When it comes to the need to survive, most organisms will do anything to stay alive. While self-preservation isn’t the ultimate goal of every life-form, it’s definitely up there as one of the most important facets of our existence. It is the satisfaction of successive goals which keep us alive and make our lives valuable, giving them meaning, imbuing them with a sense of purpose, that keeps us going. But sometimes, we must make tough, life-or-death decisions when faced with extreme, rare, unusual, or challenging circumstances.
The fact that it is believed that all of us are, in some way, the descendants of cannibals shows that our human ancestors went to extreme lengths to survive and keep the human race alive long enough for you to exist today. And today, people can still face equally hard choices—some people have even had to remove parts of their own bodies in order to reach those successive goals and survive. Here are ten unbelievable people who amputated a part of their own body in an effort to stay alive.
Aron Ralston was a pretty normal guy, but he always had an extremely adventurous streak and a desire to travel and see the world. During his childhood, his family moved to Denver, Colorado, a place offering many opportunities to climb mountains, explore, and ultimately become the adventurer he’d always wanted to be. Back in 2003, Ralston was climbing in the remote, mountainous wilderness of Southwestern Utah, when the unthinkable happened: Aron became trapped in a crevice in the rocks and pinned by a boulder that weighed over 360 kilograms (800 lb). The weight of the rock crushed his arm, and he was pinned by it. Aron took photos of his bad situation (which was going to get a lot worse) as he waited for rescue teams to come remove the rock so that he could get out and home safe.
But rescuers never came. Aron waited for them for days as his hope faded. He knew he had to do something. He was 18 meters (59 ft) above the floor of the chasm he’d found himself pinned in, and he had a pocketknife. He made what must have been one of the most difficult decisions of his life: to amputate his own arm beneath the elbow in order to survive. Aron cut the lower part of his arm off, having to wrench his forearm against the boulder to break the bones, and then got himself down to the bottom of the canyon, where he would begin to walk and search for help. Luckily, help arrived in the form of a helicopter that spotted him, covered in blood. Aron had tied off the wound to keep himself from bleeding to death pretty successfully and would eventually make it out alive.
Ralston went on to become a motivational speaker and continued to travel and climb mountains—he didn’t let an incident that forced him into the most strenuous of circumstances, cutting his own arm off, stop him from doing what he really loved.
While his attempt at self-amputation was not successful, in 2008, a man named Michael Lasiter tried to cut his own arm off in order to stay alive—or so he thought. Lasiter was injecting cocaine into his arm in a California motel room when he came to believe that he might have injected an air bubble into his vein, which is potentially fatal. Panicked, he ran, fleeing the motel room and making his way to a nearby Denny’s restaurant, where he grabbed a butter knife and tried quite unsuccessfully to cut off his arm.
After this unsuccessful attempt at self-amputation, Lasiter charged into the actual kitchen area of the restaurant, where he retrieved a chef’s knife and began sawing at his arm to remove it. By this time, the police had been called. They attempted to talk him down, telling him to drop the knife, but Lasiter was absolutely convinced he was going to die. The police then used a Taser to knock the subject off his feet and were able to take him to a nearby hospital. Was Lasiter just really high when he freaked out and barreled into a restaurant to remove his own arm? Or did he actually have a reasonable suspicion that he would likely die? The world may never know.
Jonathan Metz, a Connecticut man, was heating up dinner as he normally did one fateful night in June 2010 that would change his life forever. While his food was cooking, he decided to run down to the basement to fix his furnace. Somehow, he became trapped beneath the furnace. Jonathan spent a full 12 hours screaming for help and a total of three days pinned underneath the furnace.
When it became clear that help wasn’t coming, Metz thought to himself, “What would MacGyver do in this situation?” Yes, of all things, Metz thought back to the television show MacGyver. Then, he decided to do what most of us would consider unthinkable, something straight of out a Saw movie: He retrieved a hacksaw that had been lying nearby and began to slowly saw his arm off to escape. He made it most of the way before passing out. That same day, a friend had become worried by Metz’s absence and ultimately called the police. Metz was found and rescued.
His attempt at self-amputation did save his life, however, even though he didn’t fully complete the amputation himself. Doctors finished the job later on. They noted that had Metz not used the hacksaw to remove the tissues that were connected to the rest of his body, a powerful, systemic bacterial infection would have set in and killed him within a couple of hours. By even attempting to saw off his own arm, Jonathan Metz saved his own life. He was fitted with a prosthesis.
On August 19, 2011, a 61-year-old Colorado logger named Jon Hutt was out in the remote wilderness of Western Colorado when six tons of machinery fell off his trailer and onto his foot, pinning him instantly. Hutt had been loading trees into his trailer when the incident happened, and he acted extraordinarily quickly in order to survive. He couldn’t get a cell phone signal, and he knew that no one was coming way out that way, so he dug out his pocketknife.
Hutt went straight to work and amputated his own toes with his tiny little pocketknife, a tool he carried with him whenever he was in the wilderness, and managed to escape to safety. Jonathan Hutt would return to the wilderness in short order, being out and about only a month after the incident. He even had a good sense of humor about it all after treatment.
