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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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40 Fun Facts About Sesame Street
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Now in its 47th season, Sesame Street is one of television's most iconic programs—and it's not just for kids. We're big fans of the Street, and to prove it, here are some of our favorite Sesame facts from previous stories and our Amazing Fact Generator.

Sesame Workshop

1. Oscar the Grouch used to be orange. Jim Henson decided to make him green before season two.

2. How did Oscar explain the color change? He said he went on vacation to the very damp Swamp Mushy Muddy and turned green overnight.

3. During a 2004 episode, Cookie Monster said that before he started eating cookies, his name was Sid.

4. In 1980, C-3PO and R2-D2 visited Sesame Street. They played games, sang songs, and R2-D2 fell in love with a fire hydrant.

5. Mr. Snuffleupagus has a first name—Aloysius

6. Ralph Nader stopped by in 1988 and sang "a consumer advocate is a person in your neighborhood."

7. Caroll Spinney said he based Oscar's voice on a cab driver from the Bronx who brought him to the audition.

8. In 1970, Ernie reached #16 on the Billboard Hot 100 with the timeless hit "Rubber Duckie."

9. One of Count von Count's lady friends is Countess von Backwards, who's also obsessed with counting but likes to do it backwards.

10. Sesame Street made its Afghanistan debut in 2011 with Baghch-e-Simsim (Sesame Garden). Big Bird, Grover and Elmo are involved.

11. According to Muppet Wiki, Oscar the Grouch and Count von Count were minimized on Baghch-e-Simsim "due to cultural taboos against trash and vampirism."

12. Before Giancarlo Esposito was Breaking Bad's super intense Gus Fring, he played Big Bird's camp counselor Mickey in 1982.

13. Thankfully, those episodes are available on YouTube.

14. How big is Big Bird? 8'2". (Pictured with First Lady Pat Nixon.)

15. In 2002, the South African version (Takalani Sesame) added an HIV-positive Muppet named Kami.

16. Six Republicans on the House Commerce Committee wrote a letter to PBS president Pat Mitchell warning that Kami was not appropriate for American children, and reminded Mitchell that their committee controlled PBS' funding.

17. Sesame Street's resident game show host Guy Smiley was using a pseudonym. His real name was Bernie Liederkrantz.

18. Bert and Ernie have been getting questioned about their sexuality for years. Ernie himself, as performed by Steve Whitmere, has weighed in: “All that stuff about me and Bert? It’s not true. We’re both very happy, but we’re not gay,”

19. A few years later, Bert (as performed by Eric Jacobson) answered the same question by saying, “No, no. In fact, sometimes we are not even friends; he can be a pain in the neck.”

20. In the first season, both Superman and Batman appeared in short cartoons produced by Filmation. In one clip, Batman told Bert and Ernie to stop arguing and take turns choosing what’s on TV.

21. In another segment, Superman battled a giant chimp.

22. Telly was originally "Television Monster," a TV-obsessed Muppet whose eyes whirled around as he watched.

23. According to Sesame Workshop, Elmo is the only non-human to testify before Congress.

24. He lobbied for more funding for music education, so that "when Elmo goes to school, there will be the instruments to play."

25. In the early 1990s, soon after Jim Henson’s passing, a rumor circulated that Ernie would be killed off in order to teach children about death, as they'd done with Mr. Hooper.

26. According to Snopes, the rumor may have spread thanks to New Hampshire college student, Michael Tabor, who convinced his graduating class to wear “Save Ernie” beanies and sign a petition to persuade Sesame Workshop to let Ernie live.

27. By the time Tabor was corrected, the newspapers had already picked up the story.

28. Sesame Street’s Executive Producer Carol-Lynn Parente joined Sesame Workshop as a production assistant and has worked her way to the top.

29. Originally, Count von Count was more sinister. He could hypnotize and stun people.

30. According to Sesame Workshop, all Sesame Street's main Muppets have four fingers except Cookie Monster, who has five.

31. The episode with Mr. Hooper's funeral aired on Thanksgiving Day in 1983. That date was chosen because families were more likely to be together at that time, in case kids had questions or needed emotional support.

32. Mr. Hooper’s first name was Harold.

33. Big Bird sang "Bein' Green" at Jim Henson's memorial service.

34. As Chris Higgins put it, the performance was "devastating."

35. Oscar's Israeli counterpart is Moishe Oofnik, whose last name means “grouch” in Hebrew.

36. Nigeria's version of Cookie Monster eats yams. His catchphrase: "ME WANT YAM!"

37. Sesame's Roosevelt Franklin ran a school, where he spoke in scat and taught about Africa. Some parents hated him, so in 1975 he got the boot, only to inspire Gob Bluth’s racist puppet Franklin on Arrested Development 28 years later.

38. Our good friend and contributor Eddie Deezen was the voice of Donnie Dodo in the 1985 classic Follow That Bird.

39. Cookie Monster evolved from The Wheel-Stealer—a snack-pilfering puppet Jim Henson created to promote Wheels, Crowns and Flutes in the 1960s.

