Injury by Arrow

Jocelyn Asks

I’m now writing a book set in French colonial New Orleans, the years 1720-1722, and we’ve got some drama with the natives.

My MC gets hit with an arrow from someone who isn’t a very good marksman. Can I have him get the arrow in his chest without killing him? Like, if the angle is wrong, or if it wasn’t going super fast? I want the heroine to cut the arrowhead out of his chest, but I also want him to live. If he does survive, how long until he can get up and walk around?

Finally, I want to give him another scar from a previous arrow. Would he have survived an arrow passing through his side, by his waist? Or should I have an arrow skim across his ribs without penetrating? That would leave a scar, right?

Jordyn Says:
You can have an arrow hit a person’s chest without it killing them. It would all depend on where and how deep the arrow hit the individual. The faster the speed the more deeply the object will penetrate tissue. For instance, if I tap you with a bullet clenched between my fingers versus firing it from a gun—much different injuries.

The deeper an arrow is embedded in the chest, particularly the upper chest (where all the great vessels are) the more likely you are to do major, unsurvivable damage considering your era. To answer this question more fully, I’d want to know the size of the arrow. How long and wide is it? I would think anything measuring an inch or more would be worrisome for nicking something important like a large blood vessel or the lung. The way around this might be to have the person be fairly overweight and the arrow gets embedded into fat tissue. This might not be a good option for your hero.

As with all things—the person could just be lucky and the arrow hits but misses all vital structures. I would show this in your text by the character not bleeding heavily or having any difficulty breathing. That would allude to the fact that nothing major has been hit.
If it is merely a “flesh wound” and the arrow comes out in a fairly uncomplicated manner and no infection sets in then the character should have some mild to moderate muscle pain and soreness and perhaps some inhibited movement based on this but should be able to walk fairly immediately.
Someone can survive an arrow passing through the side of their waist, again, if it doesn’t hit any major organ. You have very vascular organs in your abdomen. The liver that sits under the right ribs and the spleen that sits under the left ribs. So, the lower the injury the better. Then you would just need to worry about perforating the intestines which would ultimately lead to sepsis and death but your intestines are housed under the fat layer and other tissues so could be fairly easily avoided. Any injury that requires stitches to approximate (get the edges close together) the wound will leave a scar so even a skimming injury that splits the skin will leave evidence of injury.