It doesn’t look good for our hero. He’s out of ammunition and the bad guy is drawing a bead on him. He decides to risk it all on one last, desperate attack. He springs into action but as he does the bad guy gets off a shot.
Luckily, the bullet hits our hero in the shoulder. Ha, no problem. In a second he has disarmed and disabled the bad guy, wounded shoulder and all.
Flip over to another channel, and Forrest Gump is in the war. Even though the movie is only five commercials deep, he gets shot. He is wounded in the, ah, BUTT-tocks. He recuperates by lying on his stomach, wearing a man-diaper and eating ice cream.
“A bullet striking the human body anywhere can cause an incredible amount of damage,” he says, “but it’s not always fatal.”
He’s seen the movies where someone is shot in the shoulder and fights even harder. “It’s more likely that a bullet hitting someone in the shoulder is going to cause some major damage to the bones and the joint in there,” Kalina says. “It may not kill you, but it will pretty much stop a lot of movement on that side of the body.”
And what about Forrest Gump? Getting shot in the rear end is pretty much always played for laughs in the movies but Kalina says it’s not so funny in real life. “Pelvic veins run all through that part of the body, like a spider web,” he explains. “There’s a real good chance a bullet going in back there is going to hit something important.”
So let’s ask Kalina to tell us where one can be shot and still have the best chance of survival. “Anywhere below the knee or in the calf … it might hurt, but you won’t die. On the outside part of the upper leg, either side of the upper body,” he says. “(In 1981) President (Ronald) Reagan took a bullet through the lung and he recovered completely.”
In fact, the 70-year-old President didn’t immediately realize he had been shot. Reagan thought he had broken a rib when a Secret Service agent pushed him into a car. But Reagan took a bullet in the chest, lodging in his left lung just an inch away from his heart.
What saved the President was the fact that the bullet ricocheted off an armored limousine before striking him, probably reducing much of the projectile’s lethal velocity. And the fact that Reagan received almost immediate medical care certainly helped in his recovery.
White House Press Secretary James Brady was shot in the head, permanently disabling him. When Brady died earlier this year, his death was ruled a homicide – caused by the gunshot wound he received nearly 33 years ago.
It’s tough to predict what can happen when a bullet enters the human body. “A bullet never travels in a straight line inside the body,” says Kalina. “It can be deflected by bone or large, thick muscle mass. It can cause a little damage, or a lot.”A bullet never travels in a straight line inside the body. It can cause a little damage, or a lot Click To Tweet
Kalina once saw a patient who had been shot in the side of the head. Instead of going straight through, the bullet was deflected by the man’s skull and traveled over the curve of the skull under the skin and exited the other side. He lived.
“There are literally thousands of stories like that,” Kalina says. “But more often than not, bullets do serious, permanent injury and kill people. Movie fantasy is fun; getting shot in real life is not.”