Shot in the heart—die immediately?

In the movie Platoon, Barnes is hot by Charlie Sheen, looks like three times or so, in the heart area. Barnes falls back like a stone, eyes open.

My question is, surely you would be conscious for at least a few seconds. No?

It would all depend. You might remain conscious for a second or two, or you might go into shock almost immediately with the MAJOR hemmorhaging going on.

AFAIK after 10 seconds the brain goes off without blood irrigation, and after 5 minutes it´s beyond recovery.

If you got shot in the heart, you would indeed be conscious for at least several seconds.

If you’re trying to prove that movies do not equal actual life, I agree with you. If you seek to show an error in a movie, I’m not interested. Movies do not equal real life. Did this man in a movie die in an unrealistic way? Who cares? He didn’t really die.

Now, if you’d like to say the film didn’t convince you that the character died, that IS a matter for discussion. Usually, it happens in Cafe Society.

I’m rather depressed and my sinuses have been pounding on me all day. Those things may have influenced this post. Or not.

Regarding Barnes in Platoon: He was shot in the torso, but not necessarilly in the heart. Wasn’t he shown on a stretcher, semi-conscious, after the Cavalry arrived and Taylor was being loaded onto the Medivac?

AskNott: Eh, wott? He’s using the movie as a jumping-off point for a medical discussion, not as a means in and of itself. Factual medical discussions are perfectly suited (really, only well-suited) to GQ.

Anyway, the brain will live for a few minutes without a fresh supply of oxygen. Essentially, it takes a few minutes for it to strangle on its own waste material and lack of oxygen.

How many minutes of useful consciousness you’d have is a bit up in the air: Nobody who’s in a position to speak is saying anything, and medicine isn’t amenable to a priori solutions. I think most people agree that retrograde amnesia and shock would prevent the soon-to-be-deceased from realizing his position. I think the person would experience a profound `WTF?’ moment right before his final fadeout.

I should point out that in the same movie, Barnes shoots Elias Grodin (Willem Defoe) three times in the chest, but Elias is still alive enough to run away from the VC toward the landing zone, tragically too late to be evacuated. He takes several more shots, apparantly, before finally expiring.

Maybe not, but that’s what I’ve got my money on.

I was under the impression that it was fairly well documented (from heart attack patients and such) that once your heart stops beating, you lose conciousness almost immediately, although sometimes the person can stay concious up to about 10 seconds at the most. Cecil quotes two doctors, one who says 5 seconds and one who says 15 seconds:

Another thing I’ve heard was an interview with a police officer (or might have been an FBI agent) who stated that they always aim for the torso, because most people are conditioned from hollywood that when they get shot in the chest they should fall down, so most people actually do, even if the injury is such that they could possibly remain standing. I saw a woman shot in the chest (on the nightly news of all places) and she dropped like a stone.

There are also plenty of documented cases of people surviving being shot several times in the torso and still running. There’s a clip shown occasionally on reality shows where a robber shoots a store clerk and the store clerk shoots the robber also, and the robber runs out of the store (only to die later).

It would seem to me that both Barnes’ and Grodin’s deaths are medically possible.

Youre right about the falling down part of it,

but most cops are taught to shoot at the torso, because most cops are really not very good shots, and the torso is the largest target, and hardest to miss at least some vital organ. Aiming at the torso has more to do with the (in)ability of the cop to hit accurately his target, than anything else. Thus when the “poor shot cop” misses the heart he was trying to hit, and instead hits the lung, spleen, kidney, stomach, gall bladder, spine, neck, bladder, etc, the criminal will still be in trouble in the long run and wont get away.

A bullet most of the time kills by destroying a necessary organ, or by hemmorage.

Unless it is a head shot, most people live long enough to shoot back if they want to, esp if you make them mad.

Whops! hot > shot (however, maybe Charlie Sheen was hot for Tom Berenger:D

Are you saying that people fall down when shot because Hollywood has conditioned them to? I don’t believe it. Depending on the caliber of the bullet, they might fall down from the momentum of the bullet. Three big bullets in the chest will stop most people.

Some of the people gullotined after the French revolution managed, strictly in the interests of science, to keep on blinking their eyes for several seconds after they lost their bodies, despite massive loss of blood.

Well, this might soon head to great debates, but it most certainly isn’t momentum that knocks people on their asses when shot. If you remember back to high school physics, momentum is conserved. So whatever momentum the bullet has, the gun has the same amount in the other direction, and while a big gun may thump your hand/ shoulder, it won’t knock you right over.

