Beware! Bathrooms can kill too!

By Dr. K. Javeed Nayeem, MD

We have all seen a most shocking and disturbing incident in the very tragic death of Sridevi, a phenomenally versatile, much loved and admired actress. While nothing that has been said about the circumstances in which she met her end seems very convincing, the fact remains that she died very prematurely when her fans were still expecting to see the best of her performances after her emergence from a long, self-imposed exile.

While the not-so-open-and-shut case seems to have been shut forever, without it having languished in foreign law courts, it certainly will languish in people’s minds here at home for a very long time to come. But my take here today is not about how Sridevi died but about where she died — the humble bathroom! The bathroom has been a part of most of our households for a few centuries now by virtue of being a most essential and indispensible necessity. In fact, until very recently, it was not a very glamorous place being just a very staid and dull part of our homes. It certainly was not the object of veneration or display meant to gain the attention and admiration of our friends to our opulence as it now is.

Over the recent years, the bathrooms of our rich and famous have become so hi-tech that they can actually be called technological marvels. They are electronic workhorses which can work wonders upon our bodies and minds too, instead of just being private places where we can scrub ourselves clean of all the sweat and grime that gathers upon our work-weary bodies. You may find it hard to believe but today there are bathrooms that can cost more than the houses they are a part of! I will not venture to highlight here what is so good about them but only use this writing space to tell you how very dangerous too most modern bathrooms can be.

Yes, unknown to most of us today the bathroom is a place great danger lurks silently. Across the length and breadth of the world people slip and fall in their bathrooms with alarming regularity and sustain various kinds of injuries and fractures. Any orthopaedic surgeon will be able to tell you that after road accidents, falls in bathrooms are the commonest cause of head injuries and fractures, especially of the hip bone. If we look around us, I am sure every one of us can recall at least one instance of someone in our circle of elderly relatives who has had a hip fracture due to a fall in the bathroom. That is how common falls in bathrooms are.

A hip fracture in an elderly person is a very major medical event which can be fraught with great danger, especially because most elderly people have co-existing ailments like diabetes, high blood pressure, heart problems and bad lungs. These co-morbidities increase the risk of operative mortality many times but the best method of treating almost all these cases is by immediate surgery. If left un-operated these people are condemned to a bed-ridden life which too is not free from much pain, both physical and mental, not only for themselves but also for the family members who have to look after them.

In fact, the medical fraternity across the globe agrees that a fracture of the hip in an elderly person that cannot be operated for some reason is nothing less than a painful death-sentence for the patient. The incidence of falls in bathrooms resulting in head injuries and hip fractures has been growing at an alarming rate over the recent years. This is because of the change in the floorings of our bathrooms with various kinds of fancy tiles now replacing the simple cement floor. There was a time until not very long ago when all bathrooms including the ones in affluent people’s homes too had ordinary cement floors finished in a rough grout to prevent people from slipping. In fact most people preferred to have their bathrooms paved with a single large slab of very rough granite in the actual bathing area which was considered the safest arrangement.

Most homes in the remote reaches of the Malnad areas continue to have such bathrooms even to this day. That is why we do not hear about elderly people slipping and falling in bathrooms there although many of them live solitary lives while their younger folk eke out their lives in cities.

The plain truth is that despite tall claims by their manufacturers, no modern bathroom tiles, not even the ones that is considered to be the most ‘non-slip’ ones can remain so for long with regular use. Today most of us consider it infra-dig to have our bathroom floors finished in an un-fancy way even if it is the safest thing for our life and limb. When that is the case the least that we can do to make our bathrooms safer is to install sturdy grab rails in every one of them right at the time of their construction or even as an after-fitting. This simple safety measure can prevent much morbidity and misery in our lives. When we insist on safety features like seat belts and air bags while buying cars for ourselves, why can we not give the same attention to safety in our homes?

Now, coming to bath-tubs, let me tell you that most of us spend more money on installing them although we hardly spend any time bathing in them! Although a bath-tub is not too unsafe for an able bodied and fully alert person it can be a pretty dangerous place to be in if someone is even slightly infirm or inebriated. A fall into a bath-tub full of water due to a slippery floor that renders a person unconscious can cause death due to drowning if not due to the head injury itself.

It is not uncommon for a slightly intoxicated person who enters a bath-tub to slip into a much deeper state of unconsciousness due to the dilatation of the peripheral blood vessels while immersed in the warm water. This happens because of the diversion of blood to the rest of the body which deprives the brain of oxygen. When a person is in this state of stupor, drowning and death can occur in less than half a minute of submersion of the head under water.

Is this what happened in Dubai? Or is this what we are told happened there as this is the easiest explanation of how death can inevitably come when it chooses to?

e-mail: kjnmysore@rediffmail.com

View Comments (3)

  • Superb article by Dr. Javeed Nayeem. Normally his writings are quite good & readable. In the backdrop of Sridevi"s death this article gains much attention. Thank you Doctor!!

  • Would you be convinced if this incident happened in India and death certificate with spelling mistake showed the eagerness to convince us by saying it was "Accidental " ? It appears like media seems hell bent to tell us that it was natural ! This preferential treatment given to this incident beats common sense! It is the same set of people who are ready to accept that all Hindus die in Pakistan due to natural causes while every Muslim who dies in India was murders by RSS.
    This article seems to be attempt to say because strange things can happen, we all cal look the other way and accept the verdict pronounced by the coroner!
    For heavens sake , jt js bigh time, we should expect some professional ethics from doctors

  • As a corollary to this well written article, injury caused due to fall in the bathroom has been used as a cover to get patients admitted to hospitals.
    I know of a few road accident cases, particularly hit and run types, private hospitals hesitate to admit them citing it becomes a police case and suggest to approach Govt. hospitals.
    The kith and kin of the victims prefer private nursing homes and the easiest way is to declare that the patient had a nasty fall in the bathroom.!