Carve Pumpkins — Not Your Hands — This Halloween
Don’t let slippery gourds and sharp knives sideline your holiday fun
The only thing scary about creating a jack-o'-lantern should be the finished product, not the risk of nicks, jabs or worse from your carving tools. Unfortunately, ER and urgent care docs see far too many injuries — from flesh wounds to severed nerves — each October.
“A majority of pumpkin carving injuries are the result of extremely sharp tools and poor technique,” says Jack Cornwell MD, medical director for CareWell Urgent Care in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. “When inexperience is coupled with slippery cutting tools, the result is often very painful.”
A momentary lapse in control can have long-lasting effects. “Even a small cut can be deep enough to cause injury to underlying tendons and nerves,” says Kathleen E. McKeon, MD, an orthopedic surgeon who specializes in the hand, wrist and upper extremities at Andrews Sports Medicine and Orthopaedic Center in Birmingham, Alabama.
While you can’t completely eliminate the risk short of forgoing your festive decorating plans, you can reduce it significantly if you follow the doctors’ orders.
Set yourself up for safety. Clear off a sturdy table or countertop and line it with newspaper. Be sure the pumpkin’s surface and your hands are bone-dry before you touch a cutting instrument. “Wet tools or surfaces cause the carver to slip and injure themselves,” Cornwell says. Keep paper towels on hand should anything become damp or slippery. “You should always be able to keep a firm grasp on your pumpkin and your tool handle,” he says. “And please do not use sharp knives while drinking alcohol,” McKeon adds.
Leave conventional knives in their block. It’s worth the investment in one of those specially designed pumpkin-carving kits, which have tools designed for the job. “They provide a safe and efficient means of creating beautiful works of art in a manner that is easier to control and less likely to get stuck in the pumpkin,” Cornwell says, citing findings published in the Journal of Preventative Medicine that these tools cause fewer and less severe injuries than serrated or standard kitchen knives.
Related: Halloween Décor Safety Smarts
Consider your technique. Never cut into the pumpkin toward your fingers — always cut away from them. Consider carving your design first and gutting your pumpkin second, so you’re not tempted to place a hand inside as you make cuts to the surface. “Take your time while carving, don't rush,” McKeon says. “Injuries often happen when a sharp knife slips or gives way unexpectedly.”
Give kids non-carving jobs. Even plastic carving tools may prove too risky for children. Let them draw the design onto the pumpkin surface or scoop out the guts. Leave the cutting for the more dexterous adults, suggests Cornwell. And this doesn’t just go for the little ones. A study published in the journal Pediatrics found kids ages 10 to 14 were the most accident-prone when it came to Halloween injuries.
Brush up on your first aid. Should a slip-up occur, immediately clean the wound and apply pressure to stave off the bleeding. For minor wounds, bleeding should stop within five to 10 minutes, at which point you should apply a dressing. If the bleeding is profuse for 15 minutes or still hasn’t stopped after an hour, see a doctor. Regardless of the wound size, “If you have a patch of numbness or can't move your finger normally after a cut, you should seek medical attention,” McKeon says.