Created By: beeftony on August 7, 2010 Last Edited By: beeftony on August 12, 2010
Troped

Hollywood Tourniquet

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Gunshot wounds are a constant occupational hazard for fictional characters. If the shot happens to collide with an arm or a leg, you can usually expect one of the characters to suggest using a torn piece of clothing, usually a shirt (which of course leads to Fanservice), to stop the bleeding. The makeshift tourniquet is then tied above the wound, and voila! The bleeding stops.

Note that this is a very bad idea in Real Life. Cutting off the bloodflow means depriving the limbs of the blood they need in order to continue functioning, and can lead to the creation of necrotic (i.e. dead and rotting) tissue if the tourniquet is left on for too long. At that point, amputation is pretty much the only option. In fact, tourniquets are almost exclusively used when a limb is getting amputated in the first place, since it stops the blood from spurting out of your newly formed stump. And really, it's doubtful the female lead will be impressed with your abs once your impromptu field doctoring has resulted in her losing a leg.

This is not to suggest that tying a tourniquet around anything short of a fresh leg stump is instant death. Properly applied, tourniquets can halt the bleeding long enough to get the patient to a proper medical facility, where the appropriate steps can be taken to patch it up. It is not, however, an instant fix. It's a stopgap measure at best, and it's only good for buying time. Most writers prefer not to follow up on that part, though, and treat a shirt wrapped above a bullet hole as a miracle cure that requires no further attention.

Another thing that's not very likely to come up is the fact that tourniquets hurt like hell. As it turns out, it takes more than just a quick knot to completely cut off bloodflow, and the body doesn't react well to having its circulation blocked. It's absolutely excruciating, and that's before they have to possibly amputate it. Yet, fictional characters will produce a manly grunt and tough it out, often even walking on the leg.

Don't count on any of this to be addressed in fiction, however. After all, in Hollywood, the quick fixes are the best.

Examples:

Film
  • In Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Sarah takes a bullet to the leg in the final car chase, and fashions a makeshift tourniquet from her shirt.
  • Averted in Deep Blue Sea. They do it correctly and apply a tourniquet to the bleeding stump after a character loses a limb to the sharks (the character still doesn't make it, though).

Literature
  • Dave Barry's Only Travel Guide You'll Ever Need advises, in case of snakebite, to put a tourniquet on the snake.
Community Feedback Replies: 22
  • August 2, 2010
    SonicLover
    Possible overlap with Worst Aid?
  • August 2, 2010
    SweetMadness
    • This is actually averted in Deep Blue Sea. They do it correctly and apply a tourniquet to the bleeding stump after a character loses a limb to the sharks. (The character in question doesn't make it though, if I remember correctly.)
  • August 2, 2010
    johnnye
    Probably comes from historical fiction, where amputation was a much more common reaction. And yes, subtrope of Worst Aid.
  • August 2, 2010
    Prfnoff
    Dave Barry's Only Travel Guide You'll Ever Need advises, in case of snakebite, to put a tourniquet on the snake.
  • August 2, 2010
    beeftony
    Yes, Worst Aid would probably be a good place to put it under if we can't come up with enough examples. If there are sufficient examples, then it deserves to be its own subtrope.
  • August 2, 2010
    STUART
    Make sure you note that this trope only applies if the wrap is applied above the wound. If it's on the wound, it's just a makeshift bandage, which is perfectly reasonable.
  • August 2, 2010
    ParadiscaCorbasi
    Also, there is a proper usage for tourniquets above the wound. It's to slow blood flow temporarily until the person gets to help so they don't bleed out and die.
  • August 3, 2010
    Sackett
    Yeah, tourniquets are not recommended for minor wounds, but for heavy life threatening bleeding they are actually a good idea- just that you need to get them to a doctor right away. The unreality in fiction is that tourniquets are used for hours, even days without any additional medical attention.
  • August 3, 2010
    AceNoctali
    [Sorry, ignore my comment, made a mistake.]
  • August 4, 2010
    Kinitawowi
    [rant]

    Am I the only one getting sick of all these "X Does Not Work That Way" and "Somewhere An X Is Crying" tropes? I get it, Dan Browned is a terrible page, but we don't need every example of every Single Issue Wonk complaining that their chosen profession/hobby/whatever isn't depicted perfectly in fiction.

