Part of having an awesome life experience is having a realistic view of death. Death can come anytime, I’ve learned that in my own life a few different times now. Perhaps many of you have felt the sting of the death of a family member or friend. Here are some common but often overlooked things that will kill you before you know it.
1. Coconuts. As I was driving along a road full of coconut trees I remembered a little known or talked about fact. More people die as a result of coconuts dropping on their head than die from shark attacks every year. So, this is #1 in my list to kick things off. I believe it’s true as I’ve seen them hit the ground from 40 feet up a tree. I don’t really remember looking at coconut trees much in Florida or Hawaii, but the ones here in Thailand have monster coconuts that must almost weigh as much as a bowling ball. One clunk from 10 feet up or so and that would be it for you my friend!
2. Choking on a morsel of food. I was eating those long squiggly noodles the other day, instant noodles I’ll call them so I don’t use a brand name. I realized about mid-way through that I wasn’t chewing them at all, just kind of feeling them in my mouth and swallowing the fork-full. I had a brief thought about choking to death on noodles. You can choke to death on a teaspoon full of water, so why not soft noodles?
The problem with choking to death is that often times there’s nothing you can do. It gets caught in your windpipe and you can’t even cough. If someone doesn’t notice something is wrong with you it’s possible you die right there after you pass out. In this case, if you ever notice you are choking and can’t do anything – bang the table and point to your throat. Hopefully someone gets the idea and bear hugs you from reverse with the Heimlich maneuver. Or, you can jam the back of a chair into your diaphragm to try to expel the air. Don’t be shy about it – you might only get one or two chances, throw yourself on the chair with some real force.
3. Lightning. I lived in Tampa for 10 years. Tampa is lightning capital of the WORLD. There are more strikes per square mile there each year than anywhere in the world. Not sure why that is – but I believe it’s right on the money. In 10 years I saw lightning hit within 100 yards of me about 6 times, once within just 20 feet of me. When I counseled people with traumatic brain injuries I worked with a man that was hit by lightning twice. He was 6’7″! When it rained he’d hide in the restroom at his mobile home. Twice I had to sit with him there and talk him through it.
4. Heart attack while swimming. There are more expats dying of heart attacks in the ocean here in Thailand than I can believe. Very often tourists are found floating face down in the water, dead after having a heart attack from exerting themselves while swimming. Swimming is a VERY strenuous exercise, one of the best things you can do to improve your health, but also one of the worst if you’re not ready for it. Even swimming 30 yards will elevate an unfit heart to dangerous levels. Swimming is nothing to mess with!
5. Asthma. You might only have it a little bit, but it is still potentially deadly. I have it slightly. I developed it at around 21 years of age while in New York City. My brother has it in a bad way, so I was prepared for it. Mine wasn’t consistent. I’d have a bad day a month or maybe two or three days a month. The rest of the month – no problems. Then when I moved to Hawaii – asthma was gone. Then when I moved to Tampa – it returned. In Tampa I almost died from an allergic reaction to Aunt Jemima’s pancake syrup if you can believe that. I was home alone and had finished up some pancakes when things went horribly wrong. I called 911 and they got there just as I was passing out from not being able to breathe. Take asthma seriously, even if you have it a little bit.
6. Shock. Some people are more susceptible to this than others. I don’t know if there’s anything you can do about it. Anything shocking, but usually something very traumatic – a car accident, a traumatic injury, bee or jellyfish sting or snake bite, exposure to cold or heat for an extended period of time. Shock shuts down your body, and eventually your mind goes with it. This is a real concern in the case of heat exhaustion.
7. A fall down some steps. Even a small fall from a standing position straight on your head, you know, in case you hadn’t time to put your arms out to catch some of the force, is enough to do it. Most days I climb over 1,000 steps to the top of a hill here at a local Buddhist temple. The view is incredible and it’s a lot more fun to climb the stairs as exercise, meeting people from around the world than it is to run around an asphalt oval at the park. The steps are very uneven in steepness, surface, and they are more like a concrete ladder than steps a lot of times. I’ve slipped twice on them in over 1,300 trips up to the top. I haven’t seen a tourist fall down a flight of them. I hope I never do, but the odds are… well, I hope I don’t see it. Once someone starts falling, it might be 30 or more steps before they were able to stop. IF they were able to stop. You have steps in your home?
8. An angry boyfriend, husband, or friend. Really, crimes of passion among people who know each other are very common. You may never know when you’re scraping like a cheese-grater on a person’s last good nerve. Or, just as bad, you might know and not take it seriously enough. Each of us hides a lot from the general public. People with a lot of problems hide a hell of a lot. There are plenty of psychotic and generally mentally ill persons in the USA, I know, I counseled many of them. Sometimes I talked them out of killing others. Really, it’s common.
9. Allergies. Yeah, those things that the nurse tested you for when you were eight years old by pricking your back with a tiny amount of one hundred and twenty substances that typically cause allergic reactions. Unfortunately they didn’t prick me with A. J. pancake syrup or jellyfish toxin.
I was snorkeling in Maui as I did most every weekend for two years and this one time I got a nasty sting on the inside of my left thigh. It left a road-map of chemical burn on my skin that stayed for over a year. After it stung I noticed that, while the pain was incredible, what was more disconcerting was the way I was almost passing out. Apparently I was allergic to the toxin in the jellyfish. Who would’ve guessed? I’d been stung by Portuguese Man O’ War in Hawaii countless times while bodyboarding and never had any reaction other than the usual pain. Allergies are so deadly because you probably won’t have any idea you’re allergic to something when the reaction to it overtakes you. Otherwise you’d have avoided whatever it was, right?
Oh, I almost forgot. Here in Thailand’s northeast the thing to do is to eat fried scorpions. The big ones are about 7 inches from head to tail. I wanted to do some video of me eating a variety of bugs and things, like the Thais’ do here. I chose a big scorpion to eat last. All the bugs went down easily and even the scorpion went down fine. I finished filming and went running at a park. Well, before I knew it I was hallucinating, panting, salivating and having a lot of trouble breathing. I walked calmly back to the motorcycle and drove back to the room where my girlfriend took me to the emergency room. They kept me overnight and all turned out well. But, who’d have guessed that I was allergic to even the cooked venom in the scorpion? Not me!
That’s what I came up with. I didn’t want to go over the usual killers like electricity, auto accidents, spiders, snakes and things because most people are very aware of those and take great care to avoid them. Who thinks about dying as they walk down a flight of stairs? While snorkeling on vacation? After eating pancakes with maple syrup?
If you have something to add, post a comment. They’re always welcome…
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[Top image by Flikr user, Kamaljith K V]