How to Stay Safe When Parasailing

With spring break quickly approaching, many families will head to Florida for some much needed fun in the sun. Being from Georgia, my family and I go to Florida nearly every year.   A couple of years ago, my then 11-year-old son and I decided to Parasail, which is one of the more popular activities for both kids and adults. Right there on the beach were several Parasailing stands, with a line of people excitedly waiting to be tethered to a canopy that is secured to a boat that will fly them weightless, high above the water.  While it all seems safe enough, I have since learned that there are no regulations governing the 120 parasailing operators in Florida, and this lack of regulation can  result in a tragic outcomes.  Here’s a link to an ABC news story about a parasailing accident.

 According to the Parasail Safety Council, of the estimated 153 million parasailing rides between 1982-2012, there have been 73 deaths and over 1600 injuries.   The most serious injuries occur when tow lines separate, sending parasailors flying untethered through the air into fixed objects, such as buildings or power lines, and during unplanned high-speed water or deck landings.

Currently, there are no regulations governing the parasailing operations in Florida.  That means that ropes are not inspected for wear and tear, and it is up to the operator to decide if weather conditions are too dangerous to take the trip.

With more oversight, these injuries and fatalities can be prevented.  Legislation has recently been proposed that would include the following regulations for parasailing operations in Florida:

  • Parasailing equipment would be inspected
  • Operators would be required to have insurance
  • Operators would be forbidden to offer rides when winds are above 20 mph, gusts of wind are 15 mph or greater, and when there’s a known lightning storm 7 miles away
  • Operators would be required to carry special weather radios to alert them of up-to-date weather conditions
  • Operators would be prohibited from operating near fixed objects

Currently, when you choose to Parasail, there is no way for you to know how many times the ropes securing you have been used to secure other people, nor how much salt and rain the ropes have been exposed to.  Even more sinister is the uncontrollable weather.  Storms and high winds can happen quickly and unexpectedly in Florida, which can result in serious, sometimes fatal consequences.  If you decide to Parasail this spring break, there are some precautions you can take to make it a safer experience:

Be aware of the surrounding weather conditions.  Check the weather report on the day you are scheduled to parasail.  Do not parasail if there is fog, wind, rain or an approaching storm within 7 miles.

  • Regardless of what parasail operators tell you, you should not parasail if you are under 12 years old or if you have physical limitations.
  • Ask how long the company has been in business and make sure the company is licensed.
  • Check to see if the boat operator is a U.S. Coast Guard Licensed Captain.
  • Finally, make sure that the operator goes over safety and evacuation procedures and there are hand signals to follow should something go wrong.

While parasailing is fun and millions of people will choose to do it this year, keep in mind that there is no one governing the operations of the parasailing company that you are trusting to carry you or your loved ones 400 feet in the air, so it is up to you to make it a safe flying experience.

*Additional safety precautions may be found at the Parasail Safety Council website:

Tips to Prevent Children’s Deaths from Hot Cars

As temperatures reach 100 (and above) in Macon and around Georgia and other areas of the country, I’m reminded of the dangers posed by hot cars, especially for small children. Consumer Reports has reported that 15 children have already died this year as a result of heatstroke after being left in hot cars.  This can happen to anyone, and it is just heartbreaking to read the stories of good, loving parents who got unusually stressed or changed their routine and just forgot about a child in the backseat of a car.  Heatstroke can happen very quickly in the summer temperatures, so here are some important tips that can help avoid leaving a child in a hot car:

  • Leave a stuffed toy or animal on the front seat as a visual reminder of the child in the backseat
  • Put your cell phone, purse or briefcase in the backseat so you have to look in the backseat to remove them at your destination

There are more important tips in the article on Consumer Reports website and another very good resource is


Supreme Court Closes Courthouse Doors to Patients Harmed by Generic Drugs

Karen Bartlett took a generic drug called sulindac that her doctor prescribed to her for shoulder pain.  About three weeks later,  her skin began to peel off due to a reaction to the drug.  She is now left with burn-like lesions over two-thirds of her body and she is nearly blind.   She spent months in a burn unit in a medically induced coma.  Her burn doctor described her condition as “hell on earth.”   She cannot read or drive or work, and she will likely lose all vision.  She sued the drug maker – Mutual Pharmaceuticals – and her case proceeded to trial and resulted in a New Hampshire jury returning a verdict of $21 million.  Many of us would applaud the good sense of a jury in returning this verdict to help this lady in such great need.  But the highest court in the land wasn’t so happy about Karen’s victory.

