Just how dangerous is Pamplona's running of the bulls?

Previously published Slate articles made new.
July 14 2010 1:24 PM

Gored to Death?

Just how dangerous is Pamplona's running of the bulls?

The running of the bulls. Click image to expand.
The running of the bulls

Today marks the last day of the Spain's Festival of San Fermin, during which revelers run through the narrow streets of Pamplona alongside six bulls and six large steers. The final run was the bloodiest of this year's festivities, with nine participants suffering injuries. In 2007, Michelle Tsai explained what happens when you're gored by a bull. The original article is reprinted below.

Seven people were gored in Thursday's running of the bulls in Pamplona, Spain, the most dangerous encierro so far in this year's San Fermín festival. A 48-year-old local was gored in the chest and a 23-year-old Mexican in the stomach. How bad is it to get gored?

Advertisement

You'll probably live, but you can't be sure. A bull's horn can grow longer than a foot in length, and it can cause internal injuries that are several inches deep. But you're only in grave danger if the horn happens to strike a vital organ or a major artery, which doesn't happen very often. A study of bullfighting trauma in Guadalajara, Mexico, found that 66 percent of injuries were in the torero's extremities, while groin trauma accounted for 8 percent and perineal wounds 7 percent. Since officials started keeping records in 1924, 13 people have died during the bull runs in Pamplona.

In Pamplona, most people are running away from the bulls, which means if they get gored, chances are it'll be in their backside. All things considered, the gluteus maximus isn't the worst place to take a sharp horn. Nerve damage is always a possibility, but a gore in the butt is, in general, preferable to a gore in the heart or lung. It's also better to be tossed into the air than impaled against a wall, since the throw can dissipate the force of the gore.

Relatively common are gores to what Spanish newspapers call las partes honorables, aka the groin. Some who get a nasty horn between the legs, like this man from Georgia, need only a couple of days in the hospital; others take a month of bed rest. In 2003, a 27-year-old American was even gored through the rectum; the horn also pierced his bladder. Gores in the vagina are also occasionally reported.

Medical care for the pros has improved over the years, and most toreros today have survived several gorings that would have been fatal a few generations ago. Nevertheless, professional bullfighters talk about conquering the gusanillo, an imaginary worm that resides in the belly of every torero and feasts on fear. Sometimes bravery conquers the pain of a goring. Said one Brazilian bull-rider, who took a horn almost 6 inches into the belly, "Thank God, it didn't touch any vital organs. I thought it was just a scratch—it didn't hurt that much."

Got a question about today's news? Ask the Explainer.

Explainer thanks Rick Foster of Justin Boots Sportsmedicine Team and Lyn Sherwood, author of Yankees in the Afternoon: An Illustrated History of American Bullfighters.

Like  Slate on Facebook. Follow us  on Twitter.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Don’t Worry, Obama Isn’t Sending U.S. Troops to Fight ISIS

But the next president might. 

IOS 8 Comes Out Today. Do Not Put It on Your iPhone 4S.

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

How Much Should You Loathe NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell?

Here are the facts.

Three Talented Actresses in Three Terrible New Shows

Science

The Human Need to Find Connections in Everything

It’s the source of creativity and delusions. It can harm us more than it helps us.

Foreigners

More Than Scottish Pride

Scotland’s referendum isn’t about nationalism. It’s about a system that failed, and a new generation looking to take a chance on itself. 

The Ungodly Horror of Having a Bug Crawl Into Your Ear and Scratch Away at Your Eardrum

We Could Fix Climate Change for Free. Now There’s Just One Thing Holding Us Back.

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 17 2014 7:03 PM Once Again, a Climate Policy Hearing Descends Into Absurdity
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 17 2014 1:36 PM Nate Silver Versus Princeton Professor: Who Has the Right Models?
  Life
Outward
Sept. 17 2014 6:53 PM LGBTQ Luminaries Honored With MacArthur “Genius” Fellowships
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 17 2014 6:14 PM Today in Gender Gaps: Biking
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 17 2014 9:37 AM Is Slate Too Liberal?  A members-only open thread.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 17 2014 5:56 PM Watch Louis C.K., Dave Chappelle, Bill Hicks, Mitch Hedberg, and More on New YouTube Channel
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 17 2014 7:23 PM MIT Researchers Are Using Smartphones to Interact With Other Screens
  Health & Science
Jurisprudence
Sept. 17 2014 4:49 PM Schooling the Supreme Court on Rap Music Is it art or a true threat of violence?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 17 2014 3:51 PM NFL Jerk Watch: Roger Goodell How much should you loathe the pro football commissioner?