Rubber Duck Saves Elderly Woman’s Life

When 90-year-old Shirley Madsen settled down for a bath, she realized that she couldn't get up again. She nearly died there—but was saved by a little rubber duck.

According to our old friend Ernie, rubber ducks make bathtime lots of fun. We’ve got a feeling that 90-year-old Shirley Madsen might debate the finer points of that statement—but in her case, a rubber duck did manage to save her life.

On May 27th, Madsen, of Walnut Creek, California, came back from a senior casino excursion and decided to take a bath before dinner. But it had been a long day of fun and excitement, and she hadn’t eaten a bite since breakfast that morning. When she attempted to stand up and get out of the bathtub, Madsen realized that she was too weak to get up.

Normally, Madsen keeps a phone in her bathroom, and under ordinary circumstances, she could have called one of her daughters or a friend to help her out. But she had forgotten to place the phone near the tub, and later that evening, when one of her daughters tried to call her, she wasn’t able to answer.

“She is always so busy, we figured she was out having a good time with the senior citizens,” her daughter Diane Weber told the San Jose Mercury News.

Instead, Weber’s mother was fighting for her life in the bathtub. To keep her body temperature up, Madsen would drain a bit of water from the tub every now and then, and replace it with fresh hot water. She had no access to food there, and wasn’t able to regain the strength to stand. Spending so many hours in the tub was quickly dehydrating her fragile body, and she wasn’t able to cup enough water in her hands to quench her thirst. She was fading fast, and wasn’t sure when—or if—help would come.

Fortunately, Madsen keeps a collection of rubber ducks in her tub. “There is a fireman, a policeman and others,” Madsen said. “I jokingly tell my friends that I am going home to take a bath with the boys.”

On her second day stranded in the tub, Madsen noticed that one of the rubber ducks had a hole in its bottom. That toy became her lifesaver: she filled it with water and began using it as her drinking cup.

Madsen wasn’t sure how long she would last this way, however. “I could hear people walking by and the phone ringing from time to time,” Madsen said. “I was calling for help, but I guess they just couldn’t hear me.”

After it had been three days since anyone had heard from Madsen, her daughters were worried about her. Madsen has a standing weekly breakfast date at a local restaurant with one of her daughters, Christine Steigelman, but Steigelman had a funny feeling that something was wrong, and decided to go to her mother’s house early to make sure she was okay. When she arrived, things didn’t look good: “The car was in the driveway and there were three newspapers in front,” she said.

She opened the door, afraid of what she’d find. But a moment later, she heard a small voice coming from the bathroom, calling for help.

Her mother was weak and fragile, but still conscious. Steigelman immediately called an ambulance to bring her to the hospital and make sure that she would be okay.

Three days later, Madsen returned home from the hospital with a deep tissue bruise, bed sore-like injuries, and severely dry skin. Otherwise, she is in good health—though she vows to stay away from the bathtub for some time to come.

For those who do dare to take a bath, she has a few words of advice: “Get a bunch of rubber duckies and make sure one of them can’t swim.”

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