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As the Christmas lights go up, so do visits to ER

Competing for the best Christmas light display on the block? Just don't make it a one-person show.

Ladder falls and other holiday-related accidents are on the uptick at Tampa Bay's busiest emergency room, according to St. Joseph's Hospital spokesman Will Darnall.

About eight patients a day have been coming to the emergency room this week, each a casualty of light displays gone wrong.

"It is a fun time of year for everyone, and festivities and decorating are a big part of that," Darnall said. "But we need to be careful."

Dr. David Tulsiak sees some of the worst holiday-related accidents through St. Joseph's ER, which will have treated about 130,000 patients this year alone.

Tulsiak says the victims are usually male, older than 40 and sometimes elderly. For them, the consequences of even a low fall can be devastating, resulting in serious, sometimes life-threatening, injury.

Tulsiak knows.

Last year, his cousin suffered a cervical spine fracture after falling from a ladder while decorating alone. The injury left him without movement in his arms or legs. He uses a wheelchair.

"That family is just devastated," he said. "This is from an injury that could have been prevented."

To avoid such accidents, Darnall recommends not decorating alone. Always have someone hold the ladder, or tie it to a rooted tree. Never get on the roof.

And don't rush.

"When they become careless is when they're in a rush," said Linda Pallo, a nurse at Morton Plant North Bay Hospital in New Port Richey.

Working in the hospital's emergency room, Pallo has seen injuries because of such things as fallen ladders and dropped turkeys this season.

Elderly homeowners, especially, should get help from others before tackling light displays themselves, she said.

"The key message," Darnall said, "is to keep people safe out there and not have to spend the holidays in the hospital or rehabilitation."