Author Question: Delayed Death by Crossbow

Ben Asks:

Here’s my scenario that I would appreciate some advice on:
I’ve got a 25 year old woman that is shot through the left calf and the upper torso (I was thinking, maybe having the upper body shot piercing her shoulder) by crossbow bolts made of wood in my fantasy novel. The weapons that shoot her are each one-hand-held, meaning that they can be aimed and fired with only one hand.
What I need to know is this:
1. Would this outright kill the character?
2. If yes, where on the average human female body can I have two crossbow bolts made of wood puncture that body in such a way as to negate instant death, but still leave months of recovery time for that character, if she gets the proper medical help fast enough?
For background information, the science level of the world I am writing is roughly the same level we have today in America and Europe, the same with this world’s medical tech and knowledge.
Jordyn Says:
Thanks for sending me your questions.
1. A wound to the calf is unlikely to outright kill someone immediately. Any bleeding that’s not controlled if brisk enough can lead to death. Infection is a risk with any wound– particularly those that are caused from things (like arrows) that penetrate the body deep into its tissues leaving bacteria and other microorganisms behind.

The shot to the torso has more likelihood to cause death if it hits the right structure. On the left side of your chest are your heart, great blood vessels, and lungs. If the shot was more to the shoulder then an outright kill would be less likely and the risks above would be more prominent (bleeding and infection).

2. A shot to the calf and the shoulder have the potential to set your character back several months. If you don’t want the character to die– I would avoid having a shot to the torso. A projectile to any extremity can cause the bone underneath to fracture. Fractures typically take 6-8 weeks to heal.

If you didn’t want to go with a fracture of the bone from the projectile– you could have onset of infection (depending on how sick you’d want her to be for those months). Systemic infection can easily cause death. Local infection to the wounds can be problematic as well. You could also go with tendon damage to the arm or leg which would inhibit movement of the extremity. Healing and rehab of tendon and/or ligament damage can take months as well. Whenever an extremity isn’t used because it’s immobilized you always get muscle atrophy (muscle wasting) which causes weakness of the arm/leg, etc. It takes time to rehab that as well.

Good luck with your novel!

Treatment of Infected Wounds

This post is in direct response to a question from Sue Harrison about taking care of infected wounds. What exactly is the treatment protocol.

Treatment of infected skin wounds is usually one of the easiest things we can do from a medical perspective. Unless it’s a superbug which is another concern entirely– but we’ll keep it simple for this post.

Here’s a short list of the treatment protocol.

1. Keep the wound from getting infected.  This boils down to a couple of things. In the ER– doing good wound irrigation for things like road rash and lacerations. Washing wounds physically removes the bacteria. If the bacteria aren’t present– they can’t fester to produce infection. Once the wound is cleansed– apply a topical antibiotic (like Neosporin or equivalent) to stem infection from developing.

2. Dressings should be changed once or twice daily. Unless it’s saturated– it can be left alone. The more things are mucked with– sometimes the more apt they are to become infected. You introduce more bacteria by touching.

Okay– say you’ve done all those really great things and it STILL gets infected.

One– is it really infected? Sometimes, people assume that mild redness is infection (this should only be 1-2mm around the wound edges) when it really is normal healing process. If the redness extends beyond 1-2mm– then there is more concern for infection.

Other signs: pain, swelling, pus draining, foul smell, red streaks running from the wound, swollen lymph nodes near the area, and fever.


First question: Should the wound/abscess be drained? Drainage is good because, just like irrigation above, it removes the bacteria. Some MRSA wounds are being managed just this way– with just drainage and no antibiotics– which is good to help prevent more resistant strains of bacteria from forming.

Second question: Place on oral antibiotics– but which one? This will be a good one to run by a doctor if it is important for the integrity of your ms. The most common one for surface skin infection is Keflex. But for abscesses– maybe something more along the lines of Clindamycin.

Sue– hoped this helped!!