As a former Navy Hospital Corpsman who served in Afghanistan, treating sick and injured Marines was a daily task. So I compiled a list to help in the event you come across someone who is suffering from a fresh gunshot wound. Basically, follow these steps, and you too can help save a gunshot victim.
1. Don’t freak out.
During a traumatic event, adrenaline will enter your bloodstream, causing your heart rate to increase. You could also experience some tunnel vision. Remember to breathe. The calmer you are, the better you can maneuver your thought process during the situation.
2. Call 9-1-1
Calling 9-1-1 is free from any phone in America, even if it’s turned off for “billing issues.” As long as the battery has some juice, you can dial the popular 3-digit number (just don’t ask the operator to do you a favor and call your relative and forward them a message; not cool).
Note: It’s important to know your location. The operator may ask when you phone in.
3. Check the wound or wounds
While you’re on hold, locate the entry wound. Did the bullet exit anywhere?
A man has 7 holes, where a woman has 8. (Trust me, I was a corpsman.) If the person been shot, they’ll have 1 or 2 extra. Typically, the entrance wound won’t be as large in diameter as the exit, so it can be easily missed when you first go all Magellan exploring.
If the wound is pouring out blood or squirting out rapidly each time your heart beats you’ll want to . . .
4. Stop arterial bleeds
The location of the arterial bleed depends on what technique you’ll use to control the hemorrhage. If the victim’s arm or leg is the affected area, placing a tourniquet above the wound is the best option and only above the joint, never below. But how to make one?
Use your belt or a loose fitting shirt to tie it around the limb – never use a shoelace! Using a shoelace can damage the surrounding healthy skin tissue and just adds to the laundry list of injuries. We don’t want that. For all other areas — arterial bleeds such as neck, groin, and armpit injuries — using a pressure dressing is your last and only option.
Packing the wound with really any fabric on hand – a shirt, t-shirt or a sock (yes, I said sock) – will limit the amount of blood loss. The goal is to get the wound to clot. But what if the bullet entered the chest cavity? Then you’re going to want to …
5. Know your A-B-C’s
No, I’m not referring to the alphabet (although you should totally know it). A-B-C stands for Airway, Breathing, and Circulation. If the victim is screaming in pain, chances are, their airway is clear and they’re breathing well enough. If they’re not, the question becomes how good of a person are you? Good enough to pump oxygen into their lungs via mouth-to-mouth resuscitation?
A bullet lodged in a lung is a bad thing. Oxygen and carbon dioxide shouldn’t be able to escape out any other path than your trachea. This can cause your lung to decompress on itself and collapse it. The room air can penetrate inside the chest cavity and further compress your lungs.
Implement the use of a chest dressing with a flutter valve. By covering the wound with a thin flexible plastic covering and taping 3 sides. Air can only escape, not be brought in. If done correctly, it works every time.
The circulation test is simple. Do they carry a pulse? By checking the patient’s major pulses in their neck, wrists or in their feet. You’ll find out the strength of the heart which will inform you the amount of the blood the body has lost. The stronger the better.
How do I know if the victim has lost to much blood?
6. Is it getting chilly in here?
Blood is the bodies main source of regulating its core temperature of 98.6 degrees. The more blood the victim loses, the lower body temperature will fall and the faster the pulse will become as it increases to provide oxygen through the body. Your buddy (or the stranger you’re trying to save) could start to feel as cold as if they were running naked through the Alaskan wilderness even though it’s a hot summer day in Southern California.
This is called going into shock.
It’s time to warm up. Presuming the patient’s is laying down:
- Raise their legs up above their heart. Gravity will pull the blood down their legs and send it back to the heart. Their legs will probably go numb, but it’s a small price to pay. They will either have to die or suffer from “pins and needles.”
- Cover the man or woman up with a blanket if you have one.
- “Spoon with them” – sounds crazy but I’ve had to spoon a few Marines in my time to warm them back up.
- And don’t forget to tell them…
7. The bleeding you can’t see is the one you need to worry about
Internal bleeding to the victim and the Good Samaritan is your worse enemy… but more so for the victim. Without proper medical instrumentation, controlling internal blood loss is impossible externally. Skin bruising may occur as a hematoma sets in.
Treatment: I’ve got nothing, but good luck!
8. Check and recheck
Only the paramedics know how long it will take before they show up. Depending on what neighborhood the crime took place, you could be waiting for a while.
Just kidding, but seriously it could be awhile. So this would be a good time to check all the tourniquets and pressure dressings you literally just learned how to install. Let’s face it: like any maintenance, it takes some practice to do the treatment right.
9. Hang in there
Encouraging the victim everything is going to be okay is a huge part of making it through this horrible event. It’s not a fun situation to be in. Little words of encouragement go a long way, but avoid asking for personal items or an ex-girlfriend’s phone number “just in case they don’t make it.”
10. Pass the word
The paramedics showed up! Great. Now can you tell them what life-saving interventions you performed. Please include:
- Where the injuries are located
- If you put on a tourniquet, how long ago did you put it on?
- Their Zodiac sign
- How long ago the shooting occurred
- And the most importantly, if you want to go to the hospital with them, ask for a ride – Übers and Taxis can be expensive.