Monday, July 11, 2011

Medical Mondays: Sucking the Life Out of Your Character


Hi all! Hope you all had a good week. I'm back from vacation and procrastinating like a champ.
(I'm writing this in the wee hours of the morning, so forgive me if I'm punchy.)

I've got a great question from Michelle Simkins (check out her blog, Greenwoman). She asked:

I have a character who suffers from a lot of blood loss.
1. How much blood can someone lose and still survive if they're brought to the ER in time?
2. What happens to someone who has lost almost, but not quite, enough blood to die?
3. What does the recovery process look like? How long would you feel like crap? In what ways would you feel like crap?

Ah, good old exsanguination. Yet another method we have in our fictional arsenal to be mean to our characters.

The average human has about 5 liters of blood in their body. Of that, red blood cells account for about 45% of that volume, and the rest is mostly liquid plasma and a tiny percentage some white cells and platelets.

Assuming the character is healthy, they can lose about one full liter (20% of their total blood) before they feel bad; at a two liter blood loss, or 40%, they'll go into shock (that is, too little blood to fill the blood vessels properly and deliver oxygen to vital organs, such as the brain and heart). At that point, they'd pass out and their other organs would suffer from the lack of blood supply (heart attacks, arrhythmia, kidney failure, stroke, stuff like that).

BUT...if they got to the ER in time? Say, after losing more than a liter and a half (30%-40%)? The first thing the ER would do would stick some huge IVs into the person and pour in some fluids (to get the blood pressure up) and blood products (red cells, platelets) as quickly as possible. During this time, the character would be:
  • short of breath
  • dizzy
  • having palpitations (their heartrate would be very fast)
  • going in and out of fainting spells
  • possibly confused and anxious
  • extremely weak
  • cold and sweaty.

Assuming that the reason for the blood loss has passed (I won't give away any spoilers...some day you'll just have to read Michelle's book!), the character would get enough transfusions to bring the blood levels (hemoglobin or hematocrit) to a safe level. They won't replace all the blood lost, just enough.

Because of that, the person will still have some lingering anemia. Plus, coming so close to death would be pretty exhausting. So I'd guess that that person would be really fatigued, short of breath, dizzy when standing, thirsty, and, well, just plain awful for a few days after.

Hope that answers it for you, Michelle!

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

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.

50 comments:

Miranda Hardy said...

Great post. I love learning things, and this will be of great help in my revision process.

Sarah said...

I think this is a post that could be useful to a lot of writers. My last project was about some paramedics in a pretty chaotic and violent setting, so there was quite a bit of blood loss going around--it really helps to have some consultation with a medical professional to get it right!

Jess said...

These are so informative~ I haven't had any characters suffering from blood loss lately, but who knows what'll happen in the future (*insert the evil laugh of a writer who's been instructed to make characters suffer for the sake of interesting conflict*) :) Thanks for another interesting post!

B.E. Sanderson said...

Thanks, Lydia. This is great information.

Connie said...

Thanks, Lydia. As always, great information.

welcome to my world of poetry said...

Very interesting information, lovely to see you back.

Yvonne,

Old Kitty said...

Blood is such an emotive force! Losing it in quantities even worse! Oh dear! thanks for such an informative post!

Take care
x

greenwoman said...

Thanks so much for answering my question! This is the coolest blog feature ever in the world. Srsly.

Matthew MacNish said...

It's always great to know where to go when you need to get it right.

Samantha VĂ©rant said...

Ugh. After my bike accident, I don't even want to think about blood loss. Seriously. I still have nightmares thinking about my arm...

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Twenty percent is still a lot.
Thanks, this is definitely something I need to know for my writing.

Carol Kilgore said...

Now I really want to read her book! Thanks.

storyqueen said...

Oooohh...I just read all of the symptoms and felt like I had them myself!

Great Description, Lydia!

Shelley

unicorna said...

I am already impressed with your blogging, you have a lot of charm mixed with creativity and valuable information. The perfect combination. I should mention though that I feel the need of some graphic illustration to support your insightful posts. Kisses.

Clarissa Draper said...

This is always helpful information to know... from a mystery writer's standpoint, of course.

Mary Campbell said...

That's awesome info. Hmmm - I need to take a look at my WIP - I know I have a few medical questions that need answers.

Julie Musil said...

You are brilliant, Lydia. It's so cool that the writing community has someone like you to help us understand this stuff.

Emily Rose said...

This is very interesting!

Suze said...

