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Ten Painful Mosts

by Christopher Dale
fact checked by Darci Heikkinen

Lightning strikes, bee stings, snake bites… some people are exceptionally unlucky, others just a glutton for punishment. Still, the ability of a select few to endure overwhelming pain is as impressive as it is cringe-worthy.

Following are folks with excruciating records. Most are uninvited and unfortunate; a few are intentional and, well, insane. Regardless, as Dodgeball’s Pepper Brooks so eloquently put it: “Ouchtown, population you, bro.”

Related: Top 10 Peculiar Facts About Pain

10 Fang You Very Much

Taipan Bite. 3 and 4. Tim Friede

Tim Friede, a mid-50s former truck mechanic from Wisconsin, puts a new meaning to the phrase “draining the snake.” In his role with California-based vaccination research firm Centivax, Friede has been intentionally bitten by venomous snakes more than 200 times.

Friede’s lengthy list of potentially lethal injections includes bites from cobras, mambas, vipers, taipans, rattlers, and kraits. Centivax’s goal is to develop a universal antivenom, replacing the current snake-specific approach prone to misidentifications and stock shortages.

Friede is among the few capable of performing his dangerous duties. As an adolescent, he kept a collection of venomous snakes and began milking their venom, realizing it was in his best interest to develop some sort of immunity should something go sideways. He then diluted the poison and injected himself with it to build tolerance.

This was, Friede admits, an imperfect process. In 2001, he was milking his Egyptian cobra when it bit his finger. The semi-immune Friede would have been fine, but just an hour later, his monocled cobra tagged him on the bicep. “Two cobra bites, back to back, within one hour,” he remembers. “I basically flat-lined and died.”

He was in a coma for four days. But luckily for both himself and science, Friede lived to bite another day. He describes his gainful yet painful employment as something akin to “a bee sting times a hundred.” Videos of him purposefully getting bitten have garnered hundreds of thousands of views.[1]

9 To Be or Two Thousand Bees

What If You Were Stung by 1000 Bees?

On January 28, 1962, Johannes Relleke was working at the Kamativi Tin Mine near the Gwaii River in Rhodesia (modern-day Zimbabwe). There, he was stung by a bee.

Then he got stung by 2,442 more.

Several incredible things happened next. First and foremost, Relleke survived, which invites one to wonder just how many bee stings a human being can suffer without dying. According to the U.S. Agricultural Research Service, a non-allergic human can be expected to survive 10 stings per pound, meaning a 200-pound person would be expected to survive upwards of 2,000 stings. So Relleke rode that educated estimation right up to the edge of lethality. Well played, sir.

Still, the feat also leaves one asking how 2,443 separate bees found distinct places on Relleke’s body to sting—so distinct, in fact, that in the hospital, each stinger was removed and counted, making Relleke the confirmed Guinness World Record holder for Most Bee Stings Survived. Details about the incident are sparse, but assumedly Relleke was working in the mine—a confined space where a quick retreat is difficult—and disturbed a honeybee hive. The sheer number of stings likely wouldn’t have happened in the open air.

In Zimbabwe, the event has earned the tongue-in-cheek nickname “The Relleke Massacre” because the spot where he was found was littered with thousands of dead bees.[2]


8 Mama-Rama

She Had 69 Kids in 76 Years But No One Could Believe

Ah, childbirth. As a proud father, I know from experience that it’s wonderfully, beautifully…

… awful. It’s a screaming, swearing, sweating mess that no woman should have to endure. Worse, the pain is often downplayed on medical sites because, if it weren’t, people would probably stop having kids—a dubious-at-best decision even without excruciating agony. For example, Healthline reassures would-be moms that “pain is subjective… This means that you may have a very different pain experience from even your mother or sister.” Read as: Disregard their brutal honesty about how intolerable it was. The site goes on to suggest pain alleviation methods such as massage (which seems useless when your crotch is aflame) and visualization (which seems useless, period).

In any event, Valentina Vassilyeva had no such cyber-reassurances because she was born in 1707. She and her hubby Feodor were from Shuya, Russia. And there must have been very little to do in Shuya because ol’ VV got knocked up 27 times between 1725 and 1765.

That’s not even the most shocking part because those 27 pregnancies resulted in… wait for it… sixty-nine babies, including 16 pairs of twins, seven sets of triplets, and four sets of quadruplets. All but two babies—one of the sets of twins—survived, another surprising feat in an era of high infant mortality.

