The Use of Hypothermia Post Cardiac Arrest

Emily Asks:

I am playing around with one of my character’s being shot life threateningly, but of course it’s gotta be something he recovers from with time.

This character is in his late 20s and in good health before the incident takes place.

At first, I was toying around with the idea of making the gunshot wound similar to what Kate Beckett had in the show Castle at the end of season three. The trouble is, I do not know how medically realistic her wound was, as you have pointed out Castle’s medical inaccuracies before. If you have possibly seen the episodes in question, could you give me some feedback on the medical aspects of Beckett’s shooting?

In relation to this, her heart supposedly stopped twice during the whole ordeal. I have been researching induced comas, and while they seem to be used for patients having more of a direct injury to the head, in the case when a victim’s heart stopped twice and is resuscitated both times, would there be any reason to keep them in an induced coma for a time due to lack of oxygen to the brain?

Then, after researching, I am playing around with giving this guy a collapsed lung from the bullet, which is small caliber.

1. In what hypothetical cases would this kind of injury require immediate surgery?

2. Are there any complications that could be serious enough for the said character to have to go back into surgery at a later time?

3. My character happens to be a bass singer for an acapella band. Would a collapsed lung affect his career at all even after he made a full recovery?

Thank you for taking the time to read and respond to my questions!

Jordyn Says:

Beckett’s Gunshot Wound:

I had to go back and find some videos that were related to this. Shockingly, I found this scene pretty medically accurate. I found one that showed her coding one time. Though I definitely could have missed some. The determination to put someone in therapeutic hypothermia or targeted temperature management (as now termed) related to their heart stopping is dependent on whether or not they wake up immediately after their code.

A patient that wakes up spontaneously and quickly after a pulse is restored has intact neurological function. Those that remain comatose have a concern for neurological injury related to oxygen loss to the brain during the resuscitation and therefore the medical team could choose to put the pt in a “hypothermic” state to try and prevent this neurological injury.

This is slightly different from a medically induced coma that patients with traumatic brain injury might be placed in to prevent brain swelling. The difference is actively cooling the patient. I have not seen the use of hypothermia in the traumatically brain injured population (though this does appear to be an area of study), but use of medically induced comas, yes.

There are definite guidelines that the American Heart Association has put out that outline this course of treatment. You can find one such article here.

If your character codes and doesn’t wake up– then this would be a reasonable course of action medically, but written under the guidelines in the article.

In regards to your specific questions.

1. It’s more likely than not that a gunshot wound to the chest would go to surgery, particularly if the patient presents with any abnormal vital signs especially low blood pressure. There’s just so much there that could be damaged. The heart. The lungs. The blood vessels.

2. Yes, there could be a number of scenarios where the character could require more surgery such as a blood vessel that’s leaking that’s not found the first time during surgery and continues to bleed. Infection– specifically some sort of abscess formation could be another reason, but that would take some time to develop.

3. I don’t personally foresee a problem with his acapella career after his lung is healed. It would take time to get to the point where he was. If you wanted to affect his career, a patient who is intubated (placed on a breathing machine) can develop vocal cord damage as a rare complication.

Best of luck with your story!

Author Question: Gunshot Wound to the Torso

Heather Asks:

If my hero gets shot in the torso, is there somewhere it can hit that won’t be fatal? It can be a “miraculous” miss, that kind of thing. He can be weakened and bleeding, but I just need him to stay conscious for maybe five to ten minutes after? Any ideas?

Jordyn Says:

Sure, there are always miracles.

In medicine we view the torso as including the chest and abdomen. Generally the diaphragm is the dividing line between the two. So the chest is everything above the diaphragm and the abdomen is everything below it.

Gunshot wounds to the chest not hitting anything is tough. Think about everything that’s there. The heart, lungs, major vessels and arteries. Can a bullet pass through and miss everything— or hit something less minor and just cause bleeding? Sure. Anything is possible. I would recommend staying away from the left side of the chest for the wound— just so much there. The right chest and lower might be more believable because it’s just the lung sitting there. There are major blood vessels that underline each rib so nicking one of those could cause the bleeding you want. Hit outside or inside enough and you could miss the lung.

Abdominal wounds could go either way. A lot to hit in the belly as well, but also good odds for missing. If he’s wearing a bullet proof vest, you could have the bullet enter through his side and low– just under the lung and diaphragm. Problem is you have highly vascular organs on either side– the liver on the right and the spleen on the left. So, I’d aim below that as well or merely have them be grazing wounds to these organs. This could also cause significant, but survivable bleeding.

Hope this helps and happy writing!

Author Question: Bullet Wound to the Chest

Gwyn Asks:

I’m writing a scene in which a cop is injured during a confrontation with a suspect.  I’d like to tell you about the scenario I have in mind and hopefully you can tell me how realistic it is.

ammunition-2004236_1920Cop, mid-thirties, in excellent health and physical condition is shot with a low caliber bullet from about 10 feet away.  The bullet hits his chest, goes through the lung and exits out the back.  He’s got colleagues nearby who administer basic first aid and the EMTs get there within 5 minutes.  Say about 15 minute drive to the hospital.  They radioed ahead so the hospital is expecting them and has an OR ready.

First of all, what are the chances of survival?.  Second of all, assuming survival, what are the chances (best case scenario) of full recovery – to the point he can return to active duty.  How long would the recovery time be, how soon would he get out of the hospital, and what complications — pneumonia, blood clots, etc should the doctors be worried about?

Finally, if a full recovery is highly unlikely, are there little changes I can make to the scenario to make it more likely?

