Toilet-related Injuries


There are many toilet-related injuries and some toilet-related deaths throughout history and in urban legends. In young boys, one of the most common causes of genital injury is when the toilet seat falls down while they are using the toilet. Smaller children run the risk of drowning if they fall headfirst into the toilet. Injuries to adults include bruised buttocks, tail bones, and dislocated hips from unsuspectingly sitting on the toilet bowl rim because the seat is up or loose.

Injuries can also be caused by pinching due to splits in plastic seats or by splinters from wooden seats, or if the toilet itself collapses under the weight of the user. Older high flush cast iron cisterns have been known to detach from the wall when the chain is pulled to flush, causing injuries to the user.

The 2000 Ig Nobel Prize in Public Health was awarded to three physicians from the Glasgow Western Infirmary for a 1993 case report on wounds sustained to the buttocks due to collapsing toilets. Furthermore, injuries are frequently sustained by people who stand on toilet seats to reach a height, and slip. There are also instances of people slipping on a wet bathroom floor or from a bath and concussing themselves on the fixture. In 2012, 2.3 million toilets in the United States, and over 9 million in Canada, were recalled due to faulty flush mechanisms which put users at risk of the fixture exploding.

There are also injuries caused by animals. Some black widow spiders like to spin their web below the toilet seat because insects abound in and around it. Therefore, several persons have been bitten while using a toilet, particularly an outhouse toilet. Although there is immediate pain at the bite site, these bites are rarely fatal. It has also been reported that in some cases rats crawl up through toilet soil pipes and emerge in the toilet bowl, so that toilet users may be at risk of being bitten by a rat.

Some instances of toilet-related deaths are attributed to the drop in blood pressure due to the parasympathetic nervous system during bowel movements. This effect may be magnified by existing circulatory issues. It is further possible that people succumb on the toilet to chronic constipation, because the Valsalva maneuver (forceful attempted exhalation against a closed airway) is often dangerously used to aid in the expulsion of feces from the rectum during a bowel movement. According to Sharon Mantik Lewis, Margaret McLean Heitkemper and Shannon Ruff Dirksen, the ‘Valsalva maneuver … occurs during straining to pass a hardened stool.’ ‘If defecation is suppressed over long periods, problems can occur, such as constipation or stool impaction.’ In chapter 8 of their ‘Abdominal Emergencies,’ David Cline and Latha Stead write that ‘autopsy studies continue to reveal missed bowel obstruction as an unexpected cause of death.’

In 1945, the German submarine U-1206 was sunk after the toilet malfunctioned, and a crewman’s botched repair forced them to the surface. King Wenceslaus III of Bohemia was murdered with a spear while sitting in the garderobe on August 4, 1306. George II of Great Britain died on the toilet on October 25, 1760 from an aortic dissection. According to Horace Walpole’s memoirs, King George ‘rose as usual at six, and drank his chocolate; for all his actions were invariably methodic. A quarter after seven he went into a little closet. His German valet de chambre in waiting heard a noise, and running in, found the King dead on the floor.’ In falling he had cut his face.

Lupe Vélez committed suicide on December 13, 1944, taking an overdose of sleeping pills. She had been dating Harald Maresch, whose child she was carrying. Urban legend has it that she was found dead in her bathroom, becoming sick after taking the pills. This urban legend was popularized by Andy Warhol’s 1965 film ‘Lupe and Kenneth Anger’s Hollywood Babylon’ and ‘Hollywood Babylon 2.’ However, no contemporary reports mention her dying in this fashion. At the time of her death both media and the coroner’s report stated that she was found in her bedroom, as if she were asleep, by her secretary Beulah Kinder. Lenny Bruce died of a heroin overdose on August 3, 1966 while sitting on the toilet, with his arm tied off.

Elvis Presley was found dead on his bathroom floor on August 16, 1977. According to the medical investigator, Presley had ‘stumbled or crawled several feet before he died’; he had apparently been using the toilet at the time. Elvis biographer Peter Guralnick writes, ‘It was certainly possible that he had died while ‘straining at stool.” Elvis’ personal physician, Dr. George Nicopolous, wrote in his 2009 book, ‘The King and Dr. Nick’ that ‘We believe Elvis died from a normal physiological event brought into play called ‘Valsalva Manuever.’ This …caused the heart to stop when the body strained. When Elvis compressed his abdominal aorta by straining, his heart, in response, went into arrhythmia and quit working suddenly. I believe this in turn may have caused a drop in blood pressure, which resulted in a grand mal seizure; Elvis fell, and his face was buried in the plush carpet, where he suffocated.’

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