The sun's fire makes a garden grow,
A forge fire tempers steel.
Why then are you surprised to find
A fire that can heal?
Cauterizing a wound is the process of literally burning the flesh in order to seal an open wound and stop continued bleeding. While it's been used as a technique for millennia, recent research reveals that it actually makes the wound more
likely to contract infection because of the extensive tissue damage and newly warm environment for bacteria to grow, and thus it's been completely discontinued by modern medicine.
Of course, fiction doesn't always follow science, and the idea that you can use fire to heal, but that by doing so the patient must endure great pain, has lent itself to many interesting applications in fiction. Some of the important points may be lost, but the fact is that someone's withstanding a good deal of pain in order to either survive or recover, thus lending itself to metaphors about enduring temporary hardship for long-term gain.
Bonus points if the patient is performing the procedure on himself.
In a related note, it may be used during the process of an attack in order to effectively seal off any wounds, primarily for visual purposes. One reason it is used (at least in the case of heat weapons like a Laser Blade
) is as an excuse to avoid having to show the streams of blood that would otherwise accompany the removal of a major body part. (See Bloodless Carnage
Compare Feed It with Fire
, where fire or lightning in and of itself
has a curative effect. Contrast Kill It with Fire
. See also Worst Aid
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Anime and Manga
- In Fullmetal Alchemist, Roy Mustang sears his own wound closed after getting stabbed by Lust. It's not permanent, and he winds up collapsing shortly afterwards and has to go to the hospital, and he even admits that in doing so, he almost passed out from the pain. Still a CMOA.
- Natsu of Fairy Tail does this to one of his guildmates (only in the manga).
- In the fifth Kara no Kyoukai movie Paradox Spiral, Enjou Tomoe presses the stub left over after his arm fell off against a very hot slab of metal to seal it up. Even if the act itself is somewhat worthless since he's a fake human, and the stub wasn't even bleeding... it's the thought that counts.
- Possibly trying to burn shut his shoulder to stop the gears inside falling out.
- In Pokémon Special, Entei's flames apparently have some kind of healing power as it cured Blaine of his Mewtwo cancer.
- Baki the Grappler has Baki sterilizing the bite Ando got from the Yasha Ape by spreading gunpowder on it and setting it off.
- Blue Exorcist the Impure King arc shows Rin using his blue flames in this way. His way is more interesting and most likely valid; he burns away the disease and every piece of the Impure King specifically targeting it while leaving all the exorcists, plants and whatnot unharmed. He had to use a purification mantra and needed help from a high ranked demon as well, but the targeting was all him.
- Thorgal uses a hot knife to amputate an injured man's mangled fingers.
- The unfortunately named Adam Smith becomes even more unfortunate over the course of Elks Run—when he's shot in the stomach, and his friends carry him into a mine for shelter, one of them cleans the wound of infection using explosive natural gas, carefully contained by a miner's helmet.
- In one Superman/Batman collection a Serial Killer cuts off a thief's hand and Superman uses his heat vision to cauterize the wound.
- In the third volume of New Mutants, Doctor Nemesis triggers Magma's molten form in order to cauterize some wounds she'd suffered earlier.
- During X-Men: Messiah Complex, Bishop used Sunfire's flaming body to cauterize his severed arm.
- Doctor Gordon is shown to have survived his wounds thanks to this technique in the final Saw movie.
- Lightsabers in Star Wars appear to automatically cauterize flesh as they cut, with one exception: In A New Hope, there's a bit of blood when Obi-wan cuts off Ponda Baba's arm in the cantina (may have been a very, very minor example of Early-Installment Weirdness).
- The Expanded Universe attempts to justify it by saying his species' biology is just weird like that.
- In the third Rambo movie, he has to deal with a gunshot wound via a torch.
- The Killer does this with gunpowder from a shotgun shell. Being as neither of the heroes has anesthesia, the cop gives the title character a big stick to bite down on before igniting the powder.
- Whatever the hell that blue stuff is that the Predator puts in his wounds to stop the bleeding. In the second movie, it appears to seal off the stump of his severed hand quite efficiently, and it clearly hurts like hell.
- Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves showcases prisoners getting their hands cut off by a searingly-hot scimitar. Next they put Robin on the chopping block and let's just say that the wardens were sent into early retirement.