A majority of the United States Supreme Court reversed the jury’s verdict, leaving Karen with nothing.  Justice Sotomayor wrote a dissent that called the majority decision “frankly astonishing.”  Along with several other decisions from our highest Court, this decision prompted Andrew Cohen at the Atlantic to derisively refer to it as a “great day for corporations.”  The majority does seem to go out of its way – and well beyond the professed originalism of Scalia and others – to lend a helping hand to corporations.   Here’s a link to Andrew Cohen’s Atlantic article and a blog entry on the Pop Tort about the case.

But the majority’s loving embrace of corporations didn’t really surprise me – that is what the majority seems to do so often. It’s something else that frightens me:  this drug was allowed to be sold to patients despite evidence  – as reported in the Pop Tort’s blog post – that Mutual Pharmaceuticals knew that sulindac’s rate of life-threatening conditions was comparable to the rate for a drug that the FDA had recommended for removal from the market.  Why are drugs with these sorts of risks being sold to patients?  And why isn’t full information given to patients, at the very least?

One answer is provided in books like Overdosed America by Dr. John Abramson.  He shows that the research and approval process for drugs is often flawed, in large part because of the fact that much of the drug research is done by institutions or individuals with financial ties to the pharmaceutical industry.   Even many doctors unwittingly rely on studies that are flawed, as shown in his well-researched book.  With this sort of “fox guarding the hen house” situation, it is predictable that dangerous drugs will get FDA approval despite a lack of good research supporting their safety.  As corporate money continues to infiltrate universities and research groups, this situation get worse.  And it is magnified further when a majority of the Supreme Court moves in lockstep with corporate power.


Staph Infections in Hospitals – Keep Yourself and Loved Ones Safe

It is no secret that staph infections are a problem.  And in hospital ICUs, about three-quarters of staph infections are methicillin-resistant.  So reduction of staph infections is extremely important.  Science Daily and the excellent DC Medical Malpractice & Patient Safety blog have written about an important study published in the New England Journal of Medicine that showed a drastic reduction in staph infections was achieved with two simple actions:

  • Use of antibacterial soap
  • Use of antibiotic ointments for all ICU patients

The study showed that infections were drastically reduced by use of these simple methods.   This is very important, especially for older immuno-compromised folks in the hospital.

Medical Misdiagnoses More Common Than Drug Errors and Wrong-Site Surgery: A Little Humility Goes a Long Way

We are often led to believe that medical misdiagnoses are rare, and that drug errors and wrong-site surgery are more common.  A recent article in the Washington Post  debunks this belief.  The article discusses the case of a physician, Itzhak Brook, whose throat cancer was misdiagnosed – by very good specialists – as acid reflux.  Who made the correct diagnosis?  A resident, not the specialists.   So much for ceding our health completely to specialists.   The doctor lived, but now speaks in a whisper.

Another sobering example from the article:  Karen Holliman was put through an odyssey of more than 50 medical visits with a variety of doctors, who told her that her fatigue and back pain were caused by fibromyalgia or psychiatric problems, when she actually had developed metastatic breast cancer.  Of course, the lawyers for the involved hospital denied any liability.  Karen is terminally ill.  She is 52 years old.

Some of the more general findings mentioned in the article include these:

  • 10-20% of medical cases involve medical misdiagnoses
  • 28% of medical errors reported anonymously by doctors were life-threatening, according to a 2009 study
  • 40,500 deaths each year are related to ICU misdiagnoses
  • the vast majority of misdiagnoses do not result in any legal action
  • overconfidence by physicians contributes to misdiagnoses

There is likely no one easy answer for these troubling findings, but a couple of things may help.  First, doctors should not be afraid of sending patients for second opinions.  Also, maybe more doctors can practice a little humility and take the time to do correct differential diagnoses, spend a little time with their patients talking with them and carefully observing them.  Maybe a little old-fashioned attention to the people who trust them with their health will go a long way toward preventing these types of outcomes.  Medical technology is great, but spending time with patients may be the best medicine of all.