Feodor wasn’t finished. He remarried upon Valentina’s passing and had 18 more children with his second wife. They didn’t call him Feisty Feodor for nothing.[3]

7 Ice Breaker

On The Tape: Duncan Teeth

Hockey hurts. It’s a sport with thrashing wooden sticks, sharp skate blades, vicious crosschecks, and of course, semi-legal fisticuffs. It’s the only major sport where teams frequently employ a so-called “enforcer,” whose job is to basically beat the crap out of the opposing side, penalties be damned.

Unsurprisingly, jack-o’-lantern smiles are a regular thing in hockey. Players who enjoy an entire career with their teeth intact are considered fortunate. But in 2010, one player, Duncan Keith of the Chicago Blackhawks, was decidedly unlucky. Midway through the second period of a playoff game, Patrick Marleau of the San Jose Sharks was attempting to clear the puck from his team’s zone. He slapped the puck fast and high… right into Keith’s mouth.

“I just knew right away,” Keith said later. “I took one breath, and it felt like my whole mouth was missing, so I knew there were some teeth gone.”

Broken chicklets came careening out of his mouth, with one sticking in the back of his throat. Keith lost an ungodly seven teeth on one shot—three on the top and four on the bottom (the dentist ultimately replaced ten, though). And while no firm stat exists for “most teeth lost on a single shot,” it’s believed that Keith is the NHL’s dental record holder.

Amazingly, Keith actually returned later that same game, albeit a few ounces lighter. His terrible luck and terrific grit earned him the nickname “Duncan Teeth.”[4]


6 Choking Hazard

Jean van de Velde golf collapse 1999 Open at Carnoustie

Sports can scar the soul as well as the body, lifting hopes before cruelly crushing them. On the field, the other shoe—or cleat—always seems ready to drop.

In 2004, the New York Yankees were winning a best-of-seven series by three games to none. They were one out away in the final inning with the game’s best reliever pitching. They blew the series in what remains the greatest collapse in baseball history. Notably, the 2022 Yankees had a 15½-game lead that has evaporated. If they don’t win their division, they’ll hold unenviable records for choke artistry in both the playoffs and regular season.

In American football, the greatest postseason gag job belongs to the 1992 Houston Oilers, who led the Buffalo Bills 35-3 in the third quarter. They lost, 41-38. Ironically, the Bills were in the middle of a historic horror show of their own, losing four straight Super Bowls from 1990-93.

Individual chokes are an equally fascinating trip down the psychological rabbit hole. Golf, a silly game played by serious people, is a prime example, as even the most talented golfers sometimes snatch defeat from victory: At the 1966 U.S. Open, Arnold Palmer blew a five-stroke lead with four holes to play.

But the worst golf gag belongs to Frenchman Jean van de Velde at the 1999 British Open, who needed a six—a double-bogey—or better on the final hole to win. In what remains golf’s most tragicomic sequence, he shot… a seven.[5]

5 Lucky Shot

In America, it’s really easy to get shot. Like, really easy. After all, for every 100 Americans, there are 120 guns. So 20% more guns than people… with a population of 330 million… that’s… let’s see… carry the 1…

… just shy of 400 million guns. For the record, the country with the second-highest firearm-per-person ratio is the liberal beacon of Yemen (53 guns per person), followed by the pacific enclave of Syria (39 guns per person). USA! USA!

Anyway, so yeah, it’s pretty easy to get shot and get dead in the U.S. Nearly 50,000 Americans perished by guns in 2021. Given such generous gunplay, it’s unsurprising that the person credited with surviving the most gunshots is an American.

In August 2010, 23-year-old Angel Alvarez was leaving a party in New York City when another man, Luis Soto, confronted him. One of them (it’s unclear who) had a gun, and the two scuffled. When several police officers attempted to break it up, the gun went off. The officers thought the shots were intended for them and returned fire… a total of 46 times.

One officer mistakenly shot another officer. Soto was struck several times and died. Alvarez lived despite being shot twenty-three times. He was cleared of any wrongdoing, save for a weapons charge.[6]


4 Feel the Burn

Burn Victim Leaves UCHealth After Longest Stay Ever In Burn Center

A Google search for “worst burn survivor” brings one name to the forefront. In 1999, 20-year-old Jacqueline Saburido was a passenger in her friend’s car in Caracas, Venezuela, when a drunk driver slammed into their vehicle with his SUV. The driver in the car carrying Saburido died, as did a fellow passenger.

The car caught fire, trapping Saburido. She suffered second- and third-degree burns on 60% of her body. Doctors didn’t expect her to live, but she did despite being gruesomely disfigured. Commendably, Saburido used her horrific predicament and permanently mangled appearance to draw attention to the dangers of drunk driving.