The best explanation for why sometimes the target drops instantly, and sometimes keeps running (targets in this case were not human, but there’s some similarity), was from a study done during a cull of some ungulates in southern Africa (sorry, don’t remember the details) Their hypothesis to explain the differences in how quickly similar shots from similar rifles led to the animal falling was that the old `hydrostatic shock’ thing does happen, but only is effective if you happen to hit the animal at a specific point in the heart-beat cycle, when all the blood vessels in the body are pressurised. Adding the shock of the impact to that pressure leads to weird things in the brain and the animal loses consciousness. This doesn’t actually kill the animal, so a gut-shot beast could drop instantly due to the above, but then get up after a minute or so, and stagger off into the bush to die of blood loss. On the other hand, a heart-lung shot animal, if it drops unconscious due to the hydrostatic shock + high blood pressure, will be dead from the shot before it regains consciousness.


You have to consider the shock wave, which can knock you unconscious immediately, even if it’s not a fatal blow.

I remember reading in a Tom Clancy book, probably Rainbow Six, that one lives for about a minute once the heart is destroyed. I don’t know how accurate that is but he usually knows these kinds of facts.

Synchronicitously, I was just reading about this very topic in Stiff, a fascinating book by Mary Roach. In her discussion of the “stopping power” of various forms of ammunition, she spoke to a number of military and medical sources to find out if the “fall over instantly” death so often shown in the media is accurate. The conclusion of most was that any “instantaneous” effects from a non-CNS bullet wound are usually psychological, and that animals, or people unfamiliar with the effects of firearms, are often able to continue normally for 10-15 seconds even after being shot in the heart. And Ms. Roach dug up several cases showing the inverse of this, where criminals who were shot with non-penetrating ammunition (like rubber bullets or even beanbags) who, thinking they had been shot with real bullets, reacted like they thought they were supposed to and fell over in shock.

On the other hand, it’s not entirely psychological – in 1893 a ballistics researcher named Griffith performed an experiment wherein he shot a bunch of dogs in the abdomen from 200 yards, and he noted that they almost invariably “died as promptly as though they had been electrocuted,” even though “no vital part was hit which might account for the instantaneous death of the animals.” The hydrostatic shock angle is one possible account for this, but Ms. Roach reported that the people she spoke to seemed to favor another explanation(somewhat similar) explanation. In 1988 a researcher at Lund University fired bullets into the hindquarters of pigs while they were wired up to EEGs, and in 2/3 of the cases the pigs’ EEGs flattened instantly upon being hit, usually around a 50% drop. The researchers seemed to think that this was a likely source of the “immediate collapse” phenomenon, and proposed something similar to “hydrostatic shock” to explain why the neural overload occurred:

(Stiff, p. 138)

Ms. Roach then goes on to describe some tests she witnessed involving ballistic gelatin, which is used to simulate human tissue and which is very useful in studying the temporary stretch cavity because it is relatively transparent and doesn’t snap back into place like human tissues do, making it easy to get a detailed look at the stretch cavity a particular bullet causes. And apparently there is at least a rough correlation between the size of the stretch cavity that a particular type of ammunition causes and the stopping power that is generally ascribed to that ammunition by its users (police officers and soldiers, I assume).

It’s not proof, by any means, but it’s certainly interesting, if a bit gruesome.

Slight Hi-Jack

In some western films the good guy shoots the gun out of the bad guys hand, bad guy shakes hand (flap, flap, flap) wouldn’t the impact have broken his wrist?

I am not a gun expert, but I believe guns have mechanisms to combat recoil, most noticeably a moving slide on a pistol. The slide is sent backwards due to the momentum of the exiting bullet, and since it has the ability to translate along the top of the gun, it absorbs part of the momentum of the gun/slide side of the equation. The slide reduces the force on the person holding the gun by sharing the overall momentum (part of it sends the entire gun backwards, while another part sends the slide backwards). The perceived recoil of someone holding the gun will mainly consist of the force sending the entire gun backwards, but with only a small percentage of the momentum of the slide moving back. Because of this, I don’t think it is a fair assumption to say that because someone does not fall down when they fire a gun, a person hit by the same bullet would be capable of remaining standing. There are also products that reduce recoil, such as one I found on a site. This isn’t meant to be an advertisement (since the site is a store, it might be perceived that way), but is meant to be merely an example of such a product. The site is: