Pumpkin Carving Injuries

by Louise McQuaid
How to prevent cuts when carving a pumpkin and what to do if you have an accident
Although carving perfect round, bright orange pumpkins at Halloween is great fun, it comes with the risk of accidentally cutting yourself while using a sharp blade. Unfortunately, as well as cutting the skin, deep cuts may also sever through tendons and nerves. These special structures require surgical treatment followed by Hand therapy and may mean permanent impairment in movement, sensation and grip strength.

Picking out the perfect pumpkin (or pumpkins!) for your family is a fun event in itself. But what do you plan to do with your prize pumpkin once you get it home? If you plan to carve out a design, however elaborate, it is important to take a moment to think about ways to protect yourself or your children from serious accidents caused by sharp blades.

Halloween injuries to hands are common and most people will associate them with fire crackers and sparklers. However, pumpkin carving can result in cuts that can be a lot more serious under the skin than they look on the surface. It is important to have deep cuts checked out by your GP or in A&E in case tendons or nerves have been severed.
Helpful hints on how to prevent pumpkin injuries
Helpful hints on how to prevent pumpkin injuries
Prepare the area and keep your hands dry

Wash and thoroughly dry all of the tools that you will use to carve the pumpkin: chopping board, carving tools, knife, and your hands. Any moisture on your tools, hands, or table can cause the knife to slip accidentally. Use a disposable pair of gloves if it helps to grip the knife handle better, or use a knife with a rubber handle. Plan out what you intend to do and have everything easy to hand. Pumpkins are slimy and sticky, so have a basin of warm soapy water and some kitchen roll ready for you to dunk your hands into if they become too slippy to hold a knife safely.

Adult Supervision is a must

Carving a pumpkin is enormous fun, but lets face it, its not the same thing as slicing an iceberg lettuce. Pumpkins are tough, wet and tricky to grip.  Small hands have to grip harder and fatigue easier increasing the risk of having an accident with a knife. It only takes a second for an injury to occur and the result can affect hand function for the long term.

Remember that if you are carving a pumpkin and smaller peeps are watching, their eye level is uncomfortably close to the knife! Eye safety glasses are great (and very scientific!) but if you don't have safety glasses, swimming goggles are better than nothing to prevent an eye injury.
Better to leave the cutting to the adults

Never let children carve with a sharp knife. Instead let them have fun pulling out the slimy insides and scraping the pumpkin innards with a spoon. (keep it creepy and hide plastic spiders in the middle!) They can keep the seeds for art projects or plant them for the following year. The best part is choosing the design and drawing the pattern on the pumpkin.  If they are able to cut, teach them to cut away from themselves a small bit at a time and stop them when they show signs of effort and hand fatigue.

Sharper is not Better 

A sharper knife is not necessarily better because it often becomes stuck in the thicker part of the pumpkin. Pulling it out can be tricky as it requires force and is particularly difficult if your hands are covered in pumpkin juice. Pulling hard on a stuck knife may cause it to come out too fast and catch your other hand in the wrong place at the wrong time. Instead, carefully try to wedge a blunt dinner knife alongside the stuck knife to widen the space. Remove the blunt knife first and the sharp knife should slide out more easily.
Use a Pumpkin Carving Kit 

Special pumpkin carving kits are available at Halloween and include small serrated pumpkin saws that work better because they are less likely to get stuck in the thick pumpkin tissue. If they do get jammed and then are wedged free, they are not sharp enough to cause a deep, penetrating cut.

Everyone wants to feel involved. Kits can come with extras such as patterns, scoops, and candles too so helping hands can be given their own role in preparing the pumpkin and feel included. 

Try illuminating your pumpkin with an LED tea light instead of a candle to prevent a fire hazard. 
Help for a pumpkin carving injury
Help for a pumpkin carving injury
The most common types of knife injuries while carving a pumpkin are:
        • Surface skin minor straight cuts
        • Removal of a slice of skin
        • Deep smooth cuts
        • Puncture wounds, very deep but small on the surface

Should you cut your finger or hand, bleeding from minor cuts will often stop on their own by applying direct pressure to the wound with a clean cloth. If continuous pressure does not slow or stop the bleeding after 15 minutes, an emergency room visit may be required.

Deep cuts or puncture wounds will need immediate assistance. Do not apply antiseptic cream as it may affect healing. Remove rings and watches or bracelets in case of any swelling developing later and wrap the hand in a clean towel. Keep your hand elevated and go straight to A&E for medical treatment. 

Stay safe this Halloween and have fun creating your own pumpkins. Remember to leave enough time to complete the task well before you expect those first spooky house calls. Accidents are more likely to happen if you are rushed and leave things to the last minute.

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