How would you like to die?

first_imgSome go peacefully, some “rage against the dying of the light”, some do it themselves,some let nature take its course, for some it is a low key event, some do it in style. Theuncomfortable truth is, sooner or later, we’re all going to do it but have you ever wonderedhow you’re likely to die? My own, rather rudimentary, research into how people would like todie yielded a variety of not very constructive answers: “peacefully”, “old age”, “in bed” and“jumping off something.” Of course most of us aren’t going to get what we want onthis one and statistics suggest that the most likely way will be heart disease or cancer. Butof course, as 83% of people know, statistics can be used to prove anything, so here goes.The US national Safety Council has over the past few years estimated the chances of dyingfrom various causes. For example, the chances of dying from falling from a bed or chair are1 in 4745 but only 1 in 93,125 from contact with hot tap water. Ignition of nightwear is thefate of 1 in 286,537 people whilst “foreign body entering through skin or natural orifice”accounts for 1 in 161,956. an average of 73 are struck and killed by lightning each year and,according to Professor Steve Jones, this is much more likely to happen to men. Thechances of drowning in floods caused by a dam bursting are 1 in 10 million and there is ofcourse also a 1 in 2.8 million chance that you will die falling down a hole, possibly muchshorter odds if you are a Warner Brothers cartoon character. Vending machines – safe, yes?no, these deadly pieces of equipment kill an average of twelve UK citizens each year,shaking it for that last KitKat really isn’t worth it. and any resident ofOxford will not expresssurprise that those ‘silent killers’, bikes, are responsible for 824 US deaths every year.away from our perilous modern existence filled with vending machines and hot-taps thenatural world is of course a dangerous place to be. For example, the chances of dying frombeing bitten by a dog are 1 in 206,944. “death where is thy sting?” – well for 6 millionamericans each year it is in the end of a bee. But you have only a 1 in 54 million chance ofdying from a spider, lizard or snake bite.Scientists wanting to prove just how innocuous various animals are often cite the odds ofbeing hit on the head by a falling coconut, George Burgess, director of the Florida Museumof natural History’s International Shark attack File (somehow I can’t imagine a Britishmuseum appointing a director of ‘shark attack file’) claims that fifteen times as manypeople are killed by coconuts than by sharks each year and that coconuts account for 150deaths per annum. This idea has been heavily influenced by the work of Dr. Peter Barss, anamerican academic whose jolly oeuvre includes, ‘Suicide in the Southern Highlands ofPapua new Guinea’, ‘Scald burns in children 0-14 years old’ and ‘Cold Immersion deathsfrom drowning and Hypothermia’. He was awarded an Ig-nobel Prize in 2001 for his thesis‘Injuries due to Falling Coconuts’ and now works in Saudi arabia. Barss further aidedmedical science during his period in the tropics in the 1980s with such publications as,‘Inhalation hazards of tropical “pea shooters”’, ‘Falls from trees and tree associated injuriesin rural Melanesians’ and the scientific classic ‘Grass-skirt burns in Papua new Guinea’.Perhaps we should not pay too much attention to a man who has made his livinginspecting the buttocks of young Papua new Guinean girls, conclude that thecoconut statistic might just be George Burgess talking out of his Barss and that the muchmaligned coconut is less dangerous than has been suggested.But how should you prevent all this? Well clearly you need to stay in your house at all costs,have no social contact and never turn on the hot tap. Oh, and be naked. Yes becauseclothes can kill as well and not just grass-skirts. Recent research has suggested that tightties can cause glaucoma and we chaps have long been aware of the health risks of tight Y-fronts but perhaps the most dangerous article of clothing your trousers. Yes, each year3695 people are hospitalised in trouser- related accidents. Primarily this is from puttingthem on too quickly and falling over but anyone who has seen There’s Something aboutMary will realise the health benefits of button flies as opposed to the zip variety.On the other hand most accidents happen in the home, a fact which would be attested to bythe 35 people which the royal Society for the Prevention of accidents claims were injured in2000 