ERs were quiet, except when they weren't

Blizzard kept the numbers down in area emergency rooms

  • Article by: JEREMY OLSON
  • Star Tribune
  • December 13, 2010 - 11:09 PM

Twin Cities hospitals reported dozens of storm-related cases over the weekend, but perhaps none so harrowing as the Young America woman who spent 45 minutes of Saturday's blizzard pinned under her husband's truck on a remote gravel road.

Joyce Schneewind had driven out with her husband to help her daughter, Sheena Sievers, whose car was stuck in a snow drift a half mile from home. The pair arrived to find another motorist already helping to free her daughter's car. The husband eventually backed up his truck so the other driver could leave.

The blowing snow prevented him from seeing his wife behind his truck.

"The wind was blowing so hard," said Sievers, 22. "It was a complete whiteout."

Schneewind was recovering Monday at Hennepin County Medical Center.

Overall, emergency rooms reported relatively little activity Saturday, but plenty of cases related to car wrecks, falls, injuries from shoveling and hypothermia from prolonged exposure to the cold.

ER doctors believe the intimidating weather kept many people inside and kept drivers at slower speeds, reducing the chance for severe accidents. Fairview Ridges Hospital in Burnsville reported 90 patients on Saturday -- down from a typical Saturday average of 160. Officials at North Memorial Medical Center and HealthEast hospitals reported fewer ER visits in this storm than in last month's ice storm.

HCMC treated 15 patients for fall-related injuries such as ankle fractures, and four patients for hypothermia on Saturday. More patients will likely emerge this week as the strains of shoveling and the damage from frostbite become apparent, said Dr. Joseph Clinton, chief of emergency medicine.

"People still are hunkering down," he said Monday afternoon. "We tend to see frostbite, not immediately when it gets cold, but 10 to 24 hours later when people realize they have a problem."

Patients coming to the ER seemed in worse condition on Sunday, said Dr. Aaron Burnett, assistant medical director for EMS at Regions Hospital in St. Paul. The heart attacks seemed farther along and the shortness of breath seemed more severe, perhaps because patients didn't want to seek medical attention on Saturday, he said.

Schneewind was conscious while pinned under the truck. Her relatives didn't believe they could safely move the vehicle, so they waited for an ambulance to take her to nearby Ridgeview Medical Center in Waconia. Neighbors driving by returned with blankets and to offer comfort while she waited. Medics eventually used a jack to lift the vehicle and free the woman.

She suffered fractures to her skull and collar bones and a few cracked ribs. Sievers said the left side of her mother's face is paralyzed, but that her condition is improving. She was transferred out of intensive care on Monday.

Jeremy Olson • 612-673-7744

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