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And They Walked Away: The Stories of 5 Strange Injuries

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Take any high school psychology course and you'll hear the story of Phineas Gage, a man whose skull was pierced by a tamping iron while working on the railroad in 1848. He survived the ordeal, but his personality and his life were changed forever by his unusual injury. Here are the stories of five other people whose lives were altered by strange injuries—but, like Gage, at least they lived to tell the tale.

1. The Importance of Saying "Bless You"

It was a typical evening for Britain's Victoria Kenny when she and her husband settled in on the couch to watch a little television in April 2007. Just as their favorite show started, Victoria's nose began to tingle and she reeled back to sneeze. Moments later, she couldn't move.

When Victoria sneezed, the force of her back muscles contracting ruptured one of the discs that acts as a cushion between each vertebrae. Her sciatic nerve was trapped between the bones, creating such intense pain, she couldn't stand, sit, or even move her arms and legs. After three surgeries, the best doctors could do was keep her comfortable with a daily morphine dosage that was so high it caused her to have hallucinations. Bed-ridden in anguish for two years, Victoria had to close the business she owned, became horribly depressed, and even contemplated suicide.


Then, in April 2009, Victoria was referred to Spineworks, a private specialty clinic, to see if they might be able to help. The surgeons there permanently attached a small, plastic cage around the affected vertebrae, placed a tiny spring between the bones to replace the ruptured disc, and held the whole thing in place with titanium rods and bolts. Although it sounds restrictive, Victoria reported the pain was gone immediately. In fact, she was out of the hospital the next day, and was walking around a week later. However, she admits to being terrified of sneezing now, preferring to pinch her nose whenever she feels one coming on.

2. More Than a Mouthful

Chad Ettmueller was hungry. And when Chad was hungry, he often went to Which Wich, his favorite sub sandwich shop in Cumming, Georgia. He normally orders the chain's "Wicked" sandwich, stacked high with turkey, ham, roast beef, pepperoni, and bacon, as well as three cheeses of your choosing. It's a mouthful as it is, but Chad hadn't eaten anything that day, so he ordered double meat, too. When he went to take his first bite, he opened wide and prepared to chomp down. But his jaw wouldn't move—it was stuck open.

His kids started to laugh, thinking he was playing around, but he couldn't join in the revelry even if he tried. Embarrassed, he went outside to the parking lot and tried moving his jaw around, and even resorted to punching himself to knock it back into place. When that wasn't successful, he headed for the emergency room. The doctors tried to cure his diagnosed "double dislocation of the mandible," but still nothing worked. After 14 hours with his mouth open, they had no choice but to surgically reset his jaw.

This is the part where Chad sues Which Wich and wins a crazy multi-million dollar settlement, right? Not this time. Chad's pride was bruised, but he wasn't going to get all litigious. "It wasn't the sandwich's fault," he said, "it was my genetics." The chain offered Chad as many milkshakes as he wanted while he was recovering and is planning on renaming the Wicked sandwich to honor him and his predicament. They're taking votes on their website to decide if the sandwich should be renamed the "Double Dislocator," the "Lock-Jaw," or the "Jaw Wrecker."

Even though Chad survived his injury, his friend Paul avenged him like a true pal should, by eating the rest of the sandwich later. Afterwards he said "it had to die." What a guy!

Here's a video of Chad talking about his jaw-breaking meal:

3. Talk About Getting Screwed

It's common safety protocol on a construction site to toss away the tool you're using if you start to fall off a ladder. It makes sense, because nobody wants to land on their own hammer or saw. Unfortunately, this method doesn't always work as planned.

Ron Hunt was drilling over his head while standing on a ladder during a construction project. The boring wasn't going too smoothly, so he really had to put his weight into it. But doing so tipped his 6' ladder off balance and he began to fall. Instinctively, he tossed the drill, including its 18" long, 1.5" diameter drill bit, to the ground. However, he didn't toss it far enough away, and he landed on it—with his face. The bit had punctured his right eye and exited out the back of his skull, in a manner one co-worker described as, something out of a horror movie. Amazingly, he was still conscious when paramedics arrived on the scene and sent Hunt via helicopter to Washoe Medical Center in Reno, Nevada.

There, doctors had the difficult task of figuring out how to remove the drill bit from Hunt's head. They considered cutting into his head and pulling it out from the side, though this would obviously be an invasive process. Instead, someone hit upon the bright idea of just unscrewing it—and it worked! Amazingly, the bit had not punctured Hunt's brain, but had simply pushed it aside when it entered through the ocular cavity, saving him from serious brain damage or death. So it was just a matter of slowly twisting the bit—by hand—until it popped right out of his skull.