Saburido’s notoriety is likely the reason for her top search engine billing. However, recently another burn survivor likely surpassed Saburido’s sizable injuries. In May 2017, Colorado couple Jamie and Troy Ketchum were driving with Jamie’s parents when a dump truck blew a tire and smashed headfirst into their SUV. Jamie’s father died instantly. The other three were injured—but none as bad as Jamie, who suffered burns over an unbelievable 95% of her body.

Both of her legs and one arm required amputation. Jamie spent more than a year in the hospital burn unit—425 days, to be exact. But she pulled through and has plans to walk again after being fitted with prosthetic legs.[7]

3 Miracle Miles

Teen’s fall from Six Flags ‘sky ride’ captured on video

In June 2017, a 14-year-old girl survived a 25-foot (7.6-meter) fall at an amusement park when bystanders braced her fall. The incident was recorded and broadcast on news stations. The girl dangled before falling, giving good samaritans time to gather underneath her. Would she have survived otherwise?

“The probability of surviving a 25-foot fall… is influenced by many factors, including your speed,” Dr. Robert Glatter of NYC’s Lenox Hill Hospital said. He added that falls from heights exceeding 30 feet (9.1 meters) typically inflict serious injuries involving the spleen, liver, and lungs, along with blunt chest trauma and rib fractures.

The median lethal distance for falls is 48 feet (14.6 meters)—about four stories. This means that 50% of people who fall from that height will not survive. The chance of death increases to 90% as heights approach seven stories.

So the highest survived fall on record would probably be… twelve stories? Fifteen? Maybe a miracle drop of 25 stories into two feet of powdery snow?

Nope… try more than two-thousand stories. In 1972, a Serbian flight attendant named Vesna Vulović was on board JAT Yugoslav Airlines Flight 367 when a bomb exploded in the luggage compartment, an apparent terrorist attack. When the device went off, the plane was at cruising altitude—just over 33,000 feet. Everyone died… except Vulović, who fell over six miles (77 kilometers) with no parachute—a Guinness record. Despite a fractured skull, three broken vertebrae, broken legs, broken ribs, and a fractured pelvis, she eventually made a near-total recovery.[8]


2 Testicle Fortitude

Indian Stuntman Has Balls Of Steel

Amandeep Singh is a bona fide tough guy. The 40-year-old stuntman can break beer bottles with his bare hands and lift two motorcycles at once—one dangling from each side of a weight bar. He can lift two people, weighing a combined 330 pounds… with his teeth.

In his homeland of Punjab, Singh has earned the fitting (albeit unoriginal) nickname of “India’s Steel Man.” Just this past July, he set an international bodybuilding record with his 28th competitive medal.

But a series of stunts Singh performed back in 2016 truly set him apart—if not as the world’s strongest or toughest man, then perhaps the craziest. For starters, he broke 53 beer bottles with his bare hands and used a series of ropes to stop 20 running motorcycles in their tracks. He allowed cars to run over his abdomen, a commercial truck to roll over his lower back, and full-grown men to jump off ladders and land by stomping on his chest.

But one stunt, in particular, left onlookers both amazed and grimacing. Amandeep Singh became the first known person to be hit in the balls with a sledgehammer… brace for it… ten times. To prove the hammer made solid scrotal contact, Singh even placed a brick over his privates and let the sledgehammer break it in two. That is, literally, nuts.[9]

1 Unlucky Seven

A Man Got Hit By A Lightning 7 Times – What Happened To Him?

Born in 1912 in Greene County, Virginia, Roy Sullivan came of age during the Great Depression. He fell in love with the national park system, which underwent a series of improvements under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s public works programs. In 1936, he became a park ranger at Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park. A brawny, rugged man who bore a resemblance to actor Gene Hackman, Sullivan seemed right out of central casting.

In April 1942, Sullivan sought shelter from a thunderstorm in a newly built fire tower. The tower caught fire after being struck by lightning, forcing him to flee. He got just a few yards from the exit when he was also struck. The bolt singed a portion of his leg and toe and burned a hole in his shoe. Sullivan survived.

Everything was fine for… oh, about 27 years. Then, in 1969, Sullivan was struck by lightning again. And then again, and again. In fact, he was struck by lightning six times in just eight years—seven in total—and survived them all.

The ways these strikes unfolded are just plain odd. One occurred in his truck—whose metal exterior and rubber tires should have been a safe haven. He was struck in his own front yard. He was struck standing inside his ranger station—an incident that set his hair on fire.

By the fourth strike, Sullivan became convinced that storm clouds were following him. Many concurred, refusing to go near him at the slightest hint of inclement weather.[1]

fact checked by Darci Heikkinen
Christopher Dale

Chris writes op-eds for major daily newspapers, fatherhood pieces for Parents.com and, because he's not quite right in the head, essays for sobriety outlets and mental health publications.

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