So in my fantasy novel, there is a chaotic battle scene where I want to have a character lose an arm. He already had his arm broken earlier, which should make it easier to completely sever the arm with a solid swing of an axe/sword (don't need to cut through solid bone). My question is, how long could someone last before bleeding to death, if they lost a limb on the battlefield?
I would imagine adrenaline would keep you going for a time, but that would only last so long, right? Does anyone have any expertise in this area, or could point me in the right direction. Would it be a matter of minutes? An hour? Before sheer blood loss would drop you.
My guess is that they would fall back from the front of the line, behind their neighbors and tend their wound, at least binding it with a tourniquet. If they are surrounded by the enemy and have no place to go, then the time to bleed out would be his limit.
In a movie, It would depend if the person is the hero or villain. If it is a hero, he will fight for hours and consider it just a flesh wound, The villain, at least a lower level one, would be dead instantly if he was even touched by the blade.
someone else will pipe up and give you real information.
Without treatment? Fast, on the order of 1-5 minutes. But there are a lot of factors to consider. A clean cut (as from a sharp blade) is actually better than a crushing injury. Clean cuts cause vasospasm that causes the arteries to clamp up and bleed more slowly.
The heart circulates about 5 Liters of blood per minute, and blood makes a complete rotation back to the heart in about 23 seconds. So a major artery is more deadly than a smaller one -- ie, a hand severed will bleed less slowly than an injury up near the shoulder.
Plus, your guy is on the battlefield, where heart rate and blood pressure would be increased, so he'd bleed alot faster than otherwise.
And before he died, he'd succomb to hypotension from loss of blood real quick.
But, if he is a quick thinker, he'd pull off his belt and tourniquet his arm with the good arm (like a drug addict), or maybe his comrades would pull him aside and do it, and bingo! Loss of blood stopped and he can go for hours.
But he probably lost enough blood first that he may feel weak and dizzy. Think about when you get light-headed after donating blood. Adrenaline and hero-ness only get you so far...
Eventually he'll need it treated to prevent infection and allow it to heal.
Wow! I'm sitting here trying to figure out which would be worse; your arm lopped off, after having it broken, or cauterizing it afterward. Ouch, just ouch.
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Thanks for all the great responses so far. The general information I think I already knew (that it would be a matter of minutes for him to bleed out). Mostly I just wanted to make sure a reader doesn't stop in their tracks and go "yeah right, there's no way this guy is still alive."
The scene in question is near the climax of the story. The MC is following the villain and another character, (long story short, if he doesn't stop the villain from killing that other character, the world is doomed!) Anyway, they're essentially in the middle of a bunch of rioting soldiers, who have divided loyalties.
He has already broken his arm at this point, so in the scene, I have him rack up some scrapes and bruises making his way through the crowd, and I wanted a passing enemy to "finish off" his arm, severing in the middle of his fore-arm, right where the break was (I figure it'd be easier to completely sever an arm if the bone is already broken).
After that, he catches up to the villain, and the other character, and there is a short confrontation (only a few minutes). Once the villain is dead, the MC notices that his thinking is getting "foggy" and that his stump isn't bleeding as much as it used to, and he makes a passing remark about hoping he lives through the night, and the chapter ends.
Does this sound viable? He doesn't really have time to stop and tend to his injury right away because "the world is at stake" if he doesn't catch up to the victim. It would probably be a pretty clean slice, if that helps his survivability. Does it pass the sniff test, or would you be saying "no way this guy stays conscious for this long" ?
Well, there is the "minor" question of whether or not he goes into shock.
At the very least, he would grab his arm and hold on tight (as Strychnine said, it's going to hurt unbelievably), and that could help slow the bleeding.
When arteries are severed (as they would be in this case), the blood spurts out, so he absolutely has to do something to slow that down. It would also help if he can hold his arm up, so gravity can help slow the bleeding, too.
