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We Have to Get the Bullet Out!

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No, you don't.

Having a bullet dug out of a character's flesh or bone is almost as dramatic as the shooting itself. Even better, it requires only simple tools, little expertise, and is intensely painful (thus allowing the bullet recipient to demonstrate his or her heroic pain tolerance). It is easy to see why any series which involves gun play eventually includes a sequence in which a professional or amateur field medic applies a little bullet withdrawal to his or her comrade-in-arms.

Unfortunately, this is most often a seriously bad idea, as the very last thing you would want to do to help a shooting victim would be to pull the bullet out. Bullets are, once they stop moving, largely harmless, and trauma surgeons frequently leave them in place while repairing the damage inflicted by their ingress. Removing a bullet may harm the patient in several ways, but chiefly in that the bullet may be pressed against a damaged blood vessel, and removing it may cause severe bleeding.

Depending on the time period, however, this can be a Justified Trope; historically, a musket ball was made out of lead and would be toxic if left inside. Moreover, the ball would have been moving much more slowly than a modern bullet, as the bullet was a spherical ball, firearms used black powder (which explodes less energetically than the smokeless powder used in modern ammunition), and the seal between the bullet and the barrel of the gun was looser. Between the round shape and the slow speed, most bullets were liable to drag shreds of the victim's clothing into the wound (unlike modern weapons, whose bullets generally snap right through). The bullet would thus have been extracted as part of recovering the clothing fragments, since cloth in a wound was a good way for the wound to get infected — especially historically, as since most soldiers (and civilians, for that matter) had just one set of clothes which they wore constantly without washing them.note  Plus, people often instinctively want to get rid of foreign metal objects causing pain anyway.

That being said, bullets still usually contain lead, and studies released in the mid-2010s show that over the long term, bullets left in people's bodies do cause long-term lead poisoning. Consequently, the new medical advice is to remove bullets if doing so does not create much additional risk. There are also cases, particularly in war zones, where people get rockets and grenades fired into them that fail to detonate on impact, in which case they do need to get the projectile taken out asap.

In more fantastic scenarios, the bullet might be laced with harmful substances, made of radioactive material, set to detonate inside the target, or be such an Abnormal Ammo to be more threatening than the blood loss from subsequent removal. (Of course, such scenarios might also come with futuristic medical technobabble that makes it easier to remove the bullet and repair the damage it caused.) In more Urban Fantasy scenarios, one may need to get a bullet out due to it being cursed, or due to it being of a material that acts as its victim's Kryptonite Factor, such as silver for a werewolf or cold iron for a fae, and is thus dangerous to leave in them. In this case, some