||A major contributor to this article appears to have a close connection with its subject. (September 2013)|
Sword swallowing is an ancient skill in which the performer passes a sword through the mouth and down the esophagus to the stomach. This feat is not swallowing in the traditional sense; the natural processes that constitute swallowing do not take place, but are repressed in order to keep the passage from the mouth to the stomach open for the sword.
The practice is dangerous and there is risk of injury.
|This section does not cite any references or sources. (December 2009)|
Originating in south India before 2000 BC, swallowing has a long and varied history. During its early history it was used as a demonstration of divine union and power.
Sword swallowing spread to Greece and Rome in the 1st century AD and to China in the 8th century. In Japan, it became a part of the Japanese acrobatic theatre, Sangaku, which included fire eating, tightrope walking, juggling and early illusion. In Europe it developed into yet a third distinct type of performance associated with the medieval jongleurs, that of the street performance.
Sword swallowing was performed during the Middle Ages as part of street theatre and was popular at festivals and other large gatherings. It began to die out in the mid-19th century, and was outlawed in Scandinavia in 1893. This was due to a declining interest in street and festival theatre and a growing interest on the part of audiences in more "sophisticated" and "proper" theatre.
In 1819, the East Indian juggler and sword swallower Ramo Sammee became popular in the United States after a brief stint in England. He performed in the US and England until his death in London in August 1850. From 1850 to the 1890s a small number of sword swallowers performed in the UK, such as Martha Mitchell (c 1855) and Benedetti (1863–95), and in the US, including Lawson Peck (c 1850s), Ling Look (c 1872), Wandana (died May 9, 1875), and Harry Parsons (died December 1880). The best-known North American sword swallower of this time was Fred McLone, better known to the public as "Chevalier Cliquot", who performed from 1878 to the early 20th century.
In 1893 sword swallowing was featured at the World Columbian Exposition at the Chicago World's Fair.
In the early 1900s traveling circuses and sideshows were the dominant venue for sword swallowers. It became competitive. In Europe performers tried to swallow large numbers of swords; in America there was a focus on the novel and bizarre.[clarification needed]
During the late 19th century and early 20th century traveling magic shows from the Orient toured Europe and America; some included sword swallowing
The middle of the 20th century saw a demise in circuses in general and sideshows in particular.
Anatomy and method
The performer must first lean the head back, hyper-extending the neck, and relax the upper esophageal sphincter (a generally involuntary muscle which contracts the top of the esophagus). Retching must be controlled while the sword, lubricated by saliva, is inserted through the mouth and past the pharynx.
Once past the pharynx and sphincter the sword passes swiftly, assisted by gravity, straightening the flexible esophagus. The stomach, at an angle to the esophagus, is brought into line as the sword enters through the cardiac opening. Some swallowers consume a large meal or drink water before performing to give the stomach a more vertical orientation, allowing for easier passage of the sword. Careful focus is required to complete the process without injury, as the sword passes within millimeters of vitals such as the aorta, heart and lungs.
Side effects and injuries
Most serious sword swallowing injuries and fatalities occur after minor injuries or while attempting a feat beyond that of a "normal" sword swallow. The most common injury is a sore throat when first learning, after frequent consecutive performances, or after swallowing curved swords or several swords at once. Swallowing multiple swords simultaneously over time can also lead to distension of the esophagus. A minor injury may predispose the performer to sustaining a more major one, including perforation of the esophagus, stomach, heart, lungs, and other organs in proximity to the path of the sword, or intestinal bleeding. Twenty-nine deaths have been reported as a result of sword swallowing injuries since 1880.
Medical case reports
- A 59-year-old man experienced chest pain and severe dysphagia following practice for his sword swallowing act. An esophageal perforation was found and surgically repaired; 19 days later a leak at the site required a transhiatal esophagectomy with a left cervical esophagogastrostomy. The patient recovered normally, but ceased the practice of sword swallowing.
- A 27-year-old woman reported neck pain and a single episode of hematemesis (vomiting blood) after pricking her throat while practicing her sword swallowing act with a sharp dagger. The injury was found to be immediately below the esophageal sphincter, and the patient was admitted to intensive care and placed on intravenous antibiotics and a proton-pump inhibitor. She recovered well and returned to all previous activities with the exception of sword swallowing.
Contributions to science
|This section needs additional citations for verification. (September 2013)|
The abilities of sword-swallowers have proven useful to the progress of medical knowledge, specifically in the development and advancement of upper endoscopy.
