The seriousness of a gunshot wound depends on a host of factors, including the type and caliber of round, the distance the bullet travels, and if anything is present to slow the bullet down (a wall, a door, another person) before the moment of impact. But it’s a given that anything into the spine is a disaster and close contact handgun rounds to the face can leave the victim’s molars spilled out on the ground, or can blast off half of their skull, leaving a conical section of bone and skin that resembles the head of a unicorn. Other than that, anything goes.
Bullets rarely maintain a straight path. They loop and spin and sometimes follow the curve of the body. A shot into the arm can be “through and through” or it can ricochet off the elbow bone and explode the heart. A bullet entering the lower torso can rip through the intestines and cause lifelong complications or end up lodged in soft tissue without any lasting damage. Many gunshot victims in the latter category are released from the hospital the same day they entered, as it is often medically safer to leave the bullet right where it is. A shot in the buttocks can be a painful but ultimately colorful tale for the shooting victim to share with others, or it can result in an artery being pierced, causing the victim to bleed to death, something one of my sergeants witnessed years ago and to this day still cannot quite believe.
I spoke with a man once who had recently attempted suicide by shooting himself just behind the left ear. The bullet caromed off the front of his skull, and exited out the top of his head, leaving him dazed but very much alive. I could still see the corresponding C-shaped scar on his scalp. I once investigated a shooting where a round entered through a woman’s back, shattered the shoulder blade, and came to rest perched on top of her right clavicle, jutting out like a marble without breaking the surface of the skin. As a police officer, you look at bullet wounds with both respect and wonder because you know that for a gunshot victim, the difference between life and death can be the narrowest of margins.
September 18, 2014
On Gunshot Wounds
The second in a series from Adam Plantinga's 400 Things Cops Know: Street-Smart Lessons from a Veteran Patrolman: