Monday, February 8, 2010

Texted and Text Dead

Loyola trauma surgeon warns that texting-on-the-go could be dangerous to your health

MAYWOOD, Ill. -- Siobhan Wicks was texting her roommate while walking down the stairs in her Aurora home when suddenly her world turned topsy turvy.

"I missed a step. I have no idea how it happened but all I know is I was on the floor," said the 29-year-old Wicks. "I'm a physical therapist so I knew immediately that I had broken my toe. I knew something had happened because it hurt. I took my sock off and, yep, my toe was dislocated."

After collecting herself, Wicks called her roommate at work who rushed home and took her to the hospital where her foot was placed in an orthopedic shoe to heal. Slightly embarrassed, she declined to volunteer to medical staff what she was doing when she took her fall.

Texting-on-the-go is one of the latest, ubiquitous hazards to life and limb sparked by our high-tech age. Fortunately, most of injuries are of the minor bump-and-bruise variety from people walking into lampposts, falling down stairs and bumping into others while looking down at the tiny keyboards of their cell phones, iphones and Blackberry devices.

"Think about it. How many people now do you see who are walking and texting in crosswalks and on sidewalks or in hallways," said trauma surgeon Dr. Thomas Esposito at Loyola University Health System in Maywood. "I recently saw a person texting and riding a bicycle with one hand. If you're going to do that, all I can say is, you better be wearing a helmet."

Wicks considers herself lucky. Her moment of inattention resulted only in a broken toe and a few weeks having to endure the good-natured ribbing of friends and co-workers. However, there are times when texting-on-the-go has the potential to be far more serious, and even deadly, especially when the distraction involves a person behind the wheel.

“I’m not ashamed that I was doing something else while walking down the stairs but I’ve found that I obviously can’t do two things at once,” she said.

A recent study in the journal Human Factors has found that texting while driving is riskier than talking on a cell phone or with other passengers while driving. Researchers found that people texting in driving simulators had more accidents and were less attentive to the road than those who talked on cell phones while using a simulator.

On any given day last year, an estimated 800,000 vehicles were driven by someone who used a hand-held cell phone at some point during their drive, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Though young people are most at risk, people of all ages are using a variety of hand-held devices, such as cell phones, personal digital assistants, and navigation devices when they are behind the wheel.

In Illinois, people who text while driving could find themselves facing a $75 fine for a first offense. The law, which went into effect in January, bars motorists from composing or reading text messages. The law, however, has a flaw. It doesn't ban people from dialing a number or scrolling to find a number on their cell phones and other electronic devices.

"Illinois, the city of Chicago and other municipalities and states across the country have been proactive in protecting the public from themselves by restricting the chances of distraction when it comes to texting and cell phone use while driving," Esposito said.

"It’s more than about texting and driving. It’s more than about texting and walking. It’s about being distracted,” Esposito added. "If you’re doing something that warrants your undivided attention, like walking down the stairs of driving, you should give it your undivided attention. I’m a surgeon and I don’t think you would like me to perform surgery on you while texting, would you?"

About Loyola University Health System

Loyola University Health System (LUHS) is part of Trinity Health. Based in the western suburbs of Chicago, LUHS is a quaternary care system with a 61-acre main medical center campus, the 36-acre Gottlieb Memorial Hospital campus and more than 30 primary and specialty care facilities in Cook, Will and DuPage counties. Loyola University Medical Center’s campus is conveniently located in Maywood, 13 miles west of Chicago’s Loop and 8 miles east of Oak Brook, Ill. At the heart of the medical center campus is a 559-licensed-bed hospital that houses a Level 1 Trauma Center, a Burn Center and the Ronald McDonald® Children's Hospital of Loyola University Medical Center. Also on campus are the Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center, Loyola Outpatient Center, Center for Heart & Vascular Medicine and Loyola Oral Health Center as well as Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine, Loyola University Chicago Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing and the Loyola Center for Fitness. Loyola's Gottlieb campus in Melrose Park includes the 255-licensed-bed community hospital, the Professional Office Building housing 150 private practice clinics, the Adult Day Care, the Gottlieb Center for Fitness, Loyola Center for Metabolic Surgery and Bariatric Care and the Loyola Cancer Care & Research at the Marjorie G. Weinberg Cancer Center at Melrose Park.

Trinity Health is a national Catholic health system with an enduring legacy and a steadfast mission to be a transforming and healing presence within the communities we serve. Trinity is committed to being a people-centered health care system that enables better health, better care and lower costs. Trinity Health has 88 hospitals and hundreds of continuing care facilities, home care agencies and outpatient centers in 21 states and 119,000 employees.