Trauma, Hollywood style

You know how people die in movies? They get shot or stabbed in the chest, grunt, fall down, and summarily expire. That irritates me. I was watching The Magnificent Seven the other day (Good movie, by the way), and at one point James Coburn’s character chucks a knife with a blade no more than four inches long into an enemy. It hits significantly below the man’s right breast, and it does not sink in to the hilt. It misses his heart by about ten inches, and probably didn’t reach deep enough to pierce the bottom of his lung and almost certainly not his liver. Nevertheless, the man grunts in pain and collapses, apparently in his death throes.

Now, I realize the guy messed with James Coburn. That always results in death, of course. But realistically, there is very little chance that wound would have been fatal at all, and certainly not that quickly.

I imagine he would have gone into shock almost instantly unless he had been stabbed a lot in the past. In my experience, this means he probably would have sunk to his knees and spent a moment or two totally dazed before realizing he had better get serious and take care of that wound. Then the real pain would set in.

The point here is that movies and books very often do a very poor job representing injuries and their effect on a person. Low profile actors die of badly stubbed toes, but the star takes a couple of rifle rounds to the chest and stomach and ignores them, ’cause he’s busy.

I am not pushing for long, drawn out death scenes. My point is, do a little research about the wound your portraying, and make it at least somewhat realistic. You might be surprised at how much is survivable (something like 10% of heart puncture wound victims make it) but how little is debilitating; if you get shot in the arm or leg, you had better be on a massive adrenaline rush or you are down for a long time. Also, dying instantly is extremely rare. Unless the victim is completely calm, to die instantly they probably need to be beheaded or the equivalent.

All I am really saying is do some research, think about the effect of the wound (i.e. Chest injury = blood loss and shock.) I am no medical expert, so if you are (or even if you aren’t), feel free to point out any errors I made. Please do your homework, though, just like you would for anything else. Your story will be the better for it. At least, that’s my take on it.

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