Hunt's luck stopped there, though, as his right eye was destroyed and he needed more surgery to insert metal plates in his head to hold his fractured skull together. And Hunt was uninsured, leaving him with hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical bills. At least he walked away with an amazing story and the startling x-rays to prove it.

4. Music, Jesus, and Chainsaws

This one's pretty gruesome.

Forthman Murff was a lifelong lumberjack who claimed he was personally responsible for cutting down 1,900 acres of timber. In May of 1984, at the age of 74, Murff was cutting down a tree by himself near his home in Gattman, Mississippi, when a branch fell from 80 feet up and hit him in the shoulder. The blow knocked him into a 10-foot ditch. Soon another branch fell and broke his left leg and foot. Murff was briefly knocked unconscious and when he woke up, he could hear and feel his still-running chainsaw burrowing straight across his neck. The saw had torn through his windpipe, esophagus and jugular veins, meaning his head was held on by the spine, carotid arteries and the skin on the back of his neck. It's safe to say that most people would have simply died right there. But Murff decided the best course of action was to stand up. "I saw a stream of blood about the size of my little finger. It wasn't coming in spurts, so I thought I might have a chance."


Now standing on a broken leg and foot, blood began to pour into his lungs. Somehow, Murff had the will and forethought to periodically bend down and let the blood drain from the gash in his neck to keep himself from drowning. Stopping occasionally to drain his lungs, he hobbled to his truck 150 feet away, then drove a half-mile to a neighbor's house. A friend took Murff to a small-town hospital 17 miles away, but doctors quickly realized they couldn't handle such a severe trauma case. So they stabilized Murff as best they could before transferring him—by ambulance—to a larger hospital 30 miles away. Once there, he was immediately rushed into surgery to, quite literally, reattach his head.

Miraculously, Murff survived and lived a perfectly normal life, dying in 2003 at the ripe old age of 92. Even after the accident, he still cut down the occasional tree. When interviewed about the accident in 1994, Murff said he planned to live out the rest of his days concentrating on the three things he loved most: music, Jesus Christ, and chainsaws. You have to wonder if maybe he should have just stuck with those first two.

5. Video Games Really Are Bad For You

To cleanse the images of chainsaws and drill bits out of your mind, here's a fun but strange injury to wrap things up.

Growing up, my friends and I suffered from "Nintendo Thumb," a painful affliction of the opposable digits caused by playing too many hours of The Legend of Zelda or Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!! Thankfully, the worst effect our "injury" ever had was the occasional cramp in our writing hand during an Algebra test. For one major league pitcher, though, his video game injury almost cost him the chance to play in the World Series.

Joel Zumaya of the Detroit Tigers has one mean fastball. Apparently his fingers are fast, too, because in 2006, he was shredding virtual guitar strings so hard playing Guitar Hero that he strained his wrist, putting him on the disabled list. His injury came just as the Tigers and Oakland A's were set to square off in the American League Championship Series, leaving the Tigers without his 100 MPH heater. Lucky for Zumaya, the Tigers trounced the A's in four straight games before moving on to the World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals. Zumaya's wrist had healed enough for him to pitch two weeks later in Game 4 of the Series, though the Tigers lost 5-4. Might things have been different if Zumaya hadn't been living out this rock n' roll fantasies during his free time?

While most players can rest assured their strange injuries will one day be forgotten, Zumaya's injury will live on forever thanks to the makers of Guitar Hero. When Guitar Hero II was released for the Xbox 360 in April 2007, pretend musicians were met with a brief disclaimer in the game's credits: "No pitchers were harmed in the making of this game. Except for one. Joel Zumaya. He had it coming."

Wanna read more about people hurting themselves in strange ways? Check out Ethan's 19 Unusual Sports Injuries.
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Do you guys have any memorable injury stories? Tell us about them in the comments below!

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Library of Congress
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10 Facts About the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
May 29, 2017
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Library of Congress

On Veterans Day, 1921, President Warren G. Harding presided over an interment ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery for an unknown soldier who died during World War I. Since then, three more soldiers have been added to the Tomb of the Unknowns (also known as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier) memorial—and one has been disinterred. Below, a few things you might not know about the historic site and the rituals that surround it.

1. THERE WERE FOUR UNKNOWN SOLDIER CANDIDATES FOR THE WWI CRYPT. 

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

To ensure a truly random selection, four unknown soldiers were exhumed from four different WWI American cemeteries in France. U.S. Army Sgt. Edward F. Younger, who was wounded in combat and received the Distinguished Service Medal, was chosen to select a soldier for burial at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington. After the four identical caskets were lined up for his inspection, Younger chose the third casket from the left by placing a spray of white roses on it. The chosen soldier was transported to the U.S. on the USS Olympia, while the other three were reburied at Meuse Argonne American Cemetery in France.

