Forego the flip-flops, fairgoers: Blisters, overheating and indigestion are common at the first aid stations

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Nobody wants to see the inside of the first aid stations at the Minnesota State Fair, so listen up, fairgoers: Drink tons of water and don't wear flip-flops.

Paramedic Suzanne Miller wraps Rebecca Ostendorf's cut hand at First Aid West at the Minnesota State Fair on Thursday, August 27, 2015. (Holly Peterson | Pioneer Press)

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Nobody wants to see the inside of the first aid stations at the Minnesota State Fair, so listen up, fairgoers: Drink tons of water and don’t wear flip-flops.

Fair health officials agree that many of the 4,000 or so people they see each year could avoid trips to the stations if they’d just follow those simple guidelines.

“Last year, we saw 3,700 people. In ’13, it was just over 3,000 and in ’12, just over 4,000, and, often, those people are coming in and saying, ‘I have a blister on my foot from walking the 350 acres of the Fairgrounds in flip-flops.’ We hand out a lot of Band-Aids,” says Kent Griffith, a registered nurse and the clinical supervisor for Regions Hospital’s emergency medical services, which has staffed the Fair’s first aid stations for several years (previously, they were handled by volunteers).

Other common complaints are headaches and upset stomachs, both of which first aid workers can treat with over-the-counter medicines, and dizziness brought on by the high temperatures that are a fact of life in late-August Minnesota.

“Often, people will come in when they get overheated,” Griffith says. “We have ice water and a cool place for them to sit. If the weather is warm, I would say the majority of people - especially if they’re elderly or people with underlying medical conditions - will come in and say they’re weak or dizzy. We have a couple of beds where we can lay them down, get them rested and recovered and even hook them up to an EKG, if that’s needed. Hopefully, they stabilize and we say, ‘Are you ready to go back to the Fair?’ ”


The answer is usually, “Yes, thanks, and I hope I won’t have to see you again.”

Visiting the first aid stations - there’s one at the east end of the Fairgrounds near the 4-H building and one on the west end, near the police station. Health care is free, although the stations aren’t equipped to, for instance, draw blood or do lab analysis, and fairgoers who have to be taken to off-site health care facilities will, obviously, have to pay for that.

Most ailing fairgoers can be treated on-site by the registered nurse, paramedic and emergency medical technicians on hand (a physician is always on call). But Dr. Bjorn Peterson, assistant medical director for Regions, notes that his staff has had to respond to heart attacks, strokes, cardiac arrests (five of them in steamy 2011 alone) and some trauma patients.

Those serious matters aside, most of the complaints seen at the first aid stations are the sorts of things that happen in a hot, crowded place where folks have a tendency to overindulge.

“When you have big crowds like this - last year, on the final Saturday, we had 250,000 people here - people are bound to get tripped by other people or bumped into by carts or fall down and get scrapes,” Griffith says. “Because you’re talking about more than 100,000 people each day, there are a certain number of people who don’t feel so good (to begin with) and walking around all day doesn’t make them feel any better.”

Not coming to the Fair on a day when you’re ailing is another pro tip from the medical staff. A surprising number of people do not pay attention, though.

“It’s the Great Minnesota Get-Together and people look forward to it all year long. We get that and we want people to enjoy it,” Peterson says. “So we hate to tell people to stay home but, every year, people show up who have been vomiting all day long the day before and surprise, surprise, they have problems and they have to come in to see us.”

“We’ve seen people who had been discharged from the hospital after some kind of surgery, fresh orthopedic surgery,” Griffith says. “They’re supposed to be taking it easy but the Fair is only for 12 days, so they come out to the Fair. Or parents who say their kids have had the flu. I guess common sense is, if your child is sick, they’re not going to get any better at the Fair, where it’s hot and there’s lots of dust.”


Fairgoers who do go to the Fair with medical conditions can take steps to make sure they’ll be OK. Griffith says it’s a good idea for diabetics and others who take medications to bring those meds along. Try to follow dietary restrictions, even in the face of the Fair’s everything-on-a-stick temptations.

Griffith recommends treating yourself to a couple of deep-fried cheese curds but then hitting the fresh fruit or veggie pizza stands. Check out the wellness tips at the Minnesota Department of Health booth in the Education Building. Don’t be afraid to take frequent rest breaks in shady places. Wear comfy, light-reflective clothing. Take water with you and drink a lot of it.

Even if your health is fine, pay extra attention to the others around you.

“Every year, there is a Senior Day. (Monday, Aug. 31, is Seniors, Kids and Minnesota State Patrol Day. Thursday, Sept. 3 is Seniors Day.) They bus in senior citizens from all over the metro area and that’s a day when we have to be concerned because there’s a tendency for there to be more chronic health issues,” Peterson says. “One thing to try to do is keep an eye on people with you who maybe can’t communicate as well: the very young, the very old. Those are people who can overdo it pretty easily.”

There is one popular spot at the Fair where just about anybody can experience unexpected problems: the CHS Miracle of Birth Center.

“It’s a wonderful place but it causes a number of people to faint every year, as does the veterinary operating room, (in the Pet Center) where they do some sterilization of pets,” says Griffith. “It’s fascinating to watch. Most people are saying, ‘That’s really cool,’ and kids love to see a baby calf being born. But some people will be standing there one minute and the next thing they know, they’re passed out on the ground. Not everybody is used to seeing those bodily fluids all over the place, especially on hot days.”

It’s probably not practical to advise fairgoers to wear helmets if they visit the Miracle of Birth display, but the issue there is not all that different from advice to drink water and wear sensible shoes: Having fun at the Fair is all about pacing yourself and knowing your own limitations.

The Pioneer Press is in a media partnership with Forum News Service.

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