Gunshot Wound Evaluation: What to Expect

Cuts & Wounds

Apr 15, 2020


Between 2006 and 2016, approximately 6,885 people died in the US from accidental shootings. The reasons are several — a lack of a childproof safety device, unsafe storage, loaded firearms when not in use, or no loaded chamber indicator (LCI). In addition, there are gunshots caused by acts of violence — from assault to domestic violence — as well as suicide attempts. Regardless of the circumstances, finding out a loved one has been shot is horrifying, and time is of the essence to prevent disability or death.

Gunshot Wound Care

There are many ways in which a gunshot wound can affect the person who was shot. The damage includes severe blood loss, damage to tissues and organs, broken bones, and wound infections. The extent of damage will depend on the body part that was shot, as well as the type of bullet. It also matters whether the bullet passed through the body or if it gets lodged within internal organs. No matter the type of injury you believe you may have, it’s crucial to follow these steps:

1. Stop the Bleeding

Put pressure over any body part that’s losing blood. You can do this by using extra layers of clothes as a tourniquet. If nothing is available, use your own knee and lean on the wound. If the gunshot is on the person’s chest, cover it with plastic to keep air from being sucked into the wound. Only remove the seal if the injured person’s breath worsens.

2. Avoid Elevating the Legs

If the wound is in the abdomen or chest, the person will bleed faster if the legs are elevated. To add insult to injury, this position will make it harder for the injured person to breathe. Help the person sit or lie in a position that’s comfortable for them.

3. Seek Medical Attention

Even if you think it was a relatively minor injury — whether it penetrated through a toe or the bullet appeared to have only scraped the skin. It’s possible to have bullet remnants still in your body, which cannot be removed without causing additional damage. It’s also possible for scar tissue to form around these fragments. As a result, you may end up with chronic pain, limited range of motion, or other discomforts. If transportation is impossible, call 911.

4. Surgery May Be Necessary

This could be due to having to remove the bullet from an organ or damage caused to the spinal cord or other internal body parts. An anesthesiologist will insert a breathing tube, as nurses administer life-saving medications and transfuse blood if it’s necessary. A trauma surgeon will then assess the extent of damage and operate on injured tissues and organs.

5. You’ll Go to the Intensive Care Unit

Following surgery, you will be transferred to the ICU, where you’ll be kept on a breathing machine and monitored to determine additional care as well as to prevent complications — such as failing kidneys, seizures, infections,subarachnoid hemorrhagearteriovenous fistulas, or vasospasm.

6. Follow Your Doctor’s Instructions

You may or may not need surgery to remove the bullet. However, you’ll always need to follow directions regarding how to ensure your wellbeing. This will include dressing the wound, using ice packs, keeping the injured body part elevated, taking pain medications, and/or applying antibiotics.

7. Avoid Infection

Always wash your hands thoroughly before removing dressings and cleaning the wound. Avoid antibacterial soaps, as well as alcohol, iodine, and peroxide — since the chemicals in them can slow down the healing process. Signs of infection include swelling, redness, skin that feels warm to the touch, and/or pus.

8. Modify Bath Time

Avoid taking baths. Soaking the wound could cause it to reopen. You may be required to take sponge baths for the first few days after receiving medical care. Once you have the doctor’s green light, take short showers. However, never scrub the wound. When done, gently pat it dry and let it air dry before applying bandages again.

9. Get Follow-Up Medical Care

Seek medical attention if the pain gets worse, there’s increased drainage from the wound, the wound smells bad, or you have a fever. Worsening symptoms could be a sign of a bigger issue.

24-Hour Emergency Room Services in Colorado Springs and Texas

If you’ve been injured by a gunshot wound, we can provide you with the care you need. If you have questions or need immediate treatment, your nearest Complete Care location is ready to help, no matter the time of day or night. We offer a variety of services to help you and your family in your time of need. No appointments are necessary.

Find the Complete Care location nearest you.