming up, which, in the intensive care units and operating rooms of hospitals across Ontario, marks the start of the busiest time of the year. Doctors and nurses call it “trauma season.”
The simple reason: increased highway traffic. After spending the winter and early spring months indoors, come Victoria Day everyone gets in their cars and floods the roads to go open up the cottage, run spring errands, or just cruise. Inevitably people run into each other, quite literally: the number of vehicle accidents spikes noticeably every year in May, and stays high until Thanksgiving weekend, when everybody shuts down the cottage and goes home for the winter (with a brief upturn in December).
May is not the worst month of the year for vehicle accidents—July and August are the peak months. But there’s something about that first weekend that makes it feel worse than the rest: people’s highway driving skills are rusty, they’re in a rush because they’re trying to accomplish too much, and they are more prone to making poor decisions behind the wheel. You can feel the tension on the roads. You can also feel it in the emergency ward, where suddenly, after a comparatively sleepy spring, the pressure and intensity of physicians’ and nurses’ workplace gets ratcheted up. If you’re attuned to it, you can also feel the tension from anywhere in the city, because you can hear and see the choppers flying the wounded into the city’s two trauma centres, Sunnybrook and St. Michael’s.
And so, in the service of cautioning people against becoming a statistic, here are a few other factoids from the most recent figures on road safety:
• An average of 7.8 people die on Canadian roads every day.
• Fridays are the worst day for vehicle collisions of all types, while Saturdays are the worst day for fatal vehicle collisions. Tuesdays are the safest day of the week to drive.
• Can I be even more specific? Yes! The peak hours for fatal collisions are Fridays from 3:00 to 6:00 p.m., the Friday-to-Saturday changeover from 9:00 p.m. to 3:00 a.m., and the Saturday-to-Sunday changeover from midnight to 3:00 a.m.
• Two thirds of all fatal collisions occur on rural roads.
• Over 80 per cent of all collisions occur in clear weather. The numbers suggest that wet roads save lives because they spur people into defensive-driving mode.
You might think that the term “trauma season” is callous, but it reflects a truth about hospital work, which is that it experiences cyclical trends just like any other industry from tourism to publishing. It’s just that the truths about health care are always grim. To wit: the only people who benefit from trauma season are those on the waiting list for organ donation, due to the increase in fatalities among people who are otherwise perfectly healthy. So fill out your organ donor card, and drive as though you want to stay intact.