Hollywood Tourniquet YKTTW Discussion

Hollywood Tourniquet
(permanent link) added: 2010-08-07 19:17:52 sponsor: beeftony (last reply: 2010-08-12 12:37:30)

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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.


  • 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).

  • Dave Barry's Only Travel Guide You'll Ever Need advises, in case of snakebite, to put a tourniquet on the snake.
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