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?

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

War Stories

The Right Target

Why Obama’s airstrikes against ISIS may be more effective than people expect.

The One National Holiday Republicans Hope You Forget

It’s Legal for Obama to Bomb Syria Because He Says It Is

I Stand With Emma Watson on Women’s Rights

Even though I know I’m going to get flak for it.

Should You Recline Your Seat? Two Economists Weigh In.

Doublex

It Is Very, Very Stupid to Compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice

Or, why it is very, very stupid to compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice.

Building a Better Workplace

In Defense of HR

Startups and small businesses shouldn’t skip over a human resources department.

Why Is This Mother in Prison for Helping Her Daughter Get an Abortion?

Politico Wonders Why Gabby Giffords Is So “Ruthless” on Gun Control

Behold
Sept. 23 2014 4:45 PM An Up-Close Look at the U.S.–Mexico Border
  News & Politics
Foreigners
Sept. 23 2014 6:40 PM Coalition of the Presentable Don’t believe the official version. Meet America’s real allies in the fight against ISIS.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 23 2014 2:08 PM Home Depot’s Former Lead Security Engineer Had a Legacy of Sabotage
  Life
Outward
Sept. 23 2014 1:57 PM Would a Second Sarkozy Presidency End Marriage Equality in France?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 23 2014 2:32 PM Politico Asks: Why Is Gabby Giffords So “Ruthless” on Gun Control?
  Slate Plus
Political Gabfest
Sept. 23 2014 3:04 PM Chicago Gabfest How to get your tickets before anyone else.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 23 2014 8:38 PM “No One in This World” Is One of Kutiman’s Best, Most Impressive Songs
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 23 2014 5:36 PM This Climate Change Poem Moved World Leaders to Tears Today
  Health & Science
Science
Sept. 23 2014 4:33 PM Who Deserves Those 4 Inches of Airplane Seat Space? An investigation into the economics of reclining.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 23 2014 7:27 PM You’re Fired, Roger Goodell If the commissioner gets the ax, the NFL would still need a better justice system. What would that look like?