    [/rant]

    (@beeftony: Sorry you were the one to catch this rant, but it's been in my head for a while.)
  • August 4, 2010
    DannyV_El_Acme
    I'm a combat medic, and, well, this is totally wrong... This trope is an example of Did Not Do The Research. Tourniquets work EXACTLY like the initial example, to stop bleeding out. In fact, a tourniquet applied promptly will not only save the character from bleeding out, IT MIGHT SAVE THE LIMB AS WELL, as it is easier to treat a wound on a limb when it's not splurting blood all over the place.

    Yes, a tourniquet can cause you to lose a limb, but that's if it's been left on FOR HOURS. And even then, the limb could be saved if the limb is properly flushed and blood flow is restored, you'd be amazed at how much a limb can withstand before it starts dying. A properly handled tourniquet and fast enough aid will save both the person from bleeding out and the limb from being amputated. Sorry, but please don't make this a trope if you're not gonna do the research.
  • August 5, 2010
    beeftony
    I did do the research, and you're missing the point. Tourniquets in fiction usually are left on for too long, and they're usually not proper tourniquets to begin with. Instead they have to contend with ripped shirts, people who may not necessarily have medical training and therefore don't know where to tie it or how tight to make it, and a number of other factors that would lead to amputation in real life.

    Admittedly, I did make it sound like wrapping a tourniquet on any wound that hasn't already detached the limb is instant death. I should make note of the exceptions you mentioned in order to be more clear.

    Also, to the troper above you: Do you have a better title? If so, I'd love to hear it.
  • August 5, 2010
    DannyV_El_Acme
    @beeftony: Oh, that's much clearer, thank you. If that's the case, then yes, this is much more sensible as a trope. You should also add that usually, in fiction, the victim doesn't show much discomfort at wearing the tourniquet, when a tourniquet IRL HURTS LIKE HELL. Try to put a tourniquet on yourself: you can feel how uncomfortable it starts getting as you keep turning it, right? Well, a proper tourniquet is one that is turned until the person is screaming in agony.
  • August 5, 2010
    beeftony
    Done.
  • August 5, 2010
    Kinitawowi
    @beeftony: It's not about the title, it's the subject matter. I really don't think we need so many tropes all about how X trope gets Y subject wrong (there seems to have been a raft of them just recently).
  • August 5, 2010
    beeftony
    Well, I do think it's necessary, since this is one of those things that can actually kill you if you do it wrong. Not that I think this article is going to save any lives, but it never hurts to spread awareness. Although, if we can't come up with more examples, it may just have to fall under Worst Aid.
  • August 5, 2010
    Kinitawowi
    If anyone thinks TV is a good dispenser of medical advice, they have bigger problems. :-p

    But yeah. I get the point of this trope, which is that the Hollywood Tourniquet is easily applied, reliable and made out of anything to hand. I just don't think it needs the "that's not how it works" designation, and certainly not when it seems to descend into how wrong TV gets it (which is where the Dan Browned comparison comes from).
  • August 7, 2010
    beeftony
    Actually, Hollywood Tourniquet would make a good alternate trope title, wouldn't it?
  • August 7, 2010
    ParadiscaCorbasi
    @Kinitawowi Actually, I think it's very useful to have the Ur Doin It Wrong type tropes, because it's a handy way to see quickly by coming here if something works the way one wants to write it in a story. A lot of people use TV Tropes itself as a research tool.
  • August 8, 2010
    STUART
  • August 11, 2010
    MoG2
    Another example: The Ayakami ninjas but tourniquets on Ninjette in Empowered #3. However, they plan to actually amputate her hands.
  • August 12, 2010
    JusticeZero
    As i've been told in the training -I- got, you should ONLY use a tourniquet if you are already prepared to and expecting to write off the limb as lost anyways; you put it on with something loose and soft to increase the chance that the emergency crews can salvage the limb, but otherwise, you put it on and set it up to be permanent. For anything that looks like less of a close encounter with a hamburger grinder than that, use a bandage and direct pressure.
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