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shortstorymachinist
05-26-2015, 10:39 AM
Hey all, I have a character who needs to die. He's been shot by a large arrow through the upper back, right of his spine. I'm going with a lung wound, and the arrow is barbed, so removing it is difficult. This has happened in a battle and it took a good ten minutes to relocate him to a field surgery.

My question is: How long would it take him to die/how bad must the prognosis be for the doctor to throw up his hands and say, "This is futile, I've got more manageable injuries I should be dealing with,"?

snafu1056
05-26-2015, 11:02 AM
If there's heavy bleeding in the lung the person might die pretty quick from drowning in their own blood. There are also some major arteries in the back, so maybe removing the arrow would cause uncontrollable bleeding on the outside. If you really want the situation to be hopeless you could have the arrow pierce the spine, paralyzing the person. Even if death isn't imminent, the doctor might decide a mercy kill is the best way to go.

shortstorymachinist
05-26-2015, 11:19 AM
Thanks, snafu. All my research results detailed recovery time with modern treatments, unsurprisingly.

WriteMinded
05-26-2015, 06:08 PM
You don't give a time period. Medieval or modern? In medieval times, when a lung could not be repaired without magic, it would be useless to remove the arrow. He would bleed out, and pretty quickly, I would imagine. In modern times a trauma center might save him.

blacbird
05-26-2015, 09:00 PM
Hey all, I have a character who needs to die. He's been shot by a large arrow through the upper back, right of his spine. I'm going with a lung wound, and the arrow is barbed, so removing it is difficult. This has happened in a battle and it took a good ten minutes to relocate him to a field surgery.

Very likely already dead. Why do you need the wound to be this dire?

caw

benbenberi
05-26-2015, 11:04 PM
You don't give a time period. Medieval or modern? In medieval times, when a lung could not be repaired without magic, it would be useless to remove the arrow. He would bleed out, and pretty quickly, I would imagine.

Not necessarily. Surgical removal of arrows is one of the oldest common battlefield procedures. Many patients died, but many lived. If the arrow did not actually puncture/sever a major blood vessel, & the complications of an open chest wound (pneumothorax) were not immediately fatal, & the person was lucky enough to escape fatal infection, full recovery or recovery with lingering but non-fatal debility were certainly possible. (For a celebrated early example, see Alexander the Great, who was shot in the lung with a barbed arrow & lived to continue conquering for several more years till an unrelated illness felled him.)

For the OP's purpose, you can make your character die as quickly or slowly as your story requires. He can bleed out in a few minutes, or more slowly; he can develop any one of a variety of fatal complications that can kill him in a few minutes/hours/days; or he can appear to be recovering only to die after days/weeks/months of an infection or some secondary complication. There's a tremendous range of plausible fatal outcomes to the wound described.

WriteMinded
05-27-2015, 11:01 PM
OK, well maybe Alexander's lung was perforated, and maybe not. At the very least, a miraculous recovery. In this case (the OP's wounded man), I CAN see the doc throwing up his hands and moving on to someone he is more likely to be able to save, especially on a battle field.

Crayonz
05-28-2015, 05:02 AM
If he did manage to stay alive during the trip to medical care, then removing the arrow would likely kill him either from heavy bleeding (internal and external), a collapsed lung or a combination of the two. How long he survived would depend on the treatment given. Hope that helps. :)

benbenberi
05-28-2015, 05:03 AM
OK, well maybe Alexander's lung was perforated, and maybe not. At the very least, a miraculous recovery.

A lucky recovery, certainly, but hardly miraculous. Hardly even extraordinary -- many other people were similarly lucky, and many of those made better recoveries than Alexander. We moderns tend to assume that in the absence of modern medical knowledge and modern surgery serious injuries were invariably fatal in the past -- but in fact they weren't. People recovered from all sorts of serious injury (though it might take them longer than if they had modern surgical assistance, blood transfusions, etc. & they might have significant scarring & impairment of one sort of another that modern treatment & therapies reduce). In many cases if the person did not die quickly from blood loss, what was fatal was not the original injury but the subsequent infection (which as readily killed someone who suffered a pinprick or a scrape as someone with what we would consider a serious wound).

