(TNS) FORT WORTH, Tex. — On a recent breezy afternoon, Justin Rivas and his crew lugged a 100-pound, 32-foot ladder across a one-story home in north suburban Haslet, Tex., as they lined its gutters and peaks with red and white lights. The ladder was almost too heavy for Rivas' 20-year-old workers to carry.
"For one person to move around a 32-foot ladder — it could crush you," said Rivas, owner of We Hang Lights DFW.
Many homeowners, however, choose to use ladders, chairs and even stacks of boxes and books to hang holiday decorations and lights themselves. The result can be a holiday in the hospital with broken bones.
While it may cost about $800 for a professional to deck out the average two-story Haslet home with holiday lights, that's just a fraction of what it will cost if you fall and suffer a brain injury, area medical professionals and lighting experts say.
"The dad is in a position where he wants to make his family happy, his wife happy. They want what the neighbors have, but at what price?" said Rivas.
The average home he decorates is two stories tall and requires at least three men and three hours of work. The average homeowner trying to go it alone often is a middle-aged man with a six-foot ladder, Rivas said.
Those ladders are the bane of the season, hospital trauma workers said.
"When I talk to people about doing that, they say it's expensive. But an average fall cost is about $40,000 because the most common injury is a brain injury," said registered nurse Mary Ann Contreras, trauma outreach coordinator at Fort Worth's John Peter Smith Hospital.
Brain injuries take months to heal, while arm or leg injuries can require six to eight weeks in casts, she said.
Contreras said the next most common injuries from falls are to the chest, ribs, liver and spinal cord.
Falls are the leading cause of death from unintentional injury in the state of Texas, Contreras said.
"Just to survive a fall from four stories high is pretty impossible," she said.
JPS admits about 100 people suffering from fall injuries per year; about seven of those are injured hanging holiday lights, Contreras said.
Rivas said homes with peaks more than two stories high require professionals.
For those who insist on doing it themselves, having a cup of holiday cheer beforehand for courage is a bad idea.
"You probably shouldn't be using ladders at all if you've been drinking. It sounds very obvious, but you wouldn't believe ..." said Dr. David Smith, trauma department medical director for Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Fort Worth.
Smith said Harris admits about 10 people each year with injuries stemming from hanging lights during the holiday season, and between one and four of them have serious head and neck injuries or paralysis.
"One thing we are seeing more and more of, with the graying of our population, is that more and more people are on anticoagulants," Smith said.
Anticoagulants, or blood thinners, slow the time it takes for blood to clot, which is especially bad for Santa's helpers who hit their heads, he said.
"I think if you are older, you would be better off hiring somebody," Smith said. "If you are young and agile and familiar with using ladders and the typical weekend warrior, you should at least not do it alone."
Smith describes "older" as anyone over 55.
"I hate taking care of people we could have prevented accidents to," Dr. Smith said.
Don't want help?
Hang lights in groups with at least two workers, with one holding the ladder at the bottom, said Dr. David Smith, trauma department medical director for Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Fort Worth.
Make sure the ladder is firmly positioned, and avoid climbing one-handed by attaching items to a belt, Smith said.
Untangle the lights and prepare them with clips before climbing ladders to make sure you don't get caught up, said Justin Rivas, owner of We Hang Lights DFW.
Make sure there are no open wires and that plugs aren't overloaded, Rivas said. Stick to the manufacturer's recommended number of lights to strand together.
Try to decorate more on the bottom of the house by hot-gluing plastic clips to inner archways and clipping lights on, Rivas said. Wrap small trees, outline doors, windows and walkways, Rivas said.
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