- In Braveheart, Hamish's father needs to have a wound cauterized with a red hot iron after receiving an arrow to the shoulder. In a nice nod to how such a thing might have played out in those days, alcohol gets a lot of use both as an anesthetic and disinfectant. Unusually for this sort of scene, it's played more for laughs than drama, as a whole line of brave Scottish warriors get handed the iron and told that they're going to be the one to use it, only to immediately pass it on to the next guy, saying "You do it... I'll hold him down". When they finally get some poor sap to actually do it, there are half a dozen men holding the patient down. Sure enough, the first thing he does when he gets up is to punch the guy who applied the iron even though the guy is in the middle of frantically apologizing.
- B-Western The Last Outlaw features the leader of an outlaw group who pours the gunpowder from a bullet in a shoulder wound and lights it on fire to cauterize it. Quite squicky since we see the flames on both sides of his shoulder since the bullet went straight through.
- The Boondock Saints has Power Trio Connor MacManus, his brother Murphy, and Rocco all take turns under an iron to cauterize wounds they received during a disastrous firefight with Il Duce.
- In John Carpenter's Vampires, Montoya does this pretty much every time he's wounded, once with a lighter, and once by firing his sub-machine gun into the air then holding the hot barrel to the wound.
- The Headless Horseman from Sleepy Hollow decapitated his victims, and it was noted that the head wounds were cauterized instantly, as though the blade used was red hot. Constable Crane wondered how this could be possible, due to the absence of blistering of the skin or scorch marks on the clothing. The superstitious believed it to have been caused by "the Devil's fire."
- Constable Crane himself survives and recovers from a stab wound much more quickly than he should have due to this effect.
- The main character of Ultraviolet cauterizes one of her wounds with the heat generated by firing her gun.
- In Day of the Dead, one of the protagonist's arms is cut off after he is bitten by a zombie. His friends then cauterise the stump with a makeshift torch. Whether or not this saved him from infection is unknown, as he was devoured by zombies soon after.
- The Karate Kid 2010 version, seen here.
- In Man of Steel, Lois is injured by a Kryptonian security robot when she discovers the ship. Clark notes that she's hemorrhaging internally and proceeds to cauterize the injury with his heat vision.
- In 300, one of the soldiers uses a heated spearhead to cauterise the wound of a fellow soldier on the second night.
- In ''Hidalgo, after falling into a concealed trap in the sand filled with wooden stakes, the titular character seals the stab wound his horse suffers using his heated knife.
- In Misery by Stephen King, Anne Wilkes uses a blow torch to prevent blood loss when she amputates the protagonist's foot.
- The ending of Making Money had Moist cauterizing the gangrenous finger of Cosmo by bringing his imitation Vetinari ring under the sun, making its stygium components white-hot.
- Ciaphas Cain, HERO OF THE IMPERIUM, has mentioned several times that since lasgun shots cauterize the wound, it's better to be hit with a lasgun than a solid-slug weapon. Of course, since this is a weapon bearing the Fan Nickname "Flashlight", there are other reasons for this.
- Only if you're talking in comparison to other Warhammer 40,000 weapons (like the fully automatic RPG launchers favored by Space Marines), those "Flashlights" are described as being powerful enough to blast limbs off.
- Inverted in Codex Alera: in this setting, Elemental Powers are capable of many things that they aren't capable of in some magic systems. Control over water includes the ability to heal people, possibly because most of the human body is water. However, Elemental Rock-Paper-Scissors is also in effect, and touching or being near one element prevents the other from being used. Therefore, cauterization makes it nigh impossible for a watercrafter to heal the wound.
- In the first book of the Coldfire Trilogy, the Hunter uses coldfire (fae generated blue flames that are as cold as real fire is hot) to cleanse Senzei's gangrenous wound.
- Similarly to the above, the dragon Firedrake demonstrates that his firebreath, which is also blue, actually heals people instead of burning them in the book Dragon Rider by Cornelia Funke.
- How Mackenzie Calhoun of the Star Trek: New Frontier series by Peter David got his facial scar. Self-cauterization while seriously injured and lying alone in the desert with a laser welder no less.
- In A Song of Ice and Fire, Victorion Greyjoy has to have his hand cauterized by a red priest to save him from blood poisoning. However, this priest worships a god of fire and has received a power boost due to dragons reemerging from extinction, and as a result, Victorion's arm becomes superhumanly strong.
- Happens a few times in Barbara Hambly's Sun Wolf and Starhawk books, usually after nuuwa attacks. And then, there's Sun Wolf gouging out his own eye and cauterizing the socket.