If the OP wants the surgeon to quickly throw up his hands and declare the person a lost cause, let the person show up in extremis with signs of massive internal bleeding in the lung (e.g. blood in the throat, lots of gurgling & choking, etc.) Or if one of his comrades "helpfully" tried to remove the arrow -- if that was done by someone who didn't have the skill & experience to know how to do it right, it would almost certainly make things much worse.

WriteMinded
05-29-2015, 04:59 PM
A lucky recovery, certainly, but hardly miraculous. Hardly even extraordinary -- many other people were similarly lucky, and many of those made better recoveries than Alexander. We moderns tend to assume that in the absence of modern medical knowledge and modern surgery serious injuries were invariably fatal in the past -- but in fact they weren't. Haha. Yeah, modern me. It's the hole in the lung that makes me think "miraculous" recovery.

asroc
05-29-2015, 05:14 PM
Depending on where it's located, a lung can compensate for holes fairly well. Penetrating trauma to the lung can, and often is, catastrophic, but it doesn't have to be.

boron
05-29-2015, 08:25 PM
People have two lung wings which act as two separate organs. Penetration and subsequent collapse of one lung wing by itself (without severe bleeding or infection) is not deadly, not even severely disabling, neither short- nor long-term. You can live pretty much normal life with one lung wing only.

The other day, I read in news that someone stabbed someone in the back with a knife. The man died in 30 minutes because of bleeding from the aorta. The aorta is pretty much in the middle, but an arrow coming from the back at a certain angle could hit it.

Roxxsmom
06-01-2015, 03:50 AM
Not necessarily. Surgical removal of arrows is one of the oldest common battlefield procedures. Many patients died, but many lived. If the arrow did not actually puncture/sever a major blood vessel, & the complications of an open chest wound (pneumothorax) were not immediately fatal, & the person was lucky enough to escape fatal infection, full recovery or recovery with lingering but non-fatal debility were certainly possible. (For a celebrated early example, see Alexander the Great, who was shot in the lung with a barbed arrow & lived to continue conquering for several more years till an unrelated illness felled him.)

For the OP's purpose, you can make your character die as quickly or slowly as your story requires. He can bleed out in a few minutes more slowly; he can develop any one of a variety of fatal complications that can kill him in a few minutes/hours/days; or he can appear to be recovering only to die after days/weeks/months of an infection or some secondary complication. There's a tremendous range of plausible fatal outcomes to the wound described.

benbenberi beat me to it. I researched this topic once, because I needed to give a character a life-threatening wound where survival was uncertain but still possible. Can't find all the links now (of course), and my google fu is not finding them again.

There are records of people surviving all kinds of horrible wounds in antiquity. But if you need the character to die of such a wound, then that would certainly work too. Bleeding out and collapsing of both lungs (because of pressure from blood leaking into the thoracic cavity) are real threats with punctured lungs. And of course, infection could kill someone later, even if it looked like they were recovering. In any case, a surgeon might well triage such a patient behind ones he/she had a better chance of saving with quick action.

A wound that might make a field surgeon throw his or her hands up in despair might be a gut wound where the intestines are clearly perforated. This kind of injury would lead to raging peritonitis and the odds of surviving this would be astronomically small without surgical techniques that could repair or removed the damaged part of the intestines and modern antiseptics or antibiotics (unless it's a fantasy setting with some kind of magical healing, of course).

shortstorymachinist
06-01-2015, 04:28 AM
Holy guacamole, I thought this got buried. Thanks for all the input, and to answer the time period question: middle ages.


Why do you need the wound to be this dire?

He's just one of those characters who needs to die. Or do you mean why does he have to die in this manner? If that's the case, he was a champion in trial by combat with little chance of losing, outside of foul play (like an arrow in the back).

Twick
06-01-2015, 05:18 AM
This is pretty cool, because I have the opposite problem. I have a warrior who needs to be badly injured, and yet survive. Sounds like an upper chest wound would not be a bad option.

shortstorymachinist
06-01-2015, 05:20 AM
Haha, upper chest wounds, the most versatile of injuries.