2. SIMILARLY, TWO UNKNOWN SOLDIERS WERE SELECTED AS POTENTIAL REPRESENTATIVES OF WWII.

One had served in the European Theater and the other served in the Pacific Theater. The Navy’s only active-duty Medal of Honor recipient, Hospitalman 1st Class William R. Charette, chose one of the identical caskets to go on to Arlington. The other was given a burial at sea.

3. THERE WERE FOUR POTENTIAL KOREAN WAR REPRESENTATIVES.

WikimediaCommons // Public Domain

The soldiers were disinterred from the National Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii. This time, Army Master Sgt. Ned Lyle was the one to choose the casket. Along with the unknown soldier from WWII, the unknown Korean War soldier lay in the Capitol Rotunda from May 28 to May 30, 1958.

4. THE VIETNAM WAR UNKNOWN WAS SELECTED ON MAY 17, 1984.

Medal of Honor recipient U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Allan Jay Kellogg, Jr., selected the Vietnam War representative during a ceremony at Pearl Harbor.

5. BUT THE VIETNAM VETERAN WASN'T UNKNOWN FOR LONG.

Wikipedia // Public Domain

Thanks to advances in mitochondrial DNA testing, scientists were eventually able to identify the remains of the Vietnam War soldier. On May 14, 1998, the remains were exhumed and tested, revealing the “unknown” soldier to be Air Force 1st Lt. Michael Joseph Blassie (pictured). Blassie was shot down near An Loc, Vietnam, in 1972. After his identification, Blassie’s family had him moved to Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in St. Louis. Instead of adding another unknown soldier to the Vietnam War crypt, the crypt cover has been replaced with one bearing the inscription, “Honoring and Keeping Faith with America’s Missing Servicemen, 1958-1975.”

6. THE MARBLE SCULPTORS ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR MANY OTHER U.S. MONUMENTS. 

The Tomb was designed by architect Lorimer Rich and sculptor Thomas Hudson Jones, but the actual carving was done by the Piccirilli Brothers. Even if you don’t know them, you know their work: The brothers carved the 19-foot statue of Abraham Lincoln for the Lincoln Memorial, the lions outside of the New York Public Library, the Maine Monument in Central Park, the DuPont Circle Fountain in D.C., and much more.

7. THE TOMB HAS BEEN GUARDED 24/7 SINCE 1937. 

Tomb Guards come from the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment "The Old Guard". Serving the U.S. since 1784, the Old Guard is the oldest active infantry unit in the military. They keep watch over the memorial every minute of every day, including when the cemetery is closed and in inclement weather.

8. BECOMING A TOMB GUARD IS INCREDIBLY DIFFICULT.

Members of the Old Guard must apply for the position. If chosen, the applicant goes through an intense training period, in which they must pass tests on weapons, ceremonial steps, cadence, military bearing, uniform preparation, and orders. Although military members are known for their neat uniforms, it’s said that the Tomb Guards have the highest standards of them all. A knowledge test quizzes applicants on their memorization—including punctuation—of 35 pages on the history of the Tomb. Once they’re selected, Guards “walk the mat” in front of the Tomb for anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours, depending on the time of year and time of day. They work in 24-hour shifts, however, and when they aren’t walking the mat, they’re in the living quarters beneath it. This gives the sentinels time to complete training and prepare their uniforms, which can take up to eight hours.

9. THE HONOR IS ALSO INCREDIBLY RARE.

The Tomb Guard badge is the least awarded badge in the Army, and the second least awarded badge in the overall military. (The first is the astronaut badge.) Tomb Guards are held to the highest standards of behavior, and can have their badge taken away for any action on or off duty that could bring disrespect to the Tomb. And that’s for the entire lifetime of the Tomb Guard, even well after his or her guarding duty is over. For the record, it seems that Tomb Guards are rarely female—only three women have held the post.

10. THE STEPS THE GUARDS PERFORM HAVE SPECIFIC MEANING.

Everything the guards do is a series of 21, which alludes to the 21-gun salute. According to TombGuard.org:

The Sentinel does not execute an about face, rather they stop on the 21st step, then turn and face the Tomb for 21 seconds. They then turn to face back down the mat, change the weapon to the outside shoulder, mentally count off 21 seconds, then step off for another 21 step walk down the mat. They face the Tomb at each end of the 21 step walk for 21 seconds. The Sentinel then repeats this over and over until the Guard Change ceremony begins.

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BIG QUESTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
WEATHER WATCH
BE THE CHANGE
JOB SECRETS
QUIZZES
WORLD WAR 1
SMART SHOPPING
STONES, BONES, & WRECKS
#TBT
THE PRESIDENTS
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RETROBITUARIES