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How TV lied to you about gunshot wounds

Updated on October 22, 2016

Many times you might have seen a gun go off in a movie, and the man on the other end, clutching his bleeding upper arm, may play it off as a flesh wound that is barely more than a graze and hardly anything to stop him, and carry on to save the world from the wicked villains. But is that really true? Are guns really that useless if not pointed at our vital parts like our head, or are the characters we see in the movies just as immune to guns as they are to cuts while smashing through random windows. Saying that all gunshots are always fatal might be an exaggeration, but to say that all bullets that pierce our limbs would only result in a simple flesh wound is also a long way from the truth. So how dangerous are these gunshots to our limbs? It’s time to find out.

The arms and legs we have, despite their appearance, are made of a series of complex connections between bones, ligaments, muscles, nerves and blood vessels. If it was simply ‘flesh’ then we wouldn’t be having the liberty to move around as much as we do. Inside these limbs resides a system of blood vessels that supply these limbs with much needed energy to move at our whim. And these blood vessels, if broken, could bleed a person to death in a matter of minutes before the help could even arrive. There is also a chance that the person could go into a shock due to the rapid reduction in the blood that flows to all the vital organs in the body. Even though this may not always happen, the possibility is still high.

Consider your legs, or more particularly your thighs. In these thighs run a highly important and large blood vessel of our body – the femoral artery. This artery once cut can result in death in less than five minutes. Cutting the femoral artery is just the same as cutting the jugular vein in your neck, it bleeds quick and it bleeds a lot. Such death by exsanguination is never pretty, and is common result in gunshot wounds. So shooting the leg can have the same result as cutting your neck, if aimed right. Death is not all there is to it. There are other kinds of trauma that may result from such wounds that can hardly be considered ‘harmless flesh wounds’.

If, by any chance, the bullet misses the flesh and arteries and hits the bone, then the chances that you may die of quick blood loss are low but that doesn’t mean that you turned out lucky because, if the bullet does hit the bones then you can kiss proper mobility of your limbs goodbye. Even a bullet that hardly grazes the bone can cause an indirect fracture, which despite doing far less damage than a direct fracture still requires adequate amount of care to restore its function. A bullet that hits the bone directly can shatter it to pieces instantly. Even a mild fracture caused by a gunshot can require intense physiotherapy and time to recover. The process itself can take its toll on you emotionally, physically and financially. The wound becomes worse if it’s in one of the complex joints of the human body such as shoulders and knees, which once broken can’t be put together even by the best doctors without some kind of lasting disability. The worse that can happen in this case is amputation and the best is a horrible limp and a similar emotional scar to be carried throughout the rest of your life.

Even if one is lucky enough to escape all of this, there is still the possibility of infection, which is very common in open wounds. Gunshots go deep and leave an ugly gash that can easily get infected if not given timely and proper treatment. And the gash itself once healed leaves a scar that you have to carry for the rest of your life as a reminder. So if movies got you thinking that you can jump in front of a rain of bullets and carry on as if nothing has happened, then you might want to look elsewhere for real inspiration.

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    • Rafa Baxa profile image
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      Rafael Baxa 11 months ago

      Yes, the way they sometimes seemed to not notice getting shot was almost comical.

      Thanks for your comment Jodah!

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 11 months ago from Queensland Australia

      Thanks for sharing this, I knew the way heroes in movies continued after getting shot was a little far fetched, but this confirmed it. Well done.