In 1868 Adolf Kussmaul of Freiburg, Germany, performed an esophagoscopy on a sword-swallower using a rigid 47 cm tube, mirrors, and a gasoline lamp. The apparatus, an early endoscope, allowed him to examine the esophagus and the fundus of the stomach.
In 1897 a Scottish physician named Stevens performed digestive experiments with a sword swallower assistant; small metal tubes, pierced with holes and filled with meat, were swallowed and after a time regurgitated, allowing Stevens to examine the extent of the digestion that had taken place.
In 1906 a doctor named Cremer performed an electrocardiogram by passing an electrode down the esophagus of a sword swallower. This approach has since been proven useful by numerous studies; esophageal recording at a location in proximity to the heart improves signal detection.
In 1908, the American Journal of Medical Sciences reported an oesophagoscopy upon an American sword swallower in Philadelphia Pennsylvania.
In the 1930s, sword swallower Delno Fritz tested a bronchialscope for doctors in Pennsylvania, and later died from pneumonia that developed as a result of a screw that dislodged from the bronchialscope and lodged in his lung.
From 2003 to 2006, a research study was conducted by Brian Witcombe, consultant radiologist at the Gloucestershire Royal Hospital in Gloucester, England, and Dan Meyer. The results were published in the British Medical Journal.
In January 2006, Dan Meyer worked with physicians and researchers in swallowing disorders at Vanderbilt Stallworth Rehabilitation Center at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville TN USA to explore whether the techniques involved in sword swallowing could be used to help patients who suffer from swallowing disorders such as dysphagia or achalasia or who had suffered from stroke or severe throat trauma and had difficulty in swallowing as a result.
In 2007 sword swallower Dai Andrews worked alongside Dr. Sharon Caplan and other physicians at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore MD USA. The study was conducted to determine whether the techniques involved in sword swallowing could be used to help patients who suffer from achalasia or those who had suffered severe throat trauma and were having trouble swallowing as a result.
Notable sword swallowers
|This section does not cite any references or sources. (September 2013)|
- 2002 - 19 sword swallowers swallowed 50 swords simultaneously and set a group Guinness World Record
- 2004 - Natasha Veruschka set the women's record by swallowing 13 swords at once on September 3, 2004
- 2008 - In 2008, Brett Loudermilk swallowed a total of 37,500 swords
- 2008 - Ryan Stock set a record for the heaviest vehicle pulled by a sword swallower. He pulled a 1696.44 kg 2002 Audi Quattro 6.38m in 20.53 seconds with chains attached to the hilt of the swor
- 2009 - Red Stuart swallowed 50 swords simultaneously on February 28, 2009, breaking his previous record of 34 swords.
- 2009 - Dai Andrews swallowed a sword that was curved 120 degrees from point to hilt: this record was certified as an official Guinness World Record
- 2012 - Aerial Manx from Melbourne, Australia, performed the first backsault while swallowing a sword
- Witcombe, Brian. "Sword swallowing uncertainties." British Medical Journal. 5 Nov 2005. Retrieved 16 Sept. 2009
- Witcombe, Brian and Meyer, Dan. ' 'Sword swallowing and its side effects.' ' British Medical Journal. 23 Dec. 2006. Retrieved 16 Sept. 2009
- "Sword Diet Did Not Agree: M'Lone's Exhibition Had Rather Serious Results." New York Times. 21 Jan. 1894. Retrieved 29 Sept. 2009
- Scheinin, Scott A., MD, and Patrick R. Wells, MD. "Esophageal Perforation in a Sword Swallower." Texas Heart Institute Journal. 28(2001): 65-68. PMC101136. 17 Sept. 2009
- Martin, Matthew MD, Scott Steele, MD, Philip Mullenix, MD, William Long, MD, and Seth Izenberg, MD. "Management of Esophageal Perforation in a Sword Swallower: A Case Report and Review of the Literature." The Journal of Trauma, Injury Infection, and Critical Care. 59.1(2005): 233-235.
- Hopkins, Albert A. Magic, Stage Illusions, and Scientific Diversions, Including Trick Photography. New York: Munn & Co., Inc., 1911.
- Machler, Heinrich E. et al. "A New High-Resolution Esophageal Electrocardiography Recording Technique: An Experimental Approach for the Detection of Myocardial lschemia." Anesthesia & Analgesia. 86.1 (1998): 34-39. 21 November 2009
- "Vanderbilt Stallworth Rehabilitation Center". Vanderbilt Stallworth Rehabilitation Center. Retrieved 2013-01-01.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Sword swallowing.|