Author Question: Law Enforcement Shooting with Vest in Place

Carol Asks:

I have a cop who is involved in a shooting. She’s wearing a vest and is hit outside the vest’s protective area. I need her hospitalized long enough that the shooter (who she killed— they shot simultaneously, more or less) to have been claimed post autopsy. I can’t have her debilitated for months— just a week or two. Where would I shoot her? Hip? Leg seems hard to hit and shoulder does too. I don’t want her disabled, nor do I want a months long rehab.

Jordyn Says:

What I would recommend is a shot coming through the side, under the armpit, causing the lung to collapse. I would pick the right side over the left— there’s just a lot more vasculature on the left that could prove deadly/problematic. If her right arm was raised and she was say . . . turning into the shot . . .  it could leave her vulnerable.

She would have difficulty breathing. How difficult would depend on how quickly the pneumothorax (air moving into the chest and deflating the lung) expanded. She would be transported to the ER via ambulance and receive an IV, oxygen, and vital sign monitoring.

A chest tube would be placed, likely after a quick chest film, unless she is in significant distress to re-expand the lung. If in significant respiratory distress or cardiovascular compromise then she would get a rapid needle decompression to buy some time or some facilities will go straight to chest tube placement. For a “simple” pneumothorax she would be admitted into the hospital (regular floor— not ICU) and observed.

Generally, depending on the size of the pneumothroax, it’s a few days to get the lung to re-expand, a day or two with the tube to “water seal” to make sure it stays up without suction, and then the tube would be removed. Maybe one or two more days after that to make sure all was well.

If she’s young and healthy she should recuperate pretty quickly, but would still be winded, perhaps easily fatigued for another week or two.

Hope this fits your time frame.

Author Question: Stab Wound

Sandi Asks:

Where can you place a stab wound that wouldn’t instantly kill your character, but keep him around for a few hours?

diagnosis-1476620_1920-1Jordyn Says:

You have a couple of options here. One would be a stab wound into the right side of the chest. This could partially collapse a lung and cause some bleeding as well. Think of the lung as a balloon. A small nick to the lung could cause it to slowly leak air into the chest, keeping the character alive for a few hours, but killing him in the end if the collapsed lung isn’t treated. The more collapsed the lung is, the less it is able to function. The more air that accumulates in the chest, the more it will push other structures.

We call this a tension pneumothorax.

Imagine the right chest is now full of air. Air will keep building unless it is given a way out (like a chest tube) and can actually squish the heart and lungs on the other side of the chest to the point where the heart may not beat anymore.

If a tension pneumothorax is left untreated, this will cause the patient to die. They may die from blood loss, or low oxygen levels, or from the heart being impinged to the point where it can no longer beat.

Why not a stab wound to the left chest? This has an increased chance to kill instantly because you have the heart and several large blood vessels that come off the heart that sit there. Can anyone say aorta?

Another option would be to have a stab wound to the belly. All sorts of stuff in there. If you wanted the character to die in a few hours, this could happen from untreated bleeding. There are two organs that sit in your abdomen that have a rich blood supply— the spleen and the liver. The medical term is highly vascularized . . . meaning rich with blood supply. You could also have an infection set in and this could keep him alive for a couple of days until he is overwhelmed by sepsis.

What signs and symptoms would a patient with a collapsed lung (pneumothorax) have? What’s the difference between and sign and symptom?