The next tale of self-amputation comes, surprisingly, from another harmless, everyday activity that went terribly wrong. Myron Schlafman was in his garage making sausage with a meat grinder on August 17, 2018. As he went to retrieve some of the meat from the electric grinder, he accidentally hit the foot pedal, which sucked his left arm into the machine. His hand was sliced up, and his arm bones were broken, but he was still stuck to the grinder by other, unsevered tissues.
But this 69-year-old Vietnam War veteran wasn’t going down without a fight and knew that, considering the damage done to the flesh of his arm already, he’d likely bleed to death if he didn’t free himself from the grinder and get help. So, he instantly decided to cut his hand off.
Schlafman simply didn’t hesitate; he reached for a nearby knife and got to work. He escaped and called the police, who tied off the wound. He managed to survive by the grace of his cast-iron nerves and quick thinking. This 69-year-old North Dakotan saved his own life through self-amputation.
In 2007, Al Hill, a 66-year-old from Iowa Hill, California, was in the woods cutting down trees when he became pinned under a fallen one. He remained there for 11 full, long, painful hours. He, too, found himself pinned under an object too heavy to lift in a remote area with no cellular service. Al also used a pocketknife to sever his own leg below the knee in the name of his own survival.
After he’d freed himself, Al yelled for help, and a passing neighbor heard him. The neighbor trekked out to a place where he was able to call the authorities and have Al airlifted to a hospital. Al underwent surgery and ended up surviving the incident, miraculously.
Zheng Yanliang is a farmer and factory worker in China who was forced to do the unthinkable under some pretty bizarre and cruel circumstances. This terrifying yet inspiring story of personal grit and perseverance began when Zheng was diagnosed with arterial thrombosis in his leg. The hospital visits had already drained Zheng’s financial resources, and there was no way he would have been able to pay the approximately $48,000 needed for the required amputation. Doctors apologized, saying that he likely had three months left to live, and sent him on his way.
Over the following months, Zheng’s leg got worse and worse. Maggots began to infest his limb. But Zheng wasn’t about to give up without a fight, especially with his family on the line. During the early morning hours of April 14, 2012, he decided to bite down on a large piece of wood and, using a fruit knife and a hacksaw, remove his own leg. This self-amputation saved Zheng Yanliang’s life. He later reported that it took him 20 minutes to grind through the bone with the saw to save his own life and remain with his family. He also lost three teeth from biting down on the piece of wood so hard. But because of his efforts, he lives on to tell this bizarre tale of survival.
This next incredible tale of self-amputation began with a tragedy of nearly unthinkable magnitude and ended in a tale of heroism and friendship that serves to inspire us all and give us a little more faith in humanity. Ramlan, age 18, was working with his friend, Eman, 53, when an earthquake struck their home city of Padang, Indonesia, on September 30, 2009. Concrete began to shake beneath their feet and then began to collapse all around them. The construction workers on Ramlan’s crew managed to escape to safety, but Ramlan himself was pinned beneath a concrete girder that entrapped his leg.
Frantic and terrified, the teenager decided that his only hope would be to amputate the leg. After a few minutes, the shaking stopped, and he proceeded to grab a nearby hoe and attempted to cut off his leg with the tool, finding it too dull to break the bone. He was able to place a phone call to his friend Eman, who rushed to help the young man, locating him where he had been stuck in the rubble. Eman found a trowel for Ramlan to use, but that didn’t work, either. Eman then found a hacksaw, and Ramlan again tried to saw through his own leg to free himself in the name of survival, but he had become too weak by this point.
That’s when Eman realized what had to be done and took the saw and finished the job Ramlan had begun. Eman sawed the rest of his friend’s leg off, wrapped the wound, and took Ramlan to a nearby hospital, where yet another amputation would take place a little further up to ensure a clean break and a clean wound. But Ramlan would survive the incident and live to tell the tale.
Doug Goodale was a lobster fisherman back in 2002, when he was out at sea searching for his latest catch. The man from Maine decided to do the unthinkable when his arm got caught in a winch while he was out in the open water during stormy weather: He, too, cut his own arm off. He was actually thrown over the side of the ship, still hanging from the winch, and all he could think about was his children, who would be without him if he died.
He managed to pull himself back onto the deck of his boat, though doing so dislocated his shoulder. He was still caught in the winch. That’s when he reached for a nearby knife and began to cut through his own arm. By sawing his own arm off at the elbow, he managed to save his own life. Bleeding badly, he guided the ship into harbor, where he was able to alert the authorities and survive the incident. He managed to return home to his children.
Sampson Parker was a farmer who was working alone in his field in South Carolina when he got his right arm stuck in a mechanical picker in 2007. The piece of machinery trapped his arm and also caught fire. Faced with the possibility of burning to death slowly, trapped by a piece of heavy machinery, he decided to take his tiny, 8-centimeter (3 in) pocketknife and saw through his own arm to make his escape. Parker managed to cut his arm off and would later remark that he felt very little during the experience.
A firefighter named Doug Spinks arrived on the scene to find Parker burned and bleeding profusely and would end up saving his life. Parker would later recount the events of that day, as he sat for interviews in front of the same piece of machinery which nearly killed him, noting that he believed it was the fire which kept him from passing out from the shock and pain of sawing his own arm off with a pocketknife.
I like to write about the weird, bizarre, unusual, dark, and often macabre. Oddities are awesome.