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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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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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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

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