I'd imagine him clasping the stump to his chest, with the other hand squeezing tightly. And it will be very distracting. I'd think the "I hope I survive the night" thought would come as his acknowledgement of the injury and then brushing it off to continue with his goal perhaps with an "I just have to survive a few more minutes" thought?
[This message has been edited by Corky (edited August 13, 2010).]
Perhaps you could change the axe or sword to a club, hammer or mace. Then when the hero is hit the effect would be a shattered bone, or possibly a dislocation at the elbow or shoulder. Either of these events would have the same effect as a severed limb: it's pretty much useless.
Imho, this would be more realistic than a severed limb, since there will be less blood loss. Also the body would be less likely to go into a debilitating state of shock. Remember the opening scene in Saving Private Ryan? There is a guy wandering the beach looking for his severed arm. The loss of the limb basically caused his brain to shut down. I can't imagine anyone, realistically, avoiding this level of shock.
If the character loosing his arm is necessary to the story, then you could have a healer or surgeon remove it later.
Just my $0.02
[This message has been edited by Strychnine (edited August 13, 2010).]
Offhand, I can only remember one novel (or series) in which an MC had lost part of a limb, THE SHARING KNIFE series by Lois McMaster Bujold.
In that case, Dag lost his hand in a battle twenty years before the story even starts. Nevertheless, as the circumstances of his maiming come out in the story, I remember thinking just for a fleeting moment, "Wait, his hand was bitten off by a horse-sized wolf. They had to pull the corpse of at least one of these things off of him to find him after the battle. (He did at least lose consciousness.) And just why didn't he bleed to death?"
quote:But didn't he have magical healing abilities that even he didn't know about at the time?
I don't think those were supposed to have developed, yet. Besides he was unconscious. I'm sure his friends applied some of the more rudimentary magical healing techniques as soon as they found him. Then again. He was supposed to have been almost the only survivor of that battle, so it may have taken a while for somebody to arrive. Fortunately, ground sense would have let them find a live human pretty quickly, even burried under twice his weight in monsters.
It didn't ruin the story for me--not close. But I do remember just a moment of thinking, "Hmm." If it had been part of the real-time action of the story, she would have had to have a really good explanation for how it happened that way.
Edited to add:
If Dag's ground setting abilities had shown when he was still in Luthlia, he would never have been sent out in that battle. (And the whole story in all four books would never have happened.) You don't send makers to fight malices for good reasons.
I guess the whole point is, if it could make me have even a moment of question in backstory from a trusted author like Lois McMaster Bujold, you probably want to handle something like that [b]very]/b] carefully. I'm not saying don't maim your character. Just you need to be really careful it's all believable.
[This message has been edited by Meredith (edited August 14, 2010).]
quote:I figure it'd be easier to completely sever an arm if the bone is already broken
I think it would be harder. Anyway, the injury would already have the attention of the guy's subconscious, making (I'd think) the shock of severance more intense. So that he bleeds enough to faint, his broken bones could puncture his skin or he could bleed out from his "scrapes".
Your character wouldn't necessarily notice that he'd taken multiple shallow cuts during the melee until he'd finished with the villain. By then, he could be exhausted and slick in his own blood.
Unless you're doing a berserker scenario. But I still agree that either a crushed arm or severed arm would only last him a few minutes. Perhaps you could have him fall from the blow into a nearby fire inadvertently, and fortuitously, cauterizing his wound. But that's just me.
People with adrenaline running through their bodies can do stuff that seems unimaginable under normal circumstances.
My favourite, from one of the Icelandic sagas (can't remember precisely which, but it also references someone constantly having to straighten their sword as it keeps bending when it hits someone's shield), is the line "and now Ketil fell, having fought for some time with his entrails hanging out".
And don't forget about the guy who sawed off his own arm when he couldn't get it out from the boulder it was trapped under. Then hiked miles back to civilization. He did have to tourniquet the limb so there's that.
But the human mind is capable of putting up with quite a bit as long as there's a way to stop the flow of blood.
(By the way, the above will be coming to a theater near you. Stars James Franco, I believe.)