10 Ways to Stay Out of My (Floridian) Emergency Department

alligator for stay out of ER blog edited.jpg

Welcome to Florida, a state rich in beauty and wildness, known as much for its ability to provide relaxation as for its unpredictability.  

I’ve been a resident of the Sunshine State for over two decades and, while I love the endlessly warm weather, it is a place that doesn’t know a dull moment.

As an Emergency Physician, I can attest that Florida offers its own special breed of dangers. Here are a few ways to stay out of my ED:

  1. Keep clear of gators. After Louisiana, Florida has the second highest alligator population in the United States with an estimated 1.3 million alligators calling our state home. Most Floridians know not to mess with alligators. Never feed them— even the babies—  and keep your distance. Even small gators can be dangerous. Alligators of any size do not— I repeat— do not make good pets.

Despite local folklore, running zig-zag away from an alligator will only slow you down— and speed matters when gators can move up to 25 miles per hour. Run away— straight and fast.

A tall fence— at least 4.5 feet tall— should discourage gators from entering your yard.

When in doubt, call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s toll-free Nuisance Alligator Hotline at 866-392-4286.

2. Use common sense with fireworks. Fireworks are illegal in Florida, though you wouldn’t know it come July. Roadside stands selling fireworks pop up all over the state. First, follow the law. Next, familiarize yourself with these fireworks safety recommendations laid out by the National Safety Council:

“If fireworks are legal to buy where you live, and you choose to use them, be sure to follow the following safety tips:

  • Never use fireworks while impaired by drugs or alcohol.

  • Never allow young children to handle fireworks.

  • Older children should use them only under close adult supervision.

  • Anyone using fireworks or standing nearby should wear protective eyewear.

  • Never light them indoors.

  • Only use them away from people, houses and flammable material.

  • Only light one device at a time and maintain a safe distance after lighting.

  • Never ignite devices in a container.

  • Do not try to re-light or handle malfunctioning fireworks.

  • Soak unused fireworks in water for a few hours before discarding.

  • Keep a bucket of water nearby to fully extinguish fireworks that don’t go off or in case of fire.

  • Better yet, grab a blanket and a patch of lawn, kick back and let the experts handle the show.”

3. Be a safe boater. We spend a lot of time on the water in Florida. The next time you take a boat out, make sure everyone is using proper lifejackets, avoid alcohol, and please— if you’re going to live in Florida and enjoy what it has to offer, learn how to swim.

4. Speaking of swimming… always swim with a friend and review swimming safety tips. When swimming with children, make sure there is a designated adult Water Guardian. Whether at a community pool or the beach, pay attention to the lifeguard and any posted warning signs. Get out of the water immediately if you see lightning or hear thunder. Which leads me to another big one…

5. Don’t mess around with lightning. Florida is the lightning capital of the United States. Lightning is awe-inspiring but be smart. Storms can roll in quickly. Get to a safe place indoors at the first sign of a storm. Check out these lightning safety tips from the CDC:

Protect Yourself from Lightning Strikes

You can protect yourself from risk even if you are caught outdoors when lightning is close by.

Safety precautions outdoors:

-If the weather forecast calls for thunderstorms, postpone your trip or activity.

-Remember: When thunder roars, go indoors. Find a safe, enclosed shelter.

-The main lightning safety guide is the 30-30 rule. After you see lightning, start counting to 30. If you hear thunder before you reach 30, go indoors. Suspend activities for at least 30 minutes after the last clap of thunder.

-If no shelter is available, crouch low, with as little of your body touching the ground as possible. Lightning causes electric currents along the top of the ground that can be deadly over 100 feet away.

-Stay away from concrete floors or walls. Lightning can travel through any metal wires or bars in concrete walls or flooring.

Although you should move into a non-concrete structure if possible, being indoors does not automatically protect you from lightning. In fact, about one-third of lightning-strike injuries occur indoors.

Safety precautions indoors:

-Avoid water during a thunderstorm. Lightning can travel through Plumbing.

-Avoid electronic equipment of all types. Lightning can travel through electrical systems and radio and television reception systems.

-Avoid corded phones. However, cordless or cellular phones are safe to use during a storm.

-Avoid concrete floors and walls.

Lightning strikes may be rare, but they still happen, and the risk of serious injury or death is severe. So, take thunderstorms seriously.”

6. Prepare for hurricane season. Floridians are vulnerable to massive storms. Don’t get caught off-guard without proper food, water, and shelter during hurricane season. Create a safety plan and be sure to have at least three day’s worth of supplies for your entire household including pets.

7. Don’t be a “Florida Man”. We all know the meme. Dubbed “the world’s worst superhero”, the Florida Man makes headlines for something more absurd than you’ve ever thought possible. It’s easy to avoid this sort of notoriety (and my ED) by staying away from drugs and limiting the enjoyment of alcohol to moderate consumption.

8. Protect your skin. Prevent heat exhaustion, sunburn, and putting yourself at risk for a future of skin cancer by following a few simple tips: wear protective clothing, stay hydrated, reapply sunscreen often, and seek shade and shelter if you’re going to be spending a lot of time outdoors.


9. Beware rip currents. Our beaches are lovely but remain vigilant while swimming. Educate yourself about rip currents, learn how to spot them, and only swim in areas where lifeguards are present.

10. Do the stingray shuffle. Here’s another one for your trip to the beach and an easy way to avoid nasty stings: shuffle your feet as you enter the water, giving stingrays— usually buried beneath the sand in shallow waters—  a chance to move out of your way. You’ll appreciate a sting-free beach experience and the stingrays will appreciate being not being trodden-upon.

Enjoy Florida! And let’s plan to meet on the beach— not in my ED.  

Tracy Sanson