Are you sitting down? Good, because we’ve got some bad news for you: you’re going to die. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but one day the cold hand of death will come grasping after you. When that happens, you better pray you don’t die in any of the following awful ways.
10. Electric Chair
The electric chair was originally designed as a humane alternative to the guillotine or the firing squad. Unfortunately, the guy behind it – an Edison employee named Harold P Brown – apparently got the meaning of humane confused with its exact opposite. Dying from the electric chair is one of the nastiest ways you can possibly go.
Let’s start with the heat. In some states, so many separate shocks are fired through the body that it ends up super-heating to an absurd degree. Internal organs start to cook inside you. Your eyeballs melt. Skin can be burned off or get fused to the chair. In some cases, exposed flesh and even heads have been known to burst into flame.
Then you have the convulsions. In the very best-case scenario, you’re likely to soil yourself. In the very worst, you may jerk so violently you snap something. In 1991, one man twitched so hard he broke his legs. Then there’s the time. While some executions in the chair take a mere two minutes, others have been known to last nearly twenty. This still has nothing on the lethal injection. One recent botched execution took over two hours.
9. Botulism Poisoning
Every year, an average of 110 Americans get botulism. That might not sound like much, but if you’re one of the unlucky few, then God help you. In severe cases, botulism is an infection that will make the short remainder of your life a living hell.
Most-frequently contracted from contaminated food (although there are other ways to get it) botulism is almost vindictive in its treatment of humans. The most-common side-effect is muscle paralysis. It’s even worse than it sounds. Not only does your body seize up, the muscles that power your breathing stop working too. In no time at all, your body is incapable of taking on oxygen, or doing pretty much anything for itself.
When that happens, you’ve really got one of two options. Go to the hospital, or go to the morgue. But even if you get treatment, you’ll still be in for a rough ride. Those with severe botulism can spend anything up to several months on a breathing machine as their body slowly returns to normal.
8. Army Ant Attack
Imagine living in a world that’s crawling with swarms of predators. A world where insects travel in hordes, devouring everything in their paths, from animals to humans. Imagine they’re virtually unstoppable, and will take the young, sick and old. Are you picturing that world? Well, we’ve got some bad news for you. You’re living in it.
Army ants (also known as Driver ants) are a collective name given to some 200-odd species of nomadic ant that live in Africa and Central and South America. National Geographic has compared them to Genghis Khan’s Mongol Hordes. It’s easy to see why. Army ants attack in swarms of 100,000 plus – steamrollering across the landscape, overwhelming and eating anything that crosses their path with their superior numbers.
Scary as they seem, these guys generally just eat other insects and small animals. However, they have been known to attack humans in Africa. There are even stories of them overwhelming sleeping or bedridden people and feasting on them before anyone can save them.
7. Drowning in a Drain
From the terrifyingly exotic to the grotesquely mundane. Every year a handful of people drown after falling into storm drains; a method of death that’s depressingly pathetic. While any instance of drain drowning is bad enough, some are occasionally so gross that we can only pray it doesn’t happen to us.
Case in point: in 2003 a young man from Somerset in England was walking home when he dropped his phone into a drain. Reaching in to retrieve it, he slipped and fell in head first. Since drains are essentially 6ft long tubes filled with sewage, there was no way for him to claw his way out. The guy drowned in drain water, and was only discovered hours later.
If that seems like a freak one-off accident, you should know there’s been a few cases identical to this. It happened in Wisconsin in 2007, in New Zealand in 2012, and nearly happened in California in 2011 (the guy was pulled out before he could drown). If there’s one thing worse than the idea of drowning in sewage, it’s drowning in sewage while your last thoughts are all about what an idiot you are.
6. Your Insides Exploding Outwards
If you’ve always dreamed of living fast, dying young and leaving a good-looking corpse, you better pray you don’t go the way of Truls Hellevik. A Norwegian diver working on an oil rig, Hellevik was sat in a decompression chamber with four others when things went pear-shaped. And by ‘pear-shaped’ we mean the chamber “explosively decompressed.”
You can tell just by the name that this isn’t going to be good.
The atmospheres decompressed from nine to one in a single split second. This was enough to kill three of Hellevik’s colleagues instantly, and leave the other seriously injured. But Hellevik got the worst of it. Exposed to the highest pressure-gradient, he had his internal gasses swell up and literally explode out of him.
Standing by the door that had broken open, Hellevik was forced through the 24 inch gap in an instant. The force and pressure combined dismembered him and caused his internal organs to burst out his chest like an extra from Alien. A section of his spine was blasted 30ft into the air. Although his death was instantaneous, it was also one of the messiest in recorded history.
5. Mustard Gas Attack
Unless you’re reading this after time-travelling back to WWI, it’s very unlikely you’ll die from a mustard gas attack. This is excellent news, as death from mustard gas was terrifyingly, unbelievably horrible.
