To tourists, winter renders Durango a wonderland – of great skiing, plush snows and jutting mountains.
To health-care professionals, the season’s tidings are somewhat less jolly.
“The biggest increase (during winter) is in snow-related car accidents,” said Paul Gibson, director of emergency services at Mercy Regional Medical Center. “They’re some of the worst. Driving down the road, someone will hit a patch of ice and swing into the other lane – those are multi-traumas.”
Pedestrians mostly are in lesser jeopardy.
“We’ll see fractures of the pelvis, fractures of the wrist, all pretty much due to slipping on the ice and falling,” said Gibson.
Though Gibson insisted that every season has its dangers, he said that the effects of winter on the emergency room were striking.
Not surprisingly, ski injuries send dozens of people to the ER each season. While severe ski accidents sometimes result in coma and death, Gibson said broken bones and concussions were more common.
Even banal activities can prove threatening to people’s health. Gibson said people have more heart attacks in winter – often spurred by snow-shoveling.
Certainly, Durangoans should avoid getting locked out of their houses.
“I’ve been at the hospital for 27 years now, and I’ve seen several cases in which people froze to death and died of hypothermia,” Gibson said. “In many instances, they don’t even make it to the emergency room. If they’re DOA – often we don’t even hear about them,” he said.
But Guy Walton, infection control preventionist at Mercy, said staying inside comes with its own hazards.
During winter, health officials see many more respiratory diseases, colds, whooping coughs and influenza, as well as more pneumonia associated with influenza, he said.
“People are confined more, sharing the same air, sharing the same room, touching the same things in winter,” said Walton. “Plus, kids are in school,” a veritable Petri dish for contagious diseases.
Walton warned that elderly Durangoans are particularly vulnerable to respiratory illness.
“Ninety percent of deaths from pneumonia associated with influenza are people over 65,” Walton said.
But even the strapping youths of Durango are no match for winter’s plagues.
“Schools routinely report that 30 percent of classes are empty due to flu,” Walton said before recalling a recent outbreak of the deadly H1N1 virus. “It was exotic because it was attacking people much younger.”
Durangoans of every age should be wary of immoderate merrymaking.
Gibson warned, “alcohol-related injuries also increase in winter. It’s the holiday cheer – people think they can drink to get warm. That doesn’t just cause fatal car accidents. Altercations also seem to go up.”
At least one thing gets healthier in winter: pharmacies’ bottom lines.
Lou Fontana, manager of City Market’s pharmacy, said business picks up because of winter maladies and surging demand for vaccines.
“Also in winter, people can get depressed,” said Fontana. “We call it cabin fever out here – when the snow gets so deep you can’t engage in your normal activities.”
Fontana said it is unclear whether local demand for anti-depressants spikes in winter because “so many people are on those medications year-round.”
He said around 30 percent of people who fill prescriptions in his pharmacy fill them for antidepressants.
“When you consider that a pharmacy like ours will easily fill 80,000 prescriptions a year, that’s a lot,” Fontana said.
Though there is no statistical evidence to suggest that Durango is more depressing at specific times of year, psychologist Susan Dees said that winter could indeed compound depression.
“A lot of people are affected by less daylight,” said Dees.
“Then there are the holidays – of course, they’re supposed to be wonderful – but for many people, they just bring up what’s missing,” Dees said.
Todd Flemion, owner of Root and Branch Medicine and a local practitioner of Chinese medicine, said one’s body being at odds with one’s environment could exacerbate classic winter ailments.
“In winter, I’ll see chronic colds that antibiotics won’t cure. Dermatological problems, like funky, nonhealing wounds,” in addition to urologic and gynecological afflictions, said Flemion.
He said people in Durango think “lotion up is enough.”
“Sure, in part. But you’re also not in balance with your environment. You’re not hydrating enough, or you wouldn’t need that lotion,” he said.
Mary Chandler, owner of Hello Gorgeous Salon, said lotion – though no winter cure-all – can still go a long way.
“I believe winter is the hardest season on the body. People start flaking and itching constantly – this is the time of year they have to get dandruff shampoo. In winter, I always shampoo my mattress with a steam cleaner because it gets covered in dead skin,” said Chandler.
Chandler said she instructs her clients to drink “water, moisturize and exfoliate. Otherwise, the skin gets so dry it can open up and crack.”
Chandler said skiers should be especially vigilant about their skin.
“Their cheeks get wind-chapped and blister, and eventually open up and bleed,” she said.
Garrett Smith, owner of Lady Falconburgh’s pub on Main Avenue, agrees winter is the most dangerous time of year. But he rejected the notion that Durango is a frosty death trap, saying winter here is a time of joy, outdoor recreation, and family.
“The romance of winter is snuggling up by the fire, with whatever you desire – a glass of wine maybe – my wife just said a Hot Toddy,” said Smith.
Paul Gibson of Mercy’s emergency room agreed: “This time of year especially, I feel so blessed to live in this area – and to know that good health services are available.”