by tea cosies or the 738 who suffered at the hands of beanbags three years ago.Over recent years the Darwin awards have shown us some of world’s most peculiar deathsand accidents, such as the six egyptians who drowned in 1995 trying to rescue a chickenfrom a well (the chicken survived) or the Californian who, offended by a rattle snake stickingits tongue out at him, returned the favour only to have the offended body part bitten off. Theawards are of course designed to confirm darwin’s theory of the survival of the fittest, or atany rate the survival of those who can remember to put the pin back into an unthrowngrenade before returning it to their pocket. Of course one way to insure an eccentric deathseems to be to become famous. Celebrities and especially musicians have a habit of dyingin bizarre circumstances. Jazz musician Chet Baker’s defenestration or Sonny Bono skiinginto a tree serve as reminders to us all. Sadly the story that Keith Moon drove his car into hisswimming pool is fanciful, as he actually died from alcohol poisoning, incidentally in thesame flat in which Mama Cass had died from ‘ham sandwich asphyxiation’ a couple ofyears previously. Modern rock deaths are a familiar and predictable catalogue ofoverdoses, suicides and traffic accidents and it is surprisingly to classical music that wemust turn to encounter the truly bizarre.Charles Valentin alkan, a French composer, died when a bookshelf collapsed on him ashe was reaching for a copy of the Talmud from the top shelf whilst Henry Purcell died fromchocolate poisoning. Jean-Baptiste Lully died from an infection when the large woodenstaff he used to keep time whilst conducting fell on his foot and the Czech FrantisekKoczwara meta sticky end to autoerotic asphyxiation in 1791. Such a fate has more recentlybefallen Conservative MP (and former Oxford Union president) Steven Milligan and BnPactivist Kristian etchells, which perhaps says all that needs to be said about the Britishright. death was no more subtle in the ancient world either. aeschylus the Greek dramatistdied when a vulture dropped a tortoise on his head, and the stoic philosopher Chrysippusdied of laughter after seeing a donkey munching on figs. At the other endof the Mediterranean, age might not have withered Cleopatra, but an asp to the breast didthe trick. and death is no respecter of position or breeding as many royals would testify.King Béla I of Hungary died when his throne collapsed due to sabotage and his compatriotMatthias died after eating poisoned figs, which Chrysippus would presumably have foundquite amusing had he still been around. Modern day Hungarians seem to fare little better, in 1973 Finance Minister Péter Vályi diedwhen he fell into a blast furnace at a factory he was inspecting. Ben Schott revels inrecounting the deaths of Burmese kings in his Original Miscellany including no less thanthree trampled by elephants and one killed by an enraged cucumber farmer whosecucumbers the king had eaten. Closer to home, Henry I died of a surfeit of lampreys whilstedward II was unfortunate enough to be the 1 person in 161,956 to die from a foreign bodyentering the body through skin or natural orifice although as the foreign body was a red-hotpoker and the orifice was his anus I suspect the odds are somewhat longer. The quest forknowledge is a noble one but one which has its hazards, just look at the case of FrancisBacon who died from pneumonia after stuffi ng a chicken with snow to see if cold couldpreserve meat; his body was not cryogenically frozen.Or there is Scottish botanist daviddouglas who died in 1834 after falling down a pit trap and being crushed by a bullwhich fell down the same trap. What are the chances? Well 1 in 2.8 million actually. Onefinal word of warning, “manners maketh man” but they can finishth the man just as easily,as danish astronomer Tycho Brahe found out in 1601 when he politely remained at thedining table rather than get up to go to the toilet during a banquet. He died of the ensuingbladder infection. So what is the moral of all this? “Some people are so afraid to die thatthey never begin to live” said Henry Van dyke, so we can all afford to live a little. Living won’tkill you, though it will be those bastard vending machines. Is it wrong to laugh at otherpeople’s misfortune? George Bernard Shaw said, “Life does not cease to be funny whenpeople die” and he should know – he died falling out of an apple tree at the ripe old age of94.ARCHIVE: 4th week MT 2005last_img

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