Several years ago, a friend of mine who had a long career as a commercial/industrial plumber related an anecdote about a colleague who was working at a power plant. He was in the vicinity of a high-pressure steam pipe, presumably part of the same circuit as the main turbines, when a leak from it severed two of his fingers. Apparently, the cut was so fast and clean that the colleague didn't even notice that they were missing for several minutes afterwards. There was no bleeding, as the heat instantly cauterised the wound.

At the time it sounded plausible to me, but I thought why not ask the local SE mythbusters? It's a nice interdisciplinary sort of question. There are quite a few aspects of this that I think demand closer inspection:

  • Can someone really lose a digit and not notice for several minutes?
  • What sort of pressure / temperature would be required to achieve this?
  • Do such conditions typically exist in the turbine circuits used in power plants?
  • Are steam pipe failures of this type common, or even plausible?
  • 5
    Welcome to Skeptics!, we do require proof of notability on this site.
    – Jamiec
    Commented Jul 9, 2012 at 9:57
  • 4
    @Jamiec - The cutting claim has been discussed on The Straight Dope.
    – rjzii
    Commented Jul 9, 2012 at 11:39
  • The Straight Dope article that I mentioned in the previous comment handles the last three points of the question from the looks of it, but I suspect that the first point is going to be a touch harder to find sources for. Although, I also suspect that someone with a medical background can handle a negative response fairly easily.
    – rjzii
    Commented Jul 9, 2012 at 11:45
  • Agreed: the victim's reaction remains open to question. In particular, a leak from a sufficiently powerful source would probably be very loud; it would be unlikely for anyone to get too close without noticing it.
    – user3490
    Commented Jul 9, 2012 at 21:02
  • 1
    From experience, in the first moments after an injury, adrenalin (I believe) dulls the pain. If the adrenalin was already there because of the leak, and associated stress, maybe it's plausible that he wouldn't feel it.
    – Benjol
    Commented Jul 11, 2012 at 8:25


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