Monday, November 29, 2010

Medical Mondays: Gun Shot Wounds, 101

Before we start, a big, hearty thanks to all for the Turkey Support System that followed last week's post (which I may have to formally host on an annual basis). Your TSS gave me the confidence to tackle the pale and intimidating gobbler. I can comfortably say that I took that turkey down and showed it no mercy till it was golden, crisp and...dare I say it?

It was the BEST turkey I've ever had.

Yes, I owned that turkey. (Well, yeah, of course I bought it, but you know. I mean owned in a more lordly kinda way. Ahem.)

Okay. On to today's post!

GSW=Gun Shot Wound (aka, ballistic trauma)

Likely there will be more future posts on GSWs. After all, fiction (and the occasional wild turkey) has quite the propensity for high velocity injuries. (See my first post on gun shot wounds to the head).

So, on that note, we'll tackle a couple of question from Amanda from A Fortnight of Mustard:

A character is shot in the back of his calf by a rifle. How long would it take to heal, until he could walk and eventually be able to run?

The severity of GSW depend on many issues. So, a few basics:

1) Velocity. Generally, the faster the bullet travels, the more damage can be done, for instance, rifles shoot bullets at a higher velocity than handguns.
2) Mass. The bigger the bullet, the more damage is done.
3) Fragmentation. Some bullets are designed to break apart on impact, and thus cause more damage to a larger area.
4) Penetration. How far the bullet travels into a body part will affect what and how badly it's damaged
5) Cavitation. This is the shock-wave like effect of the bullet. This damage is more apt to occur in certain body parts, like the brain or liver, rather than muscle.

So, if this person got hit in the calf, the healing depends on the type of injury. The great thing is this is fiction, so you can decide how bad of an injury you want. Sort of like ordering food at a restaurant.

Would you like a shattered bone with that bullet hole? A side order of nerve injury?

So. If you want an injury that's really severe, you may want a severely broken bone (probably the tibia). Also, a torn artery would need surgical repair, and severe muscle injury (if the bullet was very destructive) would cause a lot of muscle damage. Then there's the possibility of nerve damage. Sometimes this can be surgically repaired or healed naturally; sometimes it cannot and cause permanent problems. We're talking about a person walking on the injured leg only after perhaps 8 weeks, running after 4 months, or even longer if the healing process doesn't go smoothly, or with permanent disability for any of the reasons above and no running, ever.

However, if you want a simpler injury, a non-fragmenting, clean shot through the "meat" of the calf, with no major vessel or nerve injury, could be recovered from pretty quickly. As in, walking in a week and running in only a couple of weeks.

Is it true that guys in combat can somehow still run and function right after they've been shot? Do they not feel pain because of adrenaline?

"Stress-induced analgesia" is a term that describes when pain is masked by a stressful or life-threatening situation. It's thought to be related to endorphins rather than adrenaline. Endorphins are naturally occurring chemicals that resemble morphine in our brains and can mask the pain of a severe injury during a stress response.

Okay, sorry for the super long post! Have a Happy Monday!

Please keep in mind this post is for writing purposes only and is not to be construed as medical advice (see sidebar disclaimer).

If you've got a fictional medical question, let me know! Post below or email me at
All I ask is that you become a follower and post a link on your blog when I post your answer.
Also, don't forget to check out Mental Health Mondays at Laura's Blog!


Alesa Warcan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
salarsenッ said...

Ooh, me some visuals with this one. Yuck on the wounds but high-five on the explanation. Thanks.

Alesa Warcan said...

Congrats on owning that turkey!

The munitions used can completely change the nature of the wound, as you said, as they can have completely different terminal ballistics.

Kerri C at CK Farm said...

Yay for the turkey! I confess that is not my department either.

Who knew there are so many factors that go into a gunshot wound. I'm sure we all will shoot a character eventually so this was great info!

B.E. Sanderson said...

Woohoo for your turkey! Way to rock the bird. =o)

Another great post, Lydia. Thanks.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Good to know the details!
And glad your turkey rocked.

Kelly said...

My hubby makes the turkey or else ours would not be so good! :)
Another interesting post. So fun to read different possibilities!

Anonymous said...

Congratulations on your turkey Lydia and thanks for another informative Medical Monday post.Although I hope that I never have any personal experience of G.S.W's.

Connie said...

Glad to hear that the turkey went so well!

Thanks for the info on GSWs--I have one in one of my novels and wasn't sure I had the details correct.

Jess said...

What an awesome blog! I came over here from Donea's blog (you were on the list of award winners). Very cool stuff--I look forward to more Medical Mondays :)

Liza said...

Every Medical Monday is a learning experience. Thanks.

