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A 99-year-old woman who survived being stuck in a walk-in bathtub for 22 hours says she recited poetry, reminisced about her world travels, tried mental telepathy and prayed to get herself through the ordeal.
A family member said Monday they expect Evelyn Vernon to soon be discharged from University Hospital, where she has stayed intermittently since being found Nov. 28 wedged in the deep part of the tub.
Vernon told her grandson she slipped into the 20-inch by 20-inch space while reaching for a washcloth that seemed to be blocking the drain. But she also said that when she decided to take a bath around 8 p.m. she made a mistake by forgetting to keep her medical alert device with her and filling the tub with water that was too hot.
Family members went to her Salt Lake City condo when too many phone calls went unanswered, said her daughter Bonnie Lloyd.
Fearful they would find their mother and grandmother dead, they instead saw she had twisted into a kind of reverse jackknife, tearing her skin open and hurting her neck in her struggle.
They were unable to lift Vernon themselves, but paramedics managed to use a sheet to make a sling and hoist her free, Lloyd said. The ordeal was terribly painful, Vernon said.
Lloyd said representatives of the walk-in bath manufacturer said they had heard before from customers about getting stuck behind the tub's door, which only opens inward.
Family members said a doctor compared Vernon's will to live as similar to that of climber Aron Ralston, who was 28 when he amputated his arm in 2003 after a boulder trapped him in a Utah slot canyon.
Vernon, however, said she reminisced about her lifelong travels to calm herself. She also credited prayer and the poems she recited to herself for still being alive.
"If I hadn't known lots of beautiful poetry," she said while lying in her hospital bed, "I couldn't have made it."
She wanted to tell her story, she said, because "I don't want anyone else to go through what I've gone through."
Falls are a leading cause of injury among older adults and fatal falls are on the rise. Eight Utahns died from falls in 2009. "It's not something you hear about. Too few people realize the risk," said Peter Hebertson, outreach director for Salt Lake County Aging Services.
The county's outreach program does assessments to gauge whether seniors need services like Meals on Wheels. Recently, outreach workers also began surveying homes for safety, said Hebertson. One prevention tool, he said, are emergency response buttons that alert family and friends or local law enforcement of in-home emergencies.
The systems run about $30 a month, "which can seem expensive," he said. "But it's pennies on the dollar compared to what you'll spend on medical care if you go through something like [Vernon] did."
Vernon, widow of former Utah Attorney General Clinton Vernon (1949-1953), said she looks forward to going home and resuming her independent life, albeit with continued family and professional care. She also is planning to go on a cruise in June to celebrate her 100th birthday.
"I like living alone," she said. "I enjoy my own company."
Tribune reporter Kirsten Stewart contributed to this report.
Falls are a leading cause of injury among older adults. Here are tips to avoid taking a tumble:
Talk with your doctor about medication and medical conditions that might increase your risk of falling.
Keep moving; exercise improves strength, balance, coordination and flexibility.
Wear sturdy, comfortable shoes that lace up and provide good support.
Remove throw rugs from bathrooms and steps from shower entries.
Install grab bars near toilets, bathtubs and showers.
Buy an emergency response device that alerts family, neighbors and friends should you fall and become immobile.
Sources: Mayo Clinic, Salt Lake County Aging Services