When I first saw this post, it made me think of the danger of peer review. ;)

Deb Salisbury said...

Yay! A list of symptoms for blood loss! Now I can bloody my character without killing him. :-)

Thanks!

Jemi Fraser said...

What a great way to come back from vacation :P Hope you had a good time and thanks for the post - interesting as always! :)

Carolyn Abiad said...

I read a book once where a doctor (quack) told the patient to drink beet juice because he couldn't get blood outside of going into a hospital. Is this for real? I had a very long moment of suspended disbelief when I read it.

Rachna Chhabria said...

Thanks Lydia..I liked this post (for a change it did not make me squirm, anything to do with blood make me queasy).

I hope I am not turning into a vampire ;)

notesfromnadir said...

Wow, what a mess to clean up.

Michael Offutt said...

I love medical questions like this.

vbtremper said...

Fascinating, as always.

Welcome back - hope you had a brilliant vacation!

-Vicki

Sarah said...

Yay! Extensive blood loss!

Munk said...

Feeling a bit pale?

Roland D. Yeomans said...

•short of breath
•dizzy
•having palpitations (their heartrate would be very fast)
•going in and out of fainting spells
•possibly confused and anxious
•extremely weak
•cold and sweaty.

Victor Standish feels those exact symptom every time he sees Alice in her Gothic Lolita outfit. You think hormones drain red blood cells? LOL. Have a beautiful new week, Roland

Colene Murphy said...

Interesting how much a person can lose before they start to get to that screwed state. But probably would go quickly if it was a bad enough injury, I guess...hm. Interesting!

The Golden Eagle said...

I've come across several instances where a character in a book lost blood--and wondered how much blood they could lose and if the effects were realistic. Thanks for the post!

Karen Lange said...

Thanks as always, for the info. Hope your break was a good one! Nice to see you back, procrastinating or otherwise.

Alleged Author said...

I didn't know hospitals only replace "just enough." It makes sense though. Cool post!

Ciara said...

Great information for any writer. I hope you had a fantastic vacation, Lydia.

JEM said...

ooo, how fascinating! Thanks for sharing, good to have you back! I'm starting to think you should call these Morbid Medical Mondays :). We do such tortuous things to our characters.

Krispy said...

Now I'll know what to believe when I watch those vampire shows. Haha. :P

Sandra Davies said...

Speaking from experience, when in labour with my third child my uterus ruptured. It wasn't realised at first, until after the baby was born & I bleeding like the proverbial stuck pig; much pounding on my abdomen because they thought they needed to expel the placenta until I screamed at them to stop. Dr. said "no blood pressure & pulse fading fast" & then they thought to prop me up so I wasn't draining blood - looking at my charts later I was about 3 minutes from bleeding to death. Following an emergency hysterectomy I was given eleven pints of blood that night and was feeding the baby the next morning. Difficult to say how much recovery due to blood loss & how much operation.

M Pax said...

So very useful, as always.

Hope you enjoyed your vacation, Lydia.

-E- said...

i bet you're already like 10th on the list for people googling "exsanguination".

Cold As Heaven said...

I used to be a blood donor for 15 years. Each time they took half a liter of blood. No problem, I didn't notice any effect afterwards. All together I've probably donated 30-40 liters.

Cold As Heaven

Theresa Milstein said...

I lost a lot of blood once. It was awful. I needed oxygen while they monitored me. Luckily, I didn't need a transfusion. Reading this post gave me the chills.

Solvang Sherrie said...

Another great one. Thanks!

Linda Gray said...

First I had to Google liter/gallon conversion. (I know, lame, but I can never remember!) That's a lot of blood. gick. Love the info you share. Thanks!

lbdiamond said...

Glad you're back! Interesting stuff, as usual. ;)

Lisa Gail Green said...

Why does my head keep going to vampires?? LOL. Great info as always! Thanks.

Jennifer Hillier said...

Bloody good post.

Sorry, couldn't resist. :D

Seriously, though, really interesting stuff. Why is it that 5 liters of blood in the average human body doesn't seem like that much to me? I was imagining much more.

Francesca Zappia said...

I have a feeling these medical mondays are going to be insanely useful. Ah! Great stuff.

Jayne said...

Yuck. But morbidly intriguing. I think I got palpitations just reading this. ;)

Beth said...

This is a great feature. When I wrote my first book, I had to call my roommate from university (now a doctor) to figure out the implications of a car accident. Sometimes an expert is the only way to go!

Ghenet Myrthil said...

I love these posts. So interesting!

 
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