Tahoe Forest Hospital’s Wrist Fracture Hall of Fame
February 27, 2002
Emergency room doctor Michael MacQuarrie has a theory that snowboards were really invented by orthopedists.
“They also created motorcycles, inline skates and skateboards,” MacQuarrie said.
His theory stems from the 500-plus snowboard-related wrist fractures he sees in the emergency room at Tahoe Forest Hospital each winter.
This ski season has shaped up to be no different, which is why MacQuarrie and the rest of the ER staff resurrected the “Wrist Fracture Hall of Fame” poster that first appeared last year, when emergency room nurse Colleen Wilford wanted to make wrist fracture patients feel that they weren’t alone.
“We put up the wall to make something unique out of an unfortunate situation,” MacQuarrie said.
The wall contains signatures, messages and some photos of patients, as well as provides a humorous outlet for wrist fracturees to vent about their injury.
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Last year’s wall bore more than 300 names and this year’s is expected to hold even more. In fact, the ER has already broken last year’s record of 27 wrist injuries in one day, with 29 this year.
“This wall makes wrist fractures a more socially acceptable injury,” said ER nurse Russ Mann. “It’s really important for young people especially, to feel like they aren’t alone or different.”
Some of Mann’s favorite messages include: “Pain is temporary and chicks dig scars, so deal with it”; “360 method to a wrist grind”; and the University of California at Berkeley’s snowboarding club motto — “go big or go home!”
MacQuarrie said the wall is great because it brings the beginner and the professional together.
“We’ve got pros on here that hurt themselves doing a 540, as well as people who hurt themselves on their first run off of the bunny slopes,” he said.
He also pointed out that Tahoe Forest Hospital sees more ski and snowboarding injuries than pretty much any other facility because it services 16 different ski areas.
“Over the years we have had some of the greatest skiers and snowboarders in here, people that went on to the Olympics or appeared in videos,” he said.
Wrist fractures, typically of the ulna and the radius, are the most common injury this time of year at Tahoe Forest Hospital, and while the hall of fame is not solely dedicated to snowboarders, Mann said they make up 90 percent of the names it contains.
“It’s the most common injury for snowboarders,” he said. “Very seldom do we see snowboarders with leg injuries because both of their legs are fastened in, in tandem.
With skiers, leg injuries are common because force is applied to a single leg.”
Snow conditions also play a key role in the number, type and severity of injuries.
“Hard snow causes upper extremity injuries because when people fall it’s instinctive for them to put their hands out,” said Mann, who doesn’t ski or snowboard because “it’s too dangerous.” “In heavy snow and powder, we see a lot more leg and knee injuries. It’s all about physics.”
Most of the wrist fracture honorees are in their teens and early 20s.
According to Mann, responses to the project have been extremely positive.
“People see it as a badge of courage,” he said. “They remind us if we forget to have them sign it before they leave.”
Even though it’s only midway through ski season, blank space on the wall is already a precious commodity and space for newcomers is limited.
“In the beginning, people write really big to fill up space, but as time goes on the writing gets smaller and smaller,” Mann said.
As far as ways to avoid ending up on the wall, besides abstinence from the slopes, Mann said he is a “mild advocate” of wrist guards.
“The problem is that if you fall hard enough, your wrist may be okay, but the force from the fall travels up your arm and you end up injuring or dislocating something else,” Mann said. “I would rather break my wrist.”
MacQuarrie also stressed the importance of wearing a helmet to prevent the second most common and far more dangerous injury to snowboarders, head injuries, which bring over 200 people to the ER each season.
“Helmets are really a necessity,” MacQuarrie said. “A wrist injury is easy to deal with but a head injury usually isn’t.”
While Mann may not be tearing up the slopes on a board himself, he said he still has a lot of respect for those who do.
“I’ve got to hand it to boarders, they’re really tough,” Mann said.
“They’re easy to deal with in the ER. They recognize the risks of the sport and they accept the injuries.”