Jordyn Says:

Hi, Gwyn! Thanks so much for sending me your question.

In short, this is a survivable injury.

You don’t specify in your question whether this police officer is shot in the right or left chest. Right chest would probably be preferred as there are less vital structures on the right side of the chest then the left.

ambulance1You give your victim immediate first aid and EMS responds quickly. Keep in mind that you’re going to need a paramedic to respond to give more advanced field procedures. A basic EMT is limited in what they can do— CPR, wound dressings, assisting the patient with some of their own medication administration. Depending on the state, some EMTs can start IVs, so if your novel is set in a specific location then I would research this for that area. Assuming he has a paramedic respond then he’ll get an IV, IV fluids, oxygen, and possibly pain medications. Of course, a set of vital signs and cardiac monitoring.

In an urban setting, a drive time of fifteen minutes to the hospital seems a little long. If a rural setting then you’re probably fine but you might need to adjust there as needed.

A bullet passing through the chest is likely going to puncture and deflate the lung. This character will need a chest tube to get the air out of his chest and reinflate the lung. A chest tube can be placed in the ER. This patient would get a CT scan of his chest. If the medical team isn’t worried about any other injuries than this patient may not even need to go to the OR.

A patient with a chest tube will need to be admitted into the hospital. How long it takes the lung to reinflate depends on the size of the pneumothorax or the degree to which the lung has collapsed. Generally, a patient’s chest tube is connected to a drainage box that uses suction to help the lung reinflate. Patients with this type of injury will get daily (or every other day) chest x-rays to see how the lung is expanding. After the lung is fully expanded, the suction is stopped, but the box remains in place. This is generally referred to as placing the chest tube to water seal.

If the lung stays expanded to water seal for one to two days then the medical team would feel good about removing the chest tube. Then the patient would be observed for another one to two days to make sure the lung stayed reexpanded.

Pending any complications, you’re looking at a hospitalization of 4-7 days. Pneumonia is probably your more likely complication. Having a tube in your chest hurts. Because of this, patients don’t want to take deep breaths. This can lead to the smaller air sacs in the lung staying collapsed and trapping bacteria which could lead to pneumonia.

If you add a complication like pneumonia, then you’re easily adding another one to two weeks that he’s out of commission.

If you just stick with a “simple” collapsed lung I would say he’d be out of work for about two weeks. He won’t be physically 100% of what he was before the injury but he should feel back to his physical baseline in about a month.

I would say he can work, but he’s going to have some physical limitations. It would be up to his department what his physical capacity needs to be before he can return to work. Half days at a desk job is not unreasonable for a few weeks.

He’d likely become short of breath during any exertional activity (like running after a bad guy). However, considering his physical shape, he should bounce back fairly quickly.

A nice overview can be found here.

Hope this helps and good luck with your novel!

Author Question: Gunshot Wounds and Rib Fractures

Shanda Asks:

I have a scene where (in my mind at least) someone very physically fit is shot in the torso as they dive to save another from being shot. They then land excruciatingly hard on the edge of raised concrete (think like the front of an outside step) and break three ribs but that injury goes unnoticed as a result of the gunshot wound.

human-skeleton-163715_1280So my questions are as follows:

1. Would it be possible for someone to pick up the injured and run say a mile or two to get them to where help is waiting?

2. Could it be possible to have surgery for the gunshot would and the rib injuries be missed and hours later cause internal bleeding?

3. What would be the typical recovery time for the first and the latter?

4. Would it be realistic that after the second surgery (for the internal bleeding) the patient could not wake up for days having had two trauma surgeries so close together?

Jordyn Says:

Thanks so much for sending me your questions.

1.  Can someone carry an injured person one to two miles for treatment? It would depend on the physical characteristics of the character who is lifting the other person. Carrying someone one to two miles is a long way. I could possibly imagine a man doing this for an injured female and possibly a very fit male for another male, but a female doing this for a male might be stretching it. It would have to be a very fit female character.

On the other hand, could a character with these injuries get themselves to the hospital? The three cracked ribs are definitely going to slow them down and it also depends on what the gunshot wound has injured which you’re not clear on here. If the gunshot wound deflated a lung then they are going to have a lot of trouble breathing.

2. Could the broken ribs be missed on the first medical exam? Probably no. Any patient with a gunshot wound to the torso is going to get plain x-rays of the chest and probably a CT scan of the chest as well— both of which would show the rib fractures. So in the setting of modern medical care it would almost rise to the level of negligence to miss the rib fractures with a gunshot wound to the torso. I don’t see that happening.

3. To determine your typical recovery time I really need more information on this gunshot wound. Where was the character shot and what was injured specifically? The rib fractures themselves will take 4-6 weeks to heal. Rib fractures are very painful and could inhibit breathing based on their location. Also, successive ribs that are broken in more than one place can create a free floating segment that can be very detrimental to breathing as well.

4. A patient could still develop internal bleeding and need to go back to surgery even if the rib fractures are found right away. This would not be a rare event. It is reasonable for a patient to not wake up for a couple of days if they suffered a code during the second surgery due to extreme blood loss and had flat lined for a period of time.

Even the stress/shock of the surgeries close together might be enough for the brain to check out for a time. The problem with a comatose patient is they have to be in the ICU, on a vent, with a tube in every orifice as they say. For instance, a patient can’t be out cold and have no way to pee— so a catheter has to be placed so the urine can come out.

Going down that road can get very complicated for a novel depending on whose POV you’re telling it from.

Best of luck with your novel!