Gunshot wounds are perhaps one of the rarest injuries the average person is likely to encounter in everyday life, but then again, an emergency grid down scenario precipitated by some manmade or natural disaster can hardly be called an everyday occurrence. Hunting accidents also are a possibility.
Contrary to what is depicted in most Hollywood movies, gunshot wounds are rarely something so minor as to be able to be kept in check with a sweaty bandanna or other such improvised MacGyver-style gadget. In 100 percent of the cases, gunshot wounds will require medical attention – assuming the person lives past the initial encounter with high velocity lead.
Obviously, there is no treating a person who has received a series of fatal gunshot wounds to the center torso or head. In those cases, the projectiles have accomplished the mission they were designed for, and rendering medical aid to a person who has several large holes in his head or torso most likely is a waste of time. While one would think that most gunshot wounds would be delivered in a precise fashion – the old two to the chest and one to the head scenario – the reality is that in the heat of armed combat, shots are rarely precise. This is because:
- The shooter moves: gunfights rarely if ever erupt in a western style duel with both parties stationary. The shooter is usually walking, running, hopping or even in a moving vehicle.
- The victim moves: No one consciously aware of the imminent threat of being shot is likely to remain in a fixed position for very long. Targets have a tendency to move, and quite rapidly when faced with an armed threat.
The end result is that many shootings, as evidenced by gang and police shootings nationwide, result in a person who is shot, but isn’t dead.
So what can we do to ensure survival in the event of gunshot wounds? Let’s delve into what to do, even in the absence of medical care. Here are some tips:
- Seek qualified medical care: It goes without saying that if medical care is available, you must seek it first. Nothing beats an ambulance full of EMTs or paramedics followed by a well-stocked emergency room full of trauma nurses and physicians. If you can get to a hospital – do it.
- Control the bleeding: The number one cause of deaths (over 70 percent) in combat situations has been due to bleeding out, plain and simple. Your body has precious little blood, and when it spills out in large quantities, you will die rapidly. Gunshot wounds often result in massive bleeding, and it is bleeding that you need to control before doing anything else.
- Tourniquets are for extremities: Getting shot in an extremity such as an arm or leg can result in rapid bleeding out as bad or worse than being shot in the torso. Your arms and legs contain important and high velocity arteries (brachial and femoral) which if pierced, can spell your death inside of a minute with even a relatively minor wound. Your first line of defense in these cases is a tourniquet, which can be a lifesaver. Not only is a tourniquet easy to apply, it is ultra effective. Plan on carrying professional tourniquets such as the Combat Application Tourniquet (CAT) as part of your emergency medical kit.
- Seal up chest wounds – or else: When a bullet passes through the chest wall and into the pleural cavity that carries the lungs, bleeding out might not be an immediate consideration. This is because the ribs and lungs don’t contain the high volume blood vessels located in other parts of the body. Still, having a hole in your pleural cavity or lung sac is in and of itself a potentially life threatening emergency. Called tension pneumothorax, or collapsed lung in layman’s terms, a pierced pleural cavity should be immediately sealed or the patient may die due to getting inadequate amounts of oxygen from a lung that no longer functions because it is collapsed. Chest seals that resemble adhesive clear plastic discs are commercially available for this purpose. You slap them on, effectively sealing the hole. Remember to check for an exit wound!
Most gunshot wounds that aren’t immediately fatal can be survivable if you take quick action and control the bleeding first. Many of the same techniques that apply to basic first aid also apply to gunshot wounds, so take heart, get to work, and save that life.