It’s a horrible experience to witness a gunshot and is even more so when you get shot. It’s uncertain as to the level of damage a person’s body can take. However, some people can be lucky and come out of it alive; others are not so lucky.
Gunshots to the head are more difficult to predict than any other part of the body. Even though the skull protects the brain, it can’t withstand a bullet. And so, the aftermath is unpredictable because the brain is fragile and controls the function of the whole body.
Now, here’s the question.
Do you die instantly when shot in the head?
A shot to the head can’t kill you instantly. Even when the gunshot is at a critical spot, you may become unconscious within a few seconds before death follows. At other times, you may experience extreme pain for a while before you die.
However, not every gunshot to the head leads to death. Sometimes, it can lead to disabilities like paralysis, or you can become brain dead. But if you are lucky (which only happens in rare cases), you’ll make it out alive with minimal damage after treatment.
You can predict what will happen when you get shot in the head. It’s so because even though you call it luck, some factors influence whether you’ll die or survive a shot in the head.
Factors That Influence Surviving A Shot In The Head
The part of the head the bullet hits:
The area of the brain the bullet penetrates can determine how severe the injury will be. Various areas of the brain have specific functions. But some of the functions are not as vital as others.
So the extent of damage depends on which part it occurs. A shot that penetrates the brain stem can be fatal. It consists of regions with crucial and fundamental functions. Such areas include the medulla, midbrain, and pons.
Some of their basic functions are regulation of heartbeat, breathing, connecting nerves to the brain, and so on. No one can live without carrying out these functions.
When it damages the prefrontal cortex, it can affect the ability to analyze information and problems. If it goes through the hypothalamus, it’ll lead to issues related to memory.
A gunshot through the side of the head is more dangerous than through the front. It’s so because when a bullet passes through the side of the head, it’s likely to go through and cause damage to the two brain hemispheres. The injury is fatal, with no chances of survival unless you get lucky.
However, if the bullet goes through the forehead, it may pass in between the two hemispheres. But, it’s more likely to go through one of the hemispheres. Even though it can be fatal, you have a higher chance of survival than when it goes through the two hemispheres.
The two brain hemispheres share vital functions like cognitive abilities. So if one hemisphere has no damage, you can still carry out such functions. However, you may have some defects in your physical and psychological health.
If the bullet passes through the chin (usually self-inflicted), there are slim chances of survival. It damages the tongue, teeth, gum, mouth palette, and sometimes, one or both eyes or nose.
A gunshot through the mouth can also be fatal. Depending on the angle of the gun, the bullet can either go through the brain or even the brain stem.
On rare occasions, a shot through the head can release shock waves from the brain to the body (hydrostatic or hydraulic shock). It has a fatal effect and can kill faster than blood loss.
Type of bullet:
The type of bullet determines the extent of the damage. If it’s a narrow-sized bullet, it’ll go through tissues without causing much damage. That’s possible if it doesn’t change its shape while doing so. But if it explodes on contact, then it’ll cause more damage to brain tissues.
Furthermore, the movement of the bullet also determines the extent of the damage. If its movement is side to side (yaw) as it hits and penetrates the head, it’ll cause more tissue damage.
A bullet’s yaw that’s severe (tumbling) has a huge impact on tissue damage than a straight movement with a slight wobble.
Distance of the gunshot:
The distance from the shooter is a crucial factor. The closer your distance from the gun, the more likely it is for the gun powder and smoke to burn your skin. The distance of the gunshot can affect the speed of the bullet. It’s so because of the impact of elements like the wind.
The velocity of the gunshot:
The velocity of a gunshot can be high or low, depending on the gun that the shooter uses. Military and hunting guns have higher velocity than handguns.
Sometimes, bullets with high velocity but don’t have a wobbling movement will cause less damage if they pass through non-critical brain parts.
Level of blood loss:
A shot to the head may not kill you immediately, but losing much blood in the process decreases the chances of survival. The impact of the bullet fractures the skull. So pieces of the bone can pierce the brain and cause bleeding.
Also, the speed and size of the bullet can increase the level of blood loss. You can bleed to death within few minutes of a gunshot.
But immediate medical attention can minimize the risk that comes with blood loss. You can also put in the effort to stop the bleeding if you’re a bystander.
What To Do When Someone Gets Shot
If you are a bystander when someone gets shot, you can minimize the danger using the following steps. You can also deploy these steps if you get shot and are lucky enough to be conscious.
Step#1: Call the emergency hotline
The first thing to do when someone gets shot is to call the emergency hotline. Call 911 immediately. The faster help gets there, the higher the chances to save the person.
Step#2: Stop the bleeding
Bleeding can be life-threatening, so while waiting for help to arrive, you can control the bleeding.
- Cover the part with a clean cloth and press it down with both hands as firm as you can. It’ll put pressure on the wound.
- It’ll be painful for the person, but it helps to control blood loss. If the cloth soaks, don’t remove it. Instead, look for another one to use over it.
- Consider changing the direction of your pressure if the bleeding continues, as you may not be pressing down the correct place.
- Lift the part where the wound is, especially when it’s at extreme parts of the body like arms and legs. It helps to reduce blood flow to the injured part.
- The process will work best for external bleeding. But for internal bleeding, you’ll have to wait for the emergency team to arrive.
Step#3: Help to minimize shock
Once a person gets shot, the body enters into shock due to the trauma. So what you can do to help the situation is help the person stay calm for as long as you can. Then you can loosen any tight part of the clothing like tie, belt, and button.
Also, remove the shoes, but you can leave the socks on. The aim is to make sure the person’s body breathes well.
Furthermore, cover the person with anything that can keep him warm, like a coat. It’s to ensure that the person’s temperature is consistent to avoid the final stage of the shock. It’s likely to lead to unconsciousness with an uncertainty of waking up.
For gunshots to the head or neck: If the person is conscious, help him sit upright and then lean forward. If he is too weak to sit up, you can pull him to lie on the side. Lift his top knee to keep him lying in that position.
For gunshots to the chest: Check to see if the wound is sucking in the air but is not bleeding. It can cause a lung to collapse. And that can show some signs like shortness of breath and coughing up blood.
It’s best to expose the wound to help the situation. Remove any cloth that may be covering the area. Next, check if there’s an exit wound from the gunshot. Then, apply pressure on both sides.
Put a plastic, like a card, over the wound to act as a vacuum whenever it sucks in air. So, whenever that happens, the card will block the wound from sucking in the air. It’ll also let it out whenever it needs to release.
Don’t put too much pressure so the person can breathe. It’ll help his chest can rise and fall with ease. Keep the dressing on till emergency help arrives.
For a gunshot to the abdomen: It’s best to sterilize the cloth you’ll use with alcohol, as a gunshot wound to the stomach can get infections, even as it’s bleeding. Use the sterilized cloth to cover the wound. Then, press it down to apply pressure.
If the intestines are visible through the wound and torn, you can only wait for help to get there quickly.
A gunshot in the head will not kill you instantly. It will take a few seconds for you to become unconscious and die. However, a shot in the head may not always lead to death. But you can end up with physical or psychological disabilities.
You may even get back to your feet over time if you’re lucky. Also, some factors like the location the bullet goes through can influence your survival.