When Lucy finds her perfect pumpkin in “It’s a Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown,” Linus gets upset that she is going to gut it to carve a jack-o-lantern. Maybe Linus was on to something other than the arrival of the Great Pumpkin. Pumpkin carving has become a Halloween tradition for many families, but pumpkin carving has become quite scary. The American Society for Surgery of the Hand (ASSH) said Halloween is one of the top holidays causing the largest number of emergency room visits.
“Halloween is thought of as a kids and family holiday, and most want to have their children involved,” said Brendan Mackay, an orthopaedic surgeon at the Texas Tech Physicians Hand Clinic. “But the reality is, this is one of the most dangerous times for hand injuries in both adults and kids from carving pumpkins.”
Pumpkins can be slippery and tough. Injuries can occur when a knife sticks in the rind and suddenly slips as you pull it out, slicing your supporting hand. Or you can cut yourself if the handle gets slippery with pumpkin pulp, causing your hand to slide down the blade as you push the knife into the pumpkin.
Desirae McKee, a hand specialty surgeon at the Texas Tech Physicians Hand Clinic, said the best advice for parents is to stick to specialized pumpkin carving kits.
“The reason for these sets are pumpkins cannot be well carved with a regular knife,” McKee said. “That is why you need a very staccato serrated edge because of the pumpkin. As the edge of the knife gets stuck and you try to push it through, that’s when you can lose control of the knife. Do not use a sharp paring knife because they are small and flimsy. The kit knives are more effective because of the edge. The key is to cut in a sawing motion.”
Most injuries seen involve kitchen knives or power tools. If you are doing the traditional pumpkin carving and suffer a cut or injury, McKee said don’t be alarmed.
“Many people panic about bleeding,” McKee said. “For bleeding, hold pressure on the cut using a clean cloth or paper towel, and it should stop in about 10 minutes. Be concerned only when problems arise like continued bleeding, not being able to bend your finger or if the tip of the finger is numb.”
Mackay said think of the tendons like a rubber band.
“When you cut a rubber band, it snaps backwards,” Mackay said. “Tendons also retract, but when they are cut, it leaves a gap. Scars begin to fill its place and leave a gap that is not normal. With nerve injuries, if not repaired, you get scarring at the end of the nerve. This is like a signal. The signal cannot get past the part that is scarred.”
Remember, if you are injured, it is easier to repair it right away versus waiting until much later. McKee said the most common mistake people make is to wait too long to get help.
“If you are not sure about the extent of your injury, get checked,” McKee said. “Make sure to visit a major center where specialists are trained to examine on hands. Many people are told their injury is okay, and they wait. We only have a limited amount of time to make the repair, otherwise it is not possible or it becomes more complicated. If there is any concern, better safe than sorry. We are talking an hour repair versus three to six months trying to reconstruct a hand due to the damage.”
To prevent hand injuries, the ASSH suggests the following safety tips:
CARVE IN A CLEAN, DRY, WELL-LIT AREA
Wash and thoroughly dry all of the tools that you will use, including: carving tools, knife, cutting surface and your hands. Any moisture on your tools, hands, or table can cause slipping that can lead to injuries. (including the pulp of the pumpkin)
ALWAYS HAVE ADULT SUPERVISION
Even though the carving may be going great, it only takes a second for an injury to occur.
LEAVE THE CARVING TO ADULTS
Best to leave the carving to adults only. Never let children do the carving. Let kids draw a pattern on the pumpkin and have them be responsible for cleaning out the inside pulp and seeds. When the adults do start cutting, they should always cut away from themselves and cut in small, controlled strokes.
SHARPER IS NOT BETTER
A sharper knife is not necessarily better because it often becomes wedged in the thicker part of the pumpkin, requiring force to remove it.
“Think before carving,” Mackay said. “Even if you are trying to be careful, injuries can happen. And remember, don’t carve if you are drinking or intoxicated. Have a fun-filled Halloween without having a visit to the ER.”
OTHER IDEAS TO KEEP KIDS INVOLVED
Let kids glue on buttons, glitter, seeds, candy or other decorations. Painting pumpkins also is a safe and fun alternative for kids. Permanent magic markers also make a great pumpkin design!