Radiation poisoning is just one of many horrible ways to die, but it’s particularly gruesome. Name an awful symptom: chances are, it’s something you’ll experience while slowly dying of radiation poisoning. (It’s almost always slow, too: even the worst cases involve almost two days of unbelievable suffering.)
But there are also unexpected little details about the agony you’ll experience while slowly succumbing. Because of the almost otherworldly properties of radioactive materials, the specifics of it all can get pretty creepy. If you can stomach it, read on for more fascinating radiation poisoning facts.
In 1987, residents of Goiânia, Brazil became mysteriously ill three days after accidentally coming into contact with a “sparkling, glowing blue powder” from a broken radiation therapy machine at an abandoned hospital. One of the many symptoms probably suffered by the villagers was internal bleeding, and not just of the stomach or other organs. Radiation poisoning often leads to bleeding of the nose, gums, and rectum.
A “three-dimensional sunburn” is what doctors called the internal radiation burns suffered by a Canadian physicist working on a nuclear weapon at Los Alamos in 1946. Louis Slotin had helped assemble the first atomic weapon barely a year prior. The last one he worked on ended up killing him when a slipped screwdriver accidentally made a plutonium core go “critical.” Along with the 3-D sunburn, Slotin’s white-blood-cell count plummeted, his temperature and pulse fluctuated, and his lips turned blue before he finally sank into a coma and died, just nine days after the accident.
Hisashi Ouchi was working at a uranium processing facility in Tokaimura, Japan in 1999 when an accident exposed him to neutron beams - “the most powerful form of radioactive energy” - that were an instant death sentence. He “lived” for 83 days, kept alive by machines, losing 20 liters of body fluids per day. His skin almost completely fell off; what was left of it was blackened and blistered. He lost the ability to generate blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. Despite multiple grafts, transfusions, and transplants, he eventually died of “multiple organ failure.”
While ostensibly gross, there’s nothing inherently creepy about vomiting. But if you suspect that you’ve inadvertently exposed yourself to high levels of radiation, vomiting quickly becomes the creepiest thing on the planet. Vomiting within an hour of exposure is basically the Grim Reaper picking your number. Yep: you’re likely to die if it starts that quick. Then again, another sign of radiation sickness is starting to feel better...before feeling a whole lot worse, sometimes even weeks later.