There is an endless list of ways you could die, at any moment: You could get hit by a bus, a meteor, or frozen pee dropped from an airplane; you could choke on a pretzel, a piece of steak, or a faulty ball-gag; you could suffer a heart attack, or a bear attack. You’ve got your guard up. You’re ready. But you never saw these coming.
Clothing Could Kill You
“Isadora Duncan Syndrome” is, perhaps unsurprisingly, named after Isadora Duncan. She was a famous dancer, and more importantly, died so crazy she got a syndrome named after her. In 1927, Duncan was riding in an admirer’s car, and died from being strangled by her scarf after it became entangled in the rear wheel. If there’s a more 1927 way to die than that, we can’t think of it.
But it wasn’t just her. Industrial machinery consistently snags and crushes and kills what few human workers haven’t been replaced by uncrushable robots, and farming equipment kills farmers faster and more often than undocumented side effects from Monsanto products.
If your long scarf doesn’t get caught in the wheel of your admirer’s car, basically anything can get you snagged and killed by a subway train. Clothes kill so many people in subway stations that we can’t call it a freak occurrence anymore. Be it a woman’s pocketbook catching a train door, or an escalator gobbling a man’s sweatshirt drawstring, the cases are many, and depressingly similar: Any little loose article of clothing will get you dragged to death or ripped to shreds by jagged metal.
It’s also a huge problem in India. Women often wear traditional long scarves called dupatta, which are like magnets for moving parts. This appears to be especially true of farming equipment and motorcycles, which are plentiful due to traffic congestion. One study tracked 12 such cases between 2004 and 2006, accounting for 11 cases of quadriplegia, three of which quickly ended in death.
Sartorial-motor injuries are similarly common in neighboring Pakistan, where the convoluted layers of robes and tarps that women wear are constantly sucked into motorcycle wheels. Karachi alone averages one per day, meaning that no matter where you are in the world, there’s probably a machine nearby eagerly waiting to devour you scarf-first.
Lightning Can Strike From A Clear Sky
According to the Lightning Branch of the National Weather Service, there are five different ways lightning can kill you. But they left out the most terrifying possibility: A bolt from the blue. Even with sun and clear skies, you could still suddenly be struck down by a lightning bolt that originated a whole city away.
Oh, and did we mention bolts from the blue are also more energetic than conventional strikes? It makes sense: They clearly hate you, personally. That’s where lightning gets its energy from, after all: Pure, unbridled hate. For you.
Bolts from the blue seem to strike lone humans with deadly accuracy. A tourist strolling along the sunny Daytona Beach surf was hit right in the chest by a bolt that originated from miles offshore. Similarly, another man was killed on a New Jersey beach, as he and a friend tossed a football around on a sunny day. A landscaper suffered the same fate beneath a cloudless Miami sky, and numerous others have been injured by similar guerilla lightning strikes.
You Can Drown On Dry Land
The 2008 death of Johnny Jackson highlighted an obscure but terrifying condition known as delayed drowning. Jackson drowned, but unlike most drowning victims, the 10-year-old died while asleep in his bed.
Yes, you can absolutely drown on land – in two different ways, dry drowning and secondary (delayed) drowning.
Dry drowning occurs shortly after leaving the water; if liquid has entered the nose or mouth, it can trigger the body’s natural reaction to clamp the larynx shut, preventing water from getting into the airway. Unfortunately, this reflex works too well, preventing air from entering the airway, too. Airways generally need that stuff. It’s right there in the name.
A drowning is classified as “dry” when the larynx did its job, as far as it’s concerned, and water did not reach the lungs. That’s of little comfort to the rest of us, who still watched a person suffocate soon after exiting a pool, just because of an overzealous larynx. Great job, larynx.
Secondary (or delayed) drowning works differently, and may happen up to 24 hours after submersion. If even a tiny bit of water enters the lungs, it can cause fluid buildup and swelling. Over time, that interrupts oxygen transfer, slows the heart, can induce nighttime vomiting and subsequent choking, and causes cardiac arrest. We know: The thought of drowning a full day after you left a pool is terrifying. No real need to worry though, water enters the lungs only through extreme poolside activities that people never do, like jumping from a diving board, or shooting out of a water slide.
Land-drowning mostly affects kids, is typically reversible if you get to the hospital in time, and only accounts for 1-2 percent of annual drowning deaths. Still, now you have the idea of “dry drowning” in your head, and you’ll never fully trust a pool again.
You Could Be Swallowed By A “Tree Well”
You’re aware of the dangers of skiing: From Sonny Bono to that Ski-Free yeti, the specter of death-by-skiing is everywhere. But while you’re watching for blows to the head and yeti attacks, the trees are harboring a deadly secret: tree wells.
When it snows, a tree’s low-hanging branches shelter the base, producing a pocket of loosely packed snow and air. “Loosely packed snow and air” might not sound terribly frightening, but that’s just what these murderous trees want you to think. As the snow level rises around it, the fluffier mix acts as a sort of “quick-snow,” waiting for oblivious skiers to get too close.
Tree wells are often deceptively deep. and victims typically fall into these traps head first, meaning there’s little they can do to free themselves.
Tree wells account for a whopping 20 percent of snowboarding and skiing deaths, via “snow immersion suffocation.” If you’re unfortunate enough to get caught in a tree well, you basically have to wait for a partner to dig you out. If you ski like you make love – alone, and poorly, often falling headfirst into wells – you’re basically dead.
You can try gently rocking back and forth to create a you-sized air pocket, then use the branches to push or pull yourself to the surface. But that’s easier said than done, when you’re struggling against a deluge of loose snow that’s squeezing the breath out of your already-frozen lungs. It’s probably better just to accept it and die as wacky as possible, with two skis poking out of the snow at comical angles. Give the corpse retrieval team a bit of a laugh.
A Light Touch To The Chest Can Stop Your Heart
There’s no scientific evidence that a martial arts master can touch someone’s chest and stop their heart. Sad to say, The Simpsons and Kill Bill are not considered scientifically valid (yet). But it is actually something that can happen to you, every time something touches your chest.
Yes, the “touch of death” is taking lives today, not at martial arts tournaments, but at youth sporting events, mostly baseball and hockey. It’s called “commotio cordis,” and it doesn’t require a shriveled old master with fingers of steel, just a baseball or hockey stick impact above the heart at just the right part of the cardiac cycle. There’s a margin of error of 10-20 milliseconds; 20 times shorter than the blink of an eye.
Even the most seemingly innocuous blow can trigger commotio cordis — a hollow plastic bat, shadow boxing, a hiccup-remedying chest pat — basically any contact at all. Statistically, commotio cordis is almost exclusive to male athletes below the age of 20.
Between 1996 and 2010, the Commotio Cordis Registry logged 224 cases. Though 10-20 new instances are registered every year, researchers believe numerous cases still go unrecorded. Its deadliness is mostly due to the fact that, should commotion cordis occur, you need a defibrillator to shock the heart back into action. For every minute of delay, the chance of survival drops 10 percent. Just always have a defibrillator handy, any time you might need to give, or receive, a triumphant chest bump. Or, alternatively, never do anything that deserves a chest bump. You probably weren’t going to anyway, but now you have an excuse.