Send questions to Cecil via straightdope.com
Why is running with scissors considered so dangerous that moms everywhere chastise their kids for doing it? It seems to me like a pretty oblique way to hurt yourself. Shouldn’t they be telling clumsy kids to tie their shoelaces and sheathe their machetes instead? Are there any actual reports of people falling on scissors? —Tyler
AS A rule of thumb, Tyler, for any question of the form “Has anyone ever managed to sustain a significant head injury while [insert name of activity]?” the answer is almost always yes. I’ll refer you to a story from Mississippi earlier this year in which a guy was mowing his lawn when the mower blade launched a three-and-a-half-inch length of heavy-gauge fence wire straight up his nose and into his sinuses.
He was fine, somehow, but I think you’ll find the takeaway from this week’s column to be: from a purely safe-side standpoint, most human behavior is probably best conducted while wearing protective eyewear, if not a full face mask.
So, running with scissors: sure, suitably cautionary real-life tales are out there. A quick search soon turns up the recent case of a scissors-wielding three-year-old Australian boy who tripped and fell while running, thereby introducing the blades into his frontal lobe via the left eye socket. (He, too, pulled through OK.)
One small latter-day Phineas Gage isn’t much of a sample size, admittedly. We therefore turn to the data. The National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS), a project of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, estimates consumer-product-related injuries by sampling emergency visits to hospitals across the country; in other words, it won’t give us a comprehensive report of all such incidents, but rather a snapshot of what they look like as reported by NEISS-sampled hospitals and thus a decent idea of the rate at which they occur in the larger population.
For 2014, my assistant Fierra found 678 NEISS injury records in which scissors factored somehow. Mind you, these include the gamut: stabbings with scissors, suicides with scissors—even, in theory, walking with scissors. Refining her search to cases where the injured party was rapidly on the move, Fierra found exactly three instances last year:
• A 23-year-old man fell while running with scissors, lacerating his forearm.
• A two-year-old girl fell while running with scissors, lacerating her face.
• Running outdoors, a ten-year-old boy fell on a pair of gardening scissors, injuring his elbow. (This one’s an uneasy fit, I think; the gardener’s at least as culpable as the boy.)
On average, between 2009 and 2014, NEISS collected 3.6 reports per year involving RWS injuries. Of these, 14 befell children under the age of 17; two of four incidents involving people 17 and up had something to do with alcohol. Extrapolating, we can estimate the average number of RWS incidents in the U.S. over the past five years as 131 annually. No fatalities were located.
Broadening our inquiry, we find a clear pattern—no matter what activity the victim was engaged in (locomotor or otherwise, at high speed or low), the eye was definitely at particular risk:
• A study conducted at a hospital in Verona, Italy, found that scissors were the most common cause of eye injury—13 percent—for children under the age of six.
• In Turkey and Canada both, research suggests that scissors are responsible for around a tenth of all eye injuries.
• Statistics from a hospital in Taiwan implicated scissors in nearly 14 percent of eye injuries.
They seem to be doing a little better in Qatar, where five years’ worth of records from one hospital suggest that their national rate of pediatric eye injuries from scissors is only about 3 percent—tied for prevalence with palm trees. As I say, people will ably hurt themselves with whatever’s at hand: Fierra also, for example, dug up a rather gruesome case study out of Japan about a four-year-old boy who suffered a penetrating head injury (again, via the eye socket) after falling on a wooden chopstick.
Maybe it’s just the season, but to my mind the question that logically follows from this one is, with respect to the classic film A Christmas Story: Can you really shoot your eye out with a BB gun, Red Rider or otherwise? Well, you can certainly shoot out somebody else’s. Way back in the early 1990s, the CDC was reporting about 30,000 incidents a year of eye trauma by way of BB or pellet guns. Twenty years later, the technology’s evolved but the threat remains: rates of eye injury from newly popular “airsoft” guns (convincing-looking replicas that fire spherical plastic bullets) grew 500 percent from 2010 to 2012, according to a study from Stanford University School of Medicine; in 2012 alone, more than 3,000 kids were treated in emergency rooms for eye injuries related to airsoft guns.
I haven’t been able to find anything on toy gun injuries that were accidentally self-inflicted, as in the movie: it’s safe to say that most of the danger comes from others. Well, happy holidays!