How Sword Swallowing Contributed to Modern Medicine


This weekend, spectators will gather at a dozen Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Odditoriums across America to watch performers stick swords down their throats, through their esophageal sphincters and into their stomachs. According to the Sword Swallowers Association International, World Sword Swallower’s Day exists to celebrate the ancient art, dispel myths and “raise awareness of the contributions sword swallowers have made in the fields of science and medicine.”

If that last bit is a little hard to swallow, chew on this historical nugget: The first endoscopy of the upper gastrointestinal tract, or esophagoscopy, was performed on a sword swallower in 1868 by the German physician Adolph Kussmaul. After experiencing frustration at not being able to see far enough into the esophagus of a patient with a tumor, he was able to see all the way into the stomach of the sword swallower. The subject swallowed a 47-centimeter tube, which…

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