40. This puppet later was seen eating a computer in an IBM training film and on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Thanks to Stacy Conradt, Joe Hennes, Drew Toal, and Chris Higgins for their previous Sesame coverage!

An earlier version of this article appeared in 2012.

How Apple's '1984' Super Bowl Ad Was Almost Canceled

More than 30 years ago, Apple defined the Super Bowl commercial as a cultural phenomenon. Prior to Super Bowl XVIII, nobody watched the game "just for the commercials"—but one epic TV spot, directed by sci-fi legend Ridley Scott, changed all that. Read on for the inside story of the commercial that rocked the world of advertising, even though Apple's Board of Directors didn't want to run it at all.

THE AD

If you haven't seen it, here's a fuzzy YouTube version:

"WHY 1984 WON'T BE LIKE 1984"

The tagline "Why 1984 Won't Be Like '1984'" references George Orwell's 1949 novel 1984, which envisioned a dystopian future, controlled by a televised "Big Brother." The tagline was written by Brent Thomas and Steve Hayden of the ad firm Chiat\Day in 1982, and the pair tried to sell it to various companies (including Apple, for the Apple II computer) but were turned down repeatedly. When Steve Jobs heard the pitch in 1983, he was sold—he saw the Macintosh as a "revolutionary" product, and wanted advertising to match. Jobs saw IBM as Big Brother, and wanted to position Apple as the world's last chance to escape IBM's domination of the personal computer industry. The Mac was scheduled to launch in late January of 1984, a week after the Super Bowl. IBM already held the nickname "Big Blue," so the parallels, at least to Jobs, were too delicious to miss.

Thomas and Hayden wrote up the story of the ad: we see a world of mind-controlled, shuffling men all in gray, staring at a video screen showing the face of Big Brother droning on about "information purification directives." A lone woman clad in vibrant red shorts and a white tank-top (bearing a Mac logo) runs from riot police, dashing up an aisle towards Big Brother. Just before being snatched by the police, she flings a sledgehammer at Big Brother's screen, smashing him just after he intones "We shall prevail!" Big Brother's destruction frees the minds of the throng, who quite literally see the light, flooding their faces now that the screen is gone. A mere eight seconds before the one-minute ad concludes, a narrator briefly mentions the word "Macintosh," in a restatement of that original tagline: "On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you'll see why 1984 won't be like '1984.'" An Apple logo is shown, and then we're out—back to the game.

In 1983, in a presentation about the Mac, Jobs introduced the ad to a cheering audience of Apple employees:

"... It is now 1984. It appears IBM wants it all. Apple is perceived to be the only hope to offer IBM a run for its money. Dealers, initially welcoming IBM with open arms, now fear an IBM-dominated and -controlled future. They are increasingly turning back to Apple as the only force that can ensure their future freedom. IBM wants it all and is aiming its guns on its last obstacle to industry control: Apple. Will Big Blue dominate the entire computer industry? The entire information age? Was George Orwell right about 1984?"

After seeing the ad for the first time, the Apple audience totally freaked out (jump to about the 5-minute mark to witness the riotous cheering).

SKINHEADS, A DISCUS THROWER, AND A SCI-FI DIRECTOR

Chiat\Day hired Ridley Scott, whose 1982 sci-fi film Blade Runner had the dystopian tone they were looking for (and Alien wasn't so bad either). Scott filmed the ad in London, using actual skinheads playing the mute bald men—they were paid $125 a day to sit and stare at Big Brother; those who still had hair were paid to shave their heads for the shoot. Anya Major, a discus thrower and actress, was cast as the woman with the sledgehammer largely because she was actually capable of wielding the thing.

Mac programmer Andy Hertzfeld wrote an Apple II program "to flash impressive looking numbers and graphs on [Big Brother's] screen," but it's unclear whether his program was used for the final film. The ad cost a shocking $900,000 to film, plus Apple booked two premium slots during the Super Bowl to air it—carrying an airtime cost of more than $1 million.

WHAT EXECUTIVES AT APPLE THOUGHT

Although Jobs and his marketing team (plus the assembled throng at his 1983 internal presentation) loved the ad, Apple's Board of Directors hated it. After seeing the ad for the first time, board member Mike Markkula suggested that Chiat\Day be fired, and the remainder of the board were similarly unimpressed. Then-CEO John Sculley recalled the reaction after the ad was screened for the group: "The others just looked at each other, dazed expressions on their faces ... Most of them felt it was the worst commercial they had ever seen. Not a single outside board member liked it." Sculley instructed Chiat\Day to sell off the Super Bowl airtime they had purchased, but Chiat\Day principal Jay Chiat quietly resisted. Chiat had purchased two slots—a 60-second slot in the third quarter to show the full ad, plus a 30-second slot later on to repeat an edited-down version. Chiat sold only the 30-second slot and claimed it was too late to sell the longer one. By disobeying his client's instructions, Chiat cemented Apple's place in advertising history.

When Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak heard that the ad was in trouble, he offered to pony up half the airtime costs himself, saying, "I asked how much it was going to cost, and [Steve Jobs] told me $800,000. I said, 'Well, I'll pay half of it if you will.' I figured it was a problem with the company justifying the expenditure. I thought an ad that was so great a piece of science fiction should have its chance to be seen."

But Woz didn't have to shell out the money; the executive team finally decided to run a 100-day advertising extravaganza for the Mac's launch, starting with the Super Bowl ad—after all, they had already paid to shoot it and were stuck with the airtime.

1984 - Big Brother

WHAT EVERYBODY ELSE THOUGHT

When the ad aired, controversy erupted—viewers either loved or hated the ad, and it spurred a wave of media coverage that involved news shows replaying the ad as part of covering it, leading to estimates of an additional $5 million in "free" airtime for the ad. All three national networks, plus countless local markets, ran news stories about the ad. "1984" become a cultural event, and served as a blueprint for future Apple product launches. The marketing logic was brilliantly simple: create an ad campaign that sparked controversy (for example, by insinuating that IBM was like Big Brother), and the media will cover your launch for free, amplifying the message.

The full ad famously ran once during the Super Bowl XVIII (on January 22, 1984), but it also ran the month prior—on December 31, 1983, TV station operator Tom Frank ran the ad on KMVT at the last possible time slot before midnight, in order to qualify for 1983's advertising awards.* (Any awards the ad won would mean more media coverage.) Apple paid to screen the ad in movie theaters before movie trailers, further heightening anticipation for the Mac launch. In addition to all that, the 30-second version was aired across the country after its debut on the Super Bowl.

Chiat\Day adman Steve Hayden recalled: "We ran a 30- second version of '1984' in the top 10 U.S. markets, plus, in an admittedly childish move, in an 11th market—Boca Raton, Florida, headquarters for IBM's PC division." Mac team member Andy Hertzfeld ended his remembrance of the ad by saying:

"A week after the Macintosh launch, Apple held its January board meeting. The Macintosh executive staff was invited to attend, not knowing what to expect. When the Mac people entered the room, everyone on the board rose and gave them a standing ovation, acknowledging that they were wrong about the commercial and congratulating the team for pulling off a fantastic launch.

Chiat\Day wanted the commercial to qualify for upcoming advertising awards, so they ran it once at 1 AM at a small television station in Twin Falls, Idaho, KMVT, on December 15, 1983 [incorrect; see below for an update on this -ed]. And sure enough it won just about every possible award, including best commercial of the decade. Twenty years later it's considered one of the most memorable television commercials ever made."

THE AWFUL 1985 FOLLOW-UP

A year later, Apple again employed Chiat\Day to make a blockbuster ad for their Macintosh Office product line, which was basically a file server, networking gear, and a laser printer. Directed by Ridley Scott's brother Tony, the new ad was called "Lemmings," and featured blindfolded businesspeople whistling an out-of-tune version of Snow White's "Heigh-Ho" as they followed each other off a cliff (referencing the myth of lemming suicide).

Jobs and Sculley didn't like the ad, but Chiat\Day convinced them to run it, pointing out that the board hadn't liked the last ad either. But unlike the rousing, empowering message of the "1984" ad, "Lemmings" directly insulted business customers who had already bought IBM computers. It was also weirdly boring—when it was aired at the Super Bowl (with Jobs and Sculley in attendance), nobody really reacted. The ad was a flop, and Apple even proposed running a printed apology in The Wall Street Journal. Jay Chiat shot back, saying that if Apple apologized, Chiat would buy an ad on the next page, apologizing for the apology. It was a mess:

20-YEAR ANNIVERSARY

In 2004, the ad was updated for the launch of the iPod. The only change was that the woman with the hammer was now listening to an iPod, which remained clipped to her belt as she ran. You can watch that version too:

FURTHER READING

Chiat\Day adman Lee Clow gave an interview about the ad, covering some of this material.

Check out Mac team member Andy Hertzfeld's excellent first-person account of the ad. A similar account (but with more from Jobs's point of view) can found in the Steve Jobs biography, and an even more in-depth account is in The Mac Bathroom Reader. The Mac Bathroom Reader is out of print; you can read an excerpt online, including QuickTime movies of the two versions of the ad, plus a behind-the-scenes video. Finally, you might enjoy this 2004 USA Today article about the ad, pointing out that ads for other computers (including Atari, Radio Shack, and IBM's new PCjr) also ran during that Super Bowl.

* = A Note on the Airing in 1983

Update: Thanks to Tom Frank for writing in to correct my earlier mis-statement about the first air date of this commercial. As you can see in his comment below, Hertzfeld's comments above (and the dates cited in other accounts I've seen) are incorrect. Stay tuned for an upcoming interview with Frank, in which we discuss what it was like running both "1984" and "Lemmings" before they were on the Super Bowl!

Update 2: You can read the story behind this post in Chris's book The Blogger Abides.

This post originally appeared in 2012.

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