- The dragons and Dragonlords in Joanne Bertin's The Last Dragonlord and Dragon and Phoenix can channel their fire breath into a healing ability. It Makes Sense in Context.
- Kantri of Tales of Kolmar flame their own wounds clean, especially when they've been fighting demons, which leave a kind of taint otherwise.
- Kaladin fromThe Way Of Kings by Brandon Sanderson uses such techniques several times, generally when working in sub-par conditions or with suboptimal equipment - which is standard in the bridge crew.
- In the LOST season 1 finale, Sayid cauterizes Charlie's wound by opening a bullet and igniting the gunpowder. This wound is on Charlie's forehead, just above his eye. Yee-ouch!
- Burn Notice inverted this by having Michael use a liquid nitrogen gun to both cauterize a wound (which he secretly had planned) and to sabotage the bad guys pistol.
- Chris Ryan's Strike Back. The protagonist does this in Zimbabwe, also using the powder from a cartridge.
- Spartacus: Blood and Sand shows Crixus' nasty chest wounds being cauterised. It hurts so much he has to be strapped to the table.
- In Spartacus Vengeance, Nassir's wounds are treated this way. There is even a Call Back to it saving Crixus. In the final episode Spartacus tries to do it for Mira, but it's too late.
- The Thermal powerset used by Controllers and Corruptors in City of Heroes, which has powers like "Warmth" and "Cauterize". Aside from the names, they work like any other healing powers.
- In the Tomb Raider 2013 reboot, an injured Lara is forced to heal an open wound in her side with this method, using a lighter and an arrowhead. Needless to say, it's incredibly painful, but it does get the job done.
- In the [adult swim].com game Amateur Surgeon, the titular pizza delivery guy turned brilliant unlicensed physician, Alan Probe, uses a disposable lighter to cauterize wounds after stapling them shut. Also to attach transplanted organs. He must be a genius, because he somehow makes it WORK.
- In the sequel, he uses a match.
- In Borderlands the Soldier class has a talent called "Cauterise". It allows him to heal allies by shooting them.
- In World of Warcraft, Mages get a talent called "Cauterize". The talent negates an attack that would kill the mage, heals him to 40%, and puts a Fire typed damage over time effect on him that deals 45% of his maximum health. So, basically, what would be a lethal blow is prevented, but they'll need healing soon anyway. Mages can also get a spell called Mage Ward (formerly Fire Ward) that absorbs Fire damage, so he can prevent the damage from Cauterize.
- In Warlords Battlecry, the Pyromancy spell list has an AoE healing spell called "Cauterize". It heals for 25 HP per spell level within the casting hero's command radius.
- In Heavy Rain, should Ethan cut off part of his finger during the Lizard Trial, the player has the option to cauterize the wound with a heated steel bar. There's a Trophy for doing so.
- Lords Of Magic gives the cauterize wound spell, which provides healing.
- The usual modus operandi of the Purifier cleric soul in Rift.
- In what might be the only time that Richard from Looking for Group didn't use magic to murder or torture everything around him, he was cauterizing a wound that Cale had suffered to the neck.
- In one episode of Celebrity Deathmatch, Sylvester Stallone (in a nod to the scene noted above) sets off a small pile of gunpowder on his shoulder in order to cauterize a wound given by his opponent, Arnold Schwarzenegger.
- According to The Other Wiki, cauterization is mentioned in the Hippocratic Corpus. Since Hippocrates was born after 500 B.C., this one is Older Than Feudalism.
- Cauterization exists in real life, of course, but what makes this stand out as a TV / film trope is how it is so overused. Often it is shown in situations where a real attempt to cauterize would do far more harm than good, in terms of destroying healthy tissue and increasing the risk of infection.
- In Real Life this was the standard practice before suturing the veins was invented. More often than not, it killed the patient even if the wound wouldn't have. Pouring boiling oil into open wounds is counterproductive, most of the time.
- Among the main problems with cauterization is the very real risk of gangrene. The wound isn't merely closed, the veins and arteries in the area are sealed shut. This can cause more tissues to die from lack of blood, which can turn gangrenous and ultimately require amputation. What it does do, however, is buy the wounded individual time to get to a hospital, which they still have to do.
- Quite a few people think that laser weapon might cause this, like lightsabers do. Physicists and laser technicians say that because of the way most lasers work this is extremely unlikely and the damage would be similar to that of a bullet.
- To expand on the above - flash heating something that is mostly liquid causes a steam explosion. Getting in the way of a powerful laser beam would be very, very messy.