While most modern chemical weapons kill by affecting the central nervous system (for example, Sarin), mustard gas is a ‘blistering agent.’ That’s a depressingly literal term. Mustard gas attacks any surface it comes into contact with, leaving horrific burns. Those who inhale it have their throats and the inside of their lungs blister and swell up, erupting in puss-filled sores. But even if you have a gas mask, you’ll still suffer. Contemporary accounts from WWI are filled with images of men’s skin breaking out into debilitating blisters that left them hideously scarred.
Terrifyingly, mustard gas isn’t entirely a thing of the past. In summer 2015, twisted death-cult ISIS released some in Syria, sadly killing two people.
4. Execution by Elephant
Be glad you live in the modern world. If you were alive in India as little as 150 years ago and pissed off the wrong people, you could expect to suffer execution by elephant.
This method of death was exactly as gory as it sounds. In the most-common version, recorded by Louis Rousselet in his book India and its native princes, the condemned would be tied up and dragged through the streets by the elephant. After being busted up and bruised by all this, he’d be dragged to an execution block and have his head rested on it. The elephant would then lower its foot down, crushing the man’s skull.
In earlier times, the methods were even worse. In the 3rd century BC, elephants would be trained to crush limbs and hurl the condemned man through the air before finally trampling him. In the medieval period, their tusks would be fitted with iron blades so they could cut their victim to pieces. While it’s unlikely this will happen to you today, it’s far from uncommon to hear of people in India still getting trampled to death by the beasts.
3. Attacked by a Flying Lawnmower
We know what you’re thinking. ‘Jesus, guys. Flying lawnmower? That’s happened exactly zero times in the history of the world.’ Well, hold your horses there pardner. We didn’t say it was common, but it’s happened more than zero times. In 1979, John Bowen was killed when an out-of-control airborne lawnmower crash-landed on his head.
The setting was a Jets-Patriots football game at Shea Stadium. In those days, halftime was a pretty dull affair. Instead of some fantastic cheerleader-based display, the stadium simply had a bunch of guys come in with their remote controlled airplanes and fly them around the crowd. One, by a Brooklyn guy named Philip Cushman, was a modified lawnmower that literally flew in the air. Unfortunately, it didn’t fly very well. Just before the halftime show was over, Cushman lost control of his toy. It dropped from the air and landed on Bowen’s head, giving him a cut that looked “like he had been attacked with an axe.”
Bowen died of his gruesome injuries, and man learned an important lesson. To never, ever again attempt to build a nature-defying lawnmower.
2. Tortured to Death by Insects
The past was a really horrible place. We’ve seen that with mustard gas and elephant executions. But nothing can compare to the practice of Scaphism. Practiced in ancient Persia, it was basically the nastiest way to kill someone you can possibly imagine.
Basically, the victim would be placed inside a hollow log with only their feet, hands and head protruding. Then they would be force-fed milk and honey for days until they developed severe diarrhea. At this point, the executioner would rub honey onto their eyes, ears, mouths, genitals, anus and face, before setting their log adrift on a stagnant lake. You can probably guess what happened next.
Attracted by the honey, insects would swarm the log. At first they’d simply bite and sting the victim. Then they’d start burrowing. As the log continued to fill up with the victim’s poop, the insects would start digging into their skin and any openings in their body, and start laying eggs. The victim was fed each day to keep them alive, to the point when the flesh was literally rotting from their bones and their skin was infested with maggots. The least-lucky could expect this experience to go on for over a week. We really hope no serial killers stuck for ideas are reading this.
1. Growing Old and Dying
After all those squirm-inducing descriptions of death, the worst way of all to die might come as a shock to you. It’s not violent. It’s not gory. It’s simply growing old, getting sick and passing away in a hospital.
We’re not making this up. When Vice looked into the matter, they found actual doctors willing to agree dying a ‘normal’ death in modern America is utterly hideous. The trouble is, we’re getting better at keeping people alive. On the downside, we still suck at treating certain types of pain. The result is many, many of us will spend our last weeks or months stuck in a hospital somewhere, slowly wasting away. Our bones wracked with pain or our stomachs turning with constant nausea, watched over by overworked and underpaid medical staff who neither understand us or really care about how we’re feeling.
It sounds like a nightmare, but it’s true. Recent research has shown the number of people experiencing depression or physical discomfort in the last years of their lives is on the rise. And that’s before we get onto stuff like care home workers who neglect or abuse patients on an industrial scale. It might not be what you want to hear, but the worst way to die may well be the one we’re all most-likely to experience. Wasting away alone and forgotten in some cold hospital, in agony and surrounded by people who treat us like garbage. If that’s not a chilling thought, then we don’t know what is.