One and a quarter million people have been shot with a Taser. I’m one of them. Here’s how it happened:
I’m working for a (short-lived) National Geographic Channel show called Factory Floor with Marshall Brain. The show profiles how things are made. In fact, whenever I tell people what I’m doing, they think I’m working on the very successful Discovery Channel show How It’s Made. I then have to deliver the bad news that I’m working on the show they’ve never heard of and probably will never see. For this particular episode, we’re in Phoenix, Arizona immortalizing the manufacture of tennis balls and Tasers. Because, like all shows I seem to work on, we don’t have any money, we have to get each factory done in a day.
Shooting at Taser doesn’t help. Key to their production process is a device so nightmarish you assume the manufacturer’s address must include which level of hell they’re on. It’s the ultrasonic welder, a machine that joins plastic parts by vibrating them so fast they fuse together. As it performs this particular trick, it emits a high-pitched squeal just on the border of audibility.
It’s the kind of sound you’d imagine a demon would make right before it latches its teeth onto your throat and starts chomping. It’s a sound that cuts through you and makes you feel like all the bones in your face have been turned into chalkboards and someone’s dragging their nails down them. And it’s constant, every ten seconds or so, these shrill packets of dog torture fly out across the factory to impale themselves in my cranium. My headache gets worse until I’m pretty sure my skull is going to break open.
So when I say we suffer through the day, we really suffer. Especially every time that goddamn welder goes off. But we do what we have to do, follow the Taser production line from start to finish, documenting exactly how a room full of Croatian women turn a handful of plastic parts, a few needles and a battery into a state-of-the art passive restraint weapon.
And then it comes time for the highlight of the day –- the demo. Our intrepid host, Marshall Brain, has agreed to be tased on camera to graphically show the power of these devices. Our company liaison is a guy I’ll call Jeff. Good guy, but he’s kind of twitchy. Turns out when they were researching which Taser waveform (the electric pulse it puts out) was the most effective, they used Jeff as their guinea pig. The dude has been tased hundreds of times, with waveforms that did nothing, waveforms that produced intense pain, and even some he reported as being “kind of nice.”
Since Marshall is getting tased, Jeff asks if any of the rest of us want to try it out as well? Always willing to expand my horizons, I volunteer. What the hell, right? How many times is this opportunity going to come up that doesn’t have a courtroom on the other side of it?
The Taser guys tell us they’ll just tape the probes that deliver the charge to us, but Marshall is insistent. He wants to get shot with the goddamn thing. And if he’s getting shot, I’m getting shot. Our producer jumps on board as well, and so does the PA. We all want to “take the hit,” as they say in Taser parlance, and see what all the fuss is about.
The trainer yells, “Taser, Taser, Taser,” and shoots Marshall. A puff of gas from the taser. The two probes, tiny barbed harpoons, shoot out and plant themselves deep into Marshall’s back.
The effect on our intrepid host is dramatic. He goes stiff, his eyes roll up, and he gives a little “ohhhhwwwwwww,” as he collapses, then is caught and gently lowered to the floor by the men by his side. He is absolutely incapacitated, unable to do anything for the five second duration of the tasing.
When it’s over, he looks up at the camera and gives a detailed and concise report on the experience, mainly using the words “wow” and “holy crap.”
Then it’s my turn. For the fun of it, we’re going to be filming the rest of us getting tased as well.
I take my place on the mat. Terrified I might embarrass myself, I’ve invoked the “long car trip” rule and made sure to go to the bathroom first. I can’t see the trainer with the Taser, but I feel him behind me. I feel the goddamn thing pointing at me. My headache worsens, my brain boiling inside my skull.
Now, with two people holding me, a guy pointing a Taser at my back, three freaking cameras rolling, and the whole room watching, I realize it was maybe not such a good idea after all.
But when the trainer asks, “Are you ready?” What am I going to do, wuss out? Like I’ll ever live that down. So I suck it up. “Ready,” I yell, and what the hell, my voice barely quavers.
“Taser. Taser, Taser!” The trainer yells.
Getting hit with a taser feels like this. Imagine two fishing hooks that have been straightened into tiny, barbed harpoons. Now plant these on the end of baseball bats and hire a pair of Carlos Beltran caliber hitters to smack you on the back with them. One hits me in the lower back, the other goes right through my belt and stabs me just above the right butt-cheek.
I have only an instant to comprehend that violation of my being when the Taser charge hits and some universal elevator cable is cut sending me on an express trip straight to a molten hell.
The first thing you feel is actually nothing. You have no idea what’s going on. It’s so enormously awful there’s just no way to process it. That lasts for maybe a tenth of a second. Then you notice your entire body has gone stiff. I’m suddenly standing on tiptoes, every muscle straining. I can feel the current cycling from probe to probe with the muscles of my back between them.
I now fully comprehend how magnificently bad an idea getting tased was. Imagine ten million electric hyenas set loose in your body. Each of them has a muscle fiber in its slavering jaws, and all of them are tugging and ripping in different directions at once.
Now add in some intense heat. The spots where the probes hit get hot enough to make tea on.
I am maybe a second into the experience when a single thought runs through my mind: “What the hell was I thinking?”
Unlike Marshall, who went down with nothing more than a long moan, I manage to get a few words out. They are, of course, all curses. “Fuck!” I say through gritted teeth. “Motherfuck! Goddamn it, this really hurts!” I’m saying this as the guys lower me to the mat. I have no idea I’m being lowered to the mat. All I know is that one second I’m standing, the next I’m flat on my belly.
The pain goes on. It’s bad, but there’s something worse, a sense of wrongness that makes the experience truly appalling. It is such an unnatural, terrible sensation, as if some horrible swarm of alien insects who've been living inside you for a decade are now making a bid for freedom.
I grit my teeth, still cursing hard enough to make your average stand-up comic blush. It seems like this is going on forever and I’m wondering if something went wrong, if this is the tasing that’s not going to end in five seconds, if I’m going to spend whatever time I have left in this world stiff on the floor muttering obscenities.
And then it stops. The pain ends with the finality of a slamming door.
I feel insanely relieved. So relieved I just shout “wow, wow, wow” several times before my brain realizes what a dumbass I sound like.
I look into one of the cameras taping me and explain the experience. The phrase “that fucking sucked” comes up a lot.
At this point, I would do anything, anything at all not to have to go through that again. I understand what an effective device the Taser is. Once you get hit with that thing, you’re going to do whatever the cops want you to do. After all, a second dose is just a trigger pull away.
And yet, there’s some tiny part of me that wants to get tased again, just to relive the ethereal joy of it ending.
Now the probes have to come out. This is the part I feared the most, getting barbed needles yanked out of your back. But after getting tased, they can rip barbed needles out of me all day, I don’t give a rat’s ass. With the probes out and bandages in place, I stand up to get ready to film the next victim, our producer, as she takes the hit. As I move behind the camera I realise something wonderful.
My headache is gone.