Sword swallowing is tough no matter how you slice it, but coming back from a ripped esophagus is cut above the normal on-the-job injuries.
So it's understandable if Hannibal Hellmurto, a 40-year-old performer with the U.K.-based Circus of Horrors performing troupe, felt a lump in his throat when it came time to return to the stage after recovering from a cut that left a hole nearly four inches in diameter.
The injury occurred in October during a show in Northern England while Hellmurto was doing his trademark stunt: swallowing a lit neon tube.
"My esophagus ripped when I swallowed the neon tube," he told HuffPost Weird News. "It is similar to an athlete who suffers a torn muscle; it is one of these things that can happen. I knew I hurt something, but I did not know how severe it was."
Nevertheless, Hellmurto finished the show before seeking help, and the injury was so severe he had to spend five weeks in the hospital, including three in intensive care.
"I had to be fed nutrition through gastric tubes, and my lungs had to be drained," said Hellmurto, who was a tax official in Germany before picking up sword swallowing as a hobby in 1999. "My esophagus had to heal by itself, which meant no eating or drinking for five weeks."
Hellmurto says he's made a complete recovery and has swallowed any fears he's had.
"I was apprehensive about that first sword after [the injury], but the longer you leave it, the more you lose confidence," he said.
Hellmurto added that he hopes his injuries keep amateurs from attempting to swallow swords on their own.
"[Anyone who wants to try this needs to] get trained by a professional," He warned. "Never ever just try something like that by yourself. Even after years of professional sword swallowing things can go wrong, and there is not much room for mistakes."
Professional sword swallower Dan Meyer, who once co-wrote a research paper titled Sword Swallowing And Its Side Effects that was published in the December 2006 British Medical Journal, says that while throat abrasions are the most common injuries, punctures like the one suffered by Hellmurto are akin to a rotator cuff injury for a baseball pitcher.
With one big difference.
"Puncture injuries usually occur when unusual objects are inserted into the throat, such as a neon tube or, in my case, swallowing five swords at once," he told HuffPost Weird News.
Though Hellmurto says he has received supportive messages from many of his fellow sword swallowing pros, his injury has inspired some cutting remarks from at least one colleague, San Diego-based sword swallower Murrugun the Mystic, who thinks Hellmurto may have unnecessarily cut corners.
"What a dumb s*** to swallow glass with no safety measure behind it," Murrugun told HuffPost Weird News. "Between them and the hair metal bands, it's gonna be hard to clean up their f***ing messes."