Meredith said...

Congrats on owning the turkey! And thanks for all the knowledge. I'm hoping none of my characters get shot, but it's good to know what would happen :)

LTM said...

ew ew ew!!! shredded muscle salad???

but funny: when we were all in the thick of L O S T and Locke got shot in the stomach, Hubs goes, "Oh, it's just a harmless gut wound."

ehrm. yes. He plays a doctor on TV. ;p but hooray for endorphins! :D

Carol Kilgore said...

Another great Medical Monday!
Glad your turkey was awesome :)

Deb Salisbury said...

Great explanation. Thanks!

Glad your turkey behaved itself. ;-)

Jennee said...

Congrats on an excellent turkey! I love that you make me think about facts and details for characters! You are so helpful to my non-medical thinking mind!

Bossy Betty said...

Congrats on your turkey success! Of course hearing about the "meat" of the calf right afterwards....hummm....

notesfromnadir said...

I didn't know that a rifle shot bullets at a faster speed. Makes sense though.

Wow, bullet wounds sure can slow a character down.

Glad you had a great Thanksgiving!

Jai Joshi said...

I adore your medical mondays. And regarding gun shot wounds, what writer at some point doesn't need to know how it all works?

I'm going to have a bunch of medical questions for you soon enough. I'm heading into dark territory in my writing.


Holly Ruggiero said...

Ah, it wasn’t super long; it was super interesting.
Glad you owned your turkey!

Munk Davis said...

"Cavitation"... I never considered it occurring in flesh--that's gotta sting.

Heather said...

Congrats on cooking a fantastic turkey! And great post on gun shot wounds. I never thought that much about them but now that I have there is a scene I have to change. Thank you!

Old Kitty said...

Yay that you had a fab turkey!! Brilliant!!!

And I was going "ow, ow, ow"!! reading your post!! Oh dear!! So many ways to cause pain and injury! Thanks for this amazing post! Take care

Colene Murphy said...

Geez, I thought for sure it would take longer than that, even if it was a simple gunshot wound! Neat to know!

Glad your turkey came out great! After Thanksgiving I'm convinced I will cook a turkey several times a year just because it's so yummy. Never do. Laziness always wins.

Lenny Lee* said...

hi miss lydia! you did soooo good on that turkey!! hooray!! my dad one time was practicing that quick draw stuff but he got the trigger pulled before the gun got out of the holster and whamo got himself shot right smack in his leg but it was ok cause it didnt get a bone.
...hugs from lenny

Laura Pauling said...

Thanks! I'll remember this if my character ever gets shot!

The Golden Eagle said...

Congrats on cooking that turkey!

My characters get shot pretty often, so this Medical Mondays post was really helpful! Thanks, Lydia. :)

Anne said...

I have yet to tackle my own turkey... One day!

The Red Angel said...

Oh yay, congratulations on cooking a deliciously successful turkey!

This is probably one of the most interesting and one of my favorite Medical Monday posts! I've always wondered what the biological/ physiological results of a GSW has on a human body.


Amanda Borenstadt said...

Thank you so much for answering my questions, Lydia. You are my Medical Monday angel! This helps so much!!! :)

Shannon O'Donnell said...

My brain is reeling, but in a good way. Awesome post, Lydia!! :-)

E. Arroyo said...

Ouch...sound like it hurts. A few of my characters are shot in my ms...this is good to know. I'll probably be emailing you a bit later. ☺ Great post!

Anonymous said...

Oy, such destructive things.

Phoenix said...

Endorphins are awesome!

Oh, and if you're going to be a true geek, instead of "owned" you should say "pwned" for your turkey.

Just saying. Geek girls gotta represent. ;)

I hope you had a lovely Thanksgiving with your pwned Turkey!

Olga said...

Hi Lydia!
Thank you very much for visiting my blog,commenting and being my follower. As a new girl in the blogosphere I appreciate it and try my best not to bore you too much.
I am also your new follower. I really enjoy your writing.

Rachna Chhabria said...

Glad to hear that your turkey cooking went well.
Thanks for this post about gunshot wounds.

Jonene Ficklin said...

Lydia, this post could not be more timely. My MC just got shot in the calf and I needed him to move and wondered if he could. Thanks so much!

LeishaMaw said...

I love Medical Mondays. Thanks for the continuing info. Why do I have a sudden desire to shoot one of my characters in the leg?

Susan Fields said...

Another great Medical Monday - thanks, Lydia!

Abby Minard said...

Great info Lydia! Also, so glad your turkey turned out yummy!

Anonymous said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog.

The Words Crafter said...

Giving you snaps and high fives for total turkey domination!

Really interesting with the GSW....

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