Sticking a blade down your throat might not be the safest thing to do, that's for sure. But as the world marked the seventh annual World Sword Swallower's Day on Saturday, Feb. 23, one high-profile practitioner of the ancient performance art took pains to point out that sword swallowing was more than a dangerous stunt.
"Most people don't realize the contributions sword swallowers have made to the fields of science and medicine over the past 150 years," Dan Mayer, president of Sword Swallowers Association International, said in a statement posted on the group's website.
What kind of contributions? The statement gives a couple of examples:
In 1868, a sword swallower was used by Dr. Adolf Kussmaul in Freiburg Germany to develop the first rigid endoscopy. In 1906 a sword swallower underwent the first esophageal electrocardiogram in Wales.
Of course, if sword swallowers have helped advance medical care, they sometimes find themselves in need of it.
As the authors of a 2006 study published in the British Medical Journal pointed out, sword swallowers can experience side effects ranging from chest pain to major bleeding. "Sword swallowers run a higher risk of injury when they are distracted or adding embellishments to their performance," the authors wrote in their not-so-surprising conclusion.
Other researchers have focused less on what can happen to sword swallowers to how they do what they do. Just take a look at the video above, which features X-ray evidence of sword swallowing.