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Fishhooks created to catch fish, yet still hook people

"What?" My voice cracked as the word spilled into the air! A long time friend, Jordan Anderson, was telling me about his two uncomfortable encounters with fishhooks.

"What?" My voice cracked as the word spilled into the air! A long time friend, Jordan Anderson, was telling me about his two uncomfortable encounters with fishhooks.

"One was in Canada while I was muskie fishing," he said, "and the other happened on Deer Lake when I caught a small northern," he added.

"How long have we been friends?" I inquired. "You've never told me about the northern incident!"

Coyly apologetic, he went on to describe what will forever be dubbed, "The Great Northern Pike Cover-Up." It was a simple mistake; Jordan reached for the overly ambitious pike as it momentarily grew still on the floor of the boat, but unfortunately the fish wasn't through flopping.

"The lure's hooks went into my palm," says Anderson who freed the fish and made a subsequent trip to the St. Joseph's emergency room. "The doctor told me not to look, so I didn't, but I still got light-headed!" says Anderson in embarrassing retrospect.

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Fishhooks are a common occurrence at St. Joseph's, a fact that many people are surprised to hear. A hand drawn poster on the wall portraying two anglers, along with a close up of two hands acts as an annual stat keeper for the number and anatomical position of hooks taken out from area anglers or unfortunate observers, which typically totals 75-100 per season. Color-coded stickers indicate when and where each lure was removed and nearly every imaginable body part is covered. Several stickers actually overlap, the hands noticeably susceptible to penetration via fishhook.

Dr. Jane Churchill has been a physician at St. Josephs for 38 years. In that time she has removed somewhere around 1,000 hooks from unlucky individuals, primarily adults. Some patients keep the lure while others joyfully pitch the hooks into the "sharps" container, a receptacle for disposal of objects such as needles and in certain cases, fishhooks.

Churchill's method for removal typically involves the application of a numbing agent, cutting the rear of the hook then pushing the point through to exit the skin. Churchill chooses her instruments, which appear to be everyday tools instead of delicate surgical devices, due to sheer efficiency.

Surprisingly, once the lure is removed no stitches are required.

"Hooks are typically so sharp that the point of entrance and exit is very clean," says Churchill. Yet she recommends keeping the wound free from infection by soaking it regularly and applying an antibiotic ointment following the emergency room visit.

Anglers can protect themselves by following a few simple precautions, proactively dodging a hospital visit. First, avoid alcohol. The basic skills for evading a hook depth perception, reaction time and decision-making, become compromised when alcohol is consumed. Second, keep an eye on your lure at all times and make sure there isn't an over-abundance of line between your rod-tip and lure when casting. And last, squeeze the barbs on your hooks closed, making it easier to remove from both fish and flesh.

If you do accidentally become hooked, Dr. Churchill advises against attempting self-removal or cutting the hooks. Instead, leave the hook intact so the emergency room physician can grasp it with a tool and put tape over any extra hooks on the lure to prevent additional punctures, because having one hook removed is enough for most people!

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