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UPMC Physician: Understanding Traumatic Injuries

Traumatic accidents and injuries are unfortunately an everyday occurrence. Many people often associate trauma with major events such as car accidents, gunshot wounds, and burns, however, traumatic injuries can also be from something as simple as a fall in your home. While no one plans to be involved with such events, it is vital to know that emergency rooms and trauma centers are always ready to quickly take care of you when you least expect the need.
What is a Traumatic Injury?

Traumatic injury is caused by various forces from outside of the body, which can either be blunt or penetrating (sharp). Blunt trauma includes falls, road traffic crashes, crush injuries, assaults, and burns. Penetrating trauma involves shooting, stabbing, or falling onto a sharp object leading to impalement.

An injury can be relatively minor, such as cutting a finger whilst opening a metal can or breaking a bone during a sporting event. Whilst these can be painful or uncomfortable, the person will usually be able to remain at home once the injury is treated by a primary care provider, urgent care, or emergency department.

However, traumatic injury is more serious and requires admission to a hospital or trauma center for assessment, treatment, and rehabilitation. The full extent of injuries is not always apparent when a patient first arrives at the hospital, and they may require in-depth examination and multiple tests such as scans and x-rays or surgeries.
Trauma Centers vs. Emergency Rooms

Emergency rooms are staffed by nurses and doctors that take care of a variety of ailments from bone fractures to stroke. Another difference is that trauma centers are staffed with the same high-level medical experts, but are specialized trauma surgeons, neurosurgeons, orthopaedic surgeons, and cardiac surgeons, in addition to registered nurses and radiologists.

Hospital emergency departments provide care for injuries and illnesses of all levels of severity. However, if your condition is more serious or life-threatening, you may need the specialty care offered at a designated trauma center.
Common ailments that are treated at emergency rooms include sprains and broken bones, fainting or loss of consciousness, heart attacks, stroke, less severe burns, and stomach pains. Severe injuries like gunshot and stab wounds, major burns, serious car crash injuries, blunt trauma, and brain injuries would be treated at a trauma center.
Phases of Trauma Recovery

From the time you experience trauma to the time you are ready to go home, the significance of your recovery does not end when you leave the hospital.

The Golden Hour – A well-known concept in the medical field that refers to the initial time after someone experiences a traumatic injury. While called the golden hour, receiving care during this time drastically affects a patient’s outcome.

Treatment – Your inpatient care after the golden hour will continue to be provided by the most advanced surgeons, nurses, and radiologists in the area. These specialists work together to ensure that you continue to heal and give you the best possible outcome after experiencing trauma.

Phase 1 – Trauma occurs in several different ways and there is no “one” way that it affects victims. When you are discharged from the hospital, this is the time to continue your doctor’s orders and begin physiological recovery. Situations that never used to bother you might now trigger anxiety and foster unhealthy coping methods. An expert of mental health can help you find your way back to a sense of safety during this time.

Phase 2 – Once you begin to feel stable again, you will be encouraged to process what you have gone through. This is important as the mental healing occurs concurrently with physical healing. Acknowledging the mental effects in a safe environment of any physical setbacks during recovery will make you even stronger and give you the skills necessary to cope and rebuild.

Phase 3 –After going through physical and mental recovery, you might have a new perception of life. In order to move forward after trauma, you must come to terms with your new reality. To make this possible, rehabilitation experts and your mental health specialist will help you achieve this new sense of empowerment.

When it comes to quality trauma recovery and care, time is of the essence. If you observe an accident or injury, don’t hesitate to call 9-1-1.

Ronen Elefant, MD, FACS
Trauma/Acute Care Surgery, UPMC

Ronen Elefant, MD, FACS, is the medical director of Trauma and chief of Acute Care Surgery with UPMC in North Central Pa. For more information, visit

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