A character that's bullet proof isn't any fun to read about. And they are even less fun to write. Our characters need to get scuffed up during fights. Wounds give them personality, they act as the price a character pays for winning, and they can even provide more conflict by forcing the character to fight through their weakness.
We can't always go with the "rugged cut along one cheek" type of wound either. Your character's peril needs to feel real so that readers can get invested in the danger. You could give them a life threatening injury, but unless it is at the end of your story, you risk slowing your pace down to give them time to recover realistically.
There's a balance to be found here.
In today's post we're going to look at that balance as we try to list some different injuries a character can suffer and still fight through. This is purely for writerly purposes and not meant to diagnose or treat injuries in any way. I list the symptoms and the treatments so that writers will be able to include the injuries in their story with believable detail.
Any joint, from a finger to a knee, can become dislocated. By all accounts, it is extremely painful and, depending on the joint, can be very debilitating.
Symptoms: Shoulder will look square, instead of round. It will be painful and the injured party will be unable to move the arm.
Treatments: A dislocated arm can be self treated, but the afflicted person has to be careful. Doing it wrong can lead to other bones in the arm being broken. A partially dislocated shoulder is easier to treat than a fully dislocated one. After the joint is put back in place, the arm needs to be placed in a sling to allow time for the shoulder to fully heal.
Symptoms: Inability to bend the elbow. Swelling and pain. In some extreme cases they might lose feeling in their hand. In severe cases the heartbeat can no longer be felt in the wrist because the artery has been damaged.
Treatments: The first thing to do is make sure the artery is intact. Feeling for a pulse in the wrist and pressing lightly on the fingertips of the injured arm are both tests you can use to do this. The fingertips should turn white and then return to their natural pink color within three seconds. There are three tests that can determine whether or not the victim suffered nerve damage in the arm. The first is to bend the wrist upward as if telling someone to stop. The second is to spread the fingers wide. And the third is to touch the thumb to the pinky. If the injured person can't do any of these things there is likely nerve damage. Those that do not suffer from nerve damage or damage to the artery will have their arm pulled back into proper alignment and then put in a sling until it can heal.
Symptoms: Severe pain and swelling in the knee. Obvious deformity in the knee. In severe cases the leg below the knee will become numb and victim may even lose their pulse in the lower leg.
Treatment: The knee needs to be put back in place. It is not recommended that this is done by anyone other than a medical professional. If the victim suffered damage to their artery during the dislocation they will need immediate surgery. The leg needs to be immobilized.
Symptoms: The finger often appears crooked or bent oddly, sometimes even bent upward towards the back of the hand. There will be swelling, and pain and the afflicted party won't be able to move the finger. Severe dislocations can cause numbness or tingling. The finger may even turn blue. There is also the possibility that the initial injury will cause lacerations near or on the dislocated finger.
Treatment: Someone with a dislocated finger should seek a medical professional immediately, especially if the finger has an open wound, turns numb, or becomes blue. It is not recommended that a person treat a dislocated finger themselves, however there have been cases where an injured party (whether because of adrenaline or a high pain tolerance) was able to push the finger back into place on their own. After the finger is back in alignment it will be taped to the fingers next to it to prevent movement and allow it to heal. (In other words a character can self treat this kind of injury but it might cause problems further down the line.)
Complications: Obviously depending on your character's dominant hand, losing the ability to hold onto things could become very challenging.
Symptoms: The injured hip will show signs of swelling, cause pain, and possibly be visibly out of place.
Treatment: A dislocated hip is a medical emergency. A professional needs to look at it immediately. If the hip is not put back properly the joint will die. It is treated by pushing the bone back on place by hand or with surgery. The victim then has a long road of rehabilitation ahead.
Because of their common place nature, I often forget that bruises can be an interesting and debilitating injury for a character to suffer. The size and scope of the bruising will determine how debilitating.
Symptoms: There will be lots of pain, swelling and some loss of movement because of those two things.
Treatments: Ice and time are usually the only things that can help a bruise heal.
A broken bone is extremely painful but unless the bone pierces something else they are not deadly.
Symptoms: Victim might experience chest pain worsened by breathing, tenderness, bruising, coughing, gritty sensation felt over broken bones, or shortness of breath.
Treatments: A fractured rib usually heals on its own in one or two months. Ice and pain relievers can help with the discomfort the injured party will feel.
Complications: Some complications can occur when or if the broken rib is one of the top three. In that case the rib could puncture or tear an aorta/another major blood vessel. If one of the middle ribs breaks it could puncture a lung and cause it to collapse. The lower ribs rarely break, because they are much more flexible than the others, but if they do it could cause serious damage to the spleen, liver, or kidneys. Shallow breathing caused by the pain could result in the victim developing pneumonia.
Symptoms: Pain, swelling, and discoloration from bruising. However, sometimes the finger will still be able to move to a certain extent. This does not mean that the finger is not broken. Numbness may occur if the nerves in the finger become compressed or damaged.
Treatments: There are two types of fractures that can occur. Treatment is different for each one. The stable fracture will simply need to be taped to the finger or fingers next to the injured one to prevent it from moving. It will need to remain that way for about four weeks.
An unstable fracture will need a bit more to be completely immobilized. The most widely used way is with a splint. (Small pieces of wood being strapped/tied to the injured finger.)
Symptoms: Pain. Potential discoloration/bruising around the actual break. Loss of mobility. (The degree of this loss depends on the area of the break.) The bone may also pierce through the skin, causing external damage and bleeding.
Treatments: The severity of the injury will need to be taken into account. The bone will often need to be realigned, even in cases where the skin was not cut by the break. Then the leg needs to be immobilized, usually with a splint. Any open cut will need to be properly disinfected and dressed to stop the bleeding. In modern medicine, rods and pins are sometimes used to immobilize the bone.
Complications: The muscles in the injured leg often work against those trying to realign the bone, causing more pain to the injured party and keeping the bone from realignment.
Symptoms: Pain, swelling and discoloration/bruising. The arm will likely be bent at an irregular angle and the victim will be unable to move it. The bone may pierce through the skin depending on the severity of the injury.
Treatments: The treatments for a broken arm are very similar to those of a broken leg. The arm will need to be realigned and immobilized. Any open cuts will need to be disinfected and bandaged.
Complications: The same complications that arise from a broken leg will affect broken arms.
LOSING A LIMB/ACCIDENTAL AMPUTATION
Accidental amputation is a very dangerous injury and can easily become fatal, most often because of blood loss. However, as is evidenced by our own ancestors, even people without our level of medical technology can survive an accidental amputation if they take the right steps.
Treatments: The bleeding will need to be stopped. The area will need to be cleaned and kept clean. A medical professional will need to reattach the injured flesh, most likely with stitches.
Symptoms: Because of the obvious nature of this particular injury there are not many symptoms needed to identify it. However there is one interesting fact that I think is worth noting. Occasionally the cut blood vessels in a full amputation may spasm, pull back into the injured flesh, and shrink, because of this there may not be very much blood.
Treatment: Proper care of the amputated body part is essential if there is any hope of reattachment. Gently rinse off any debris from the body part. It is important not to scrub the area. The part must then be wrapped in clean cloth or gauze. Put the wrapped part in a water proof container and put the container on ice. Do not put the part itself directly on ice or in ice water. Placing it directly on ice will cause the flesh itself to freeze.
The injury itself needs proper care as well, to avoid infection.
Complications: The extreme nature of this particular injury often leads to shock. Another very real risk is infection.
Note: Occasionally the amputated part of the body might be reattached, but it depends on what part was amputated, the condition of the amputated part, the time frame between the amputation and receiving medical care, and the general health of the injured party. Only a medical professional can do this.
TEMPORARY & PERMANENT BLINDNESS
In a fight losing your ability to see can most definitely lead to your death. This makes it a great tool to amp up the conflict for our characters.
Symptoms: Obviously loss of sight is a big give away. But the cause of the blindness might change a few of the symptoms. The first cause that comes to mind is something being thrown into the eyes. If this is the case the character will experience pain, redness and the increased production of tears. The amount of pain, the length of the blindness and the treatments will differ depending on what is thrown into the eyes.
Another, perhaps less usual cause, could be trauma. Getting hit on the head in just the right way can cause blindness. Other traumas, such as whiplash, can also lead to blindness.
Treatments: In most cases rinsing out the eyes with water is enough to restore sight. However some chemicals will cause permanent blindness even if the eyes are rinsed out. For cases of trauma, the type of trauma will determine whether or not their is treatment. Though in some of the cases, the vision issues can clear up on their own.
Hearing loss is one of those things you don't see in novels often. Yet it is an injury that can cause a lot of struggle for your character.
Causes might include sudden loud noises and head trauma.
We love our characters. They are our darlings. Practically family. But going too easy on them takes the edge off of their story. So, take a look at the list above and see what kind of trouble you can get your characters into.
What do you think about these injuries? Do you think they'd make believable obstacles to characters? Can you think of others?
As always I'd love to hear your thoughts. Until next time.
Author's Disclaimer: Again, this material is not meant to be considered medical advice in any way. It is for writers to use to create realistic scenarios for their characters. If you have a medical emergency seek a medical professional immediately.