Writers often ask me questions about various traumas and how they will affect the victim. Maybe it’s a gunshot wound, or a knife wound, or a blow to the head, or even a push down the stairs. The problem with answering these questions is that almost anything can happen. A gunshot wound can be a minor flesh wound, or it can be immediately fatal — usually if it enters the heart, the brain, on the upper portion of the spinal cord. The gunshot wound could cause damage to internal organs such as the lungs or liver and the victim could bleed to death rapidly, or slowly, or not at all. The same can be said of knife wounds and blunt trauma. Ask any emergency room physician and they will tell you that these types of injuries come in 1000 flavors.
Some people who are shot or stabbed don’t even know it happened. The excitement and trauma of the situation often has a “numbing effect.” They might feel something but not what they would expect. No sharp, hot pain but rather something milder and more subtle. They might feel nothing at all. Later they will, but initially the shock of the situation tends to blunt their sensations and they are totally unaware that something significant has happened.
This is the reason when someone who has suffered some trauma from a fight or a gunshot or an automobile accident and is brought to the ER, the Doc will examine them from head to foot and front to back. Most people are aware of their injuries while others are not. Some injuries go unnoticed by the victim during this initial period. So it is up to the ER Doc to do a thorough exam and to make sure that there are no occult injuries that are being overlooked. There have been more than a few cases of someone being treated for one injury while another, maybe even something more life-threatening injury is not detected. For a while anyway. It’s something that should never happen, but it does.
That brings us to the case of Julia Popova. This young Russian woman was apparently the victim of a purse snatcher who plunged a 6-inch knife into her upper back. She was totally unaware until she got home and her parents saw the knife protruding from the base of her neck. They immediately took her to the hospital.
Why was she unaware of this injury and, more importantly, how did she survive it? As I stated above, the shock of the situation numbed her enough so that she didn’t feel the blade enter or remain in her back. Also, she was lucky. Very lucky. Had the blade struck a major blood vessel, she would have bled profusely. Had it struck her spinal column, she would have dropped into a paralyzed heap. Had it struck her lung, she would’ve become extremely short of breath and would’ve sprayed blood with every exhalation. In any of these circumstances she would have known she had been seriously injured and was in great danger of dying at the scene.
So when you’re crafting your stories and you want someone to suffer a gunshot wound or a knife wound be sure to take into account that almost anything can happen and that unlike the movies a single gunshot or stab wound does not drop someone to the ground or cause sudden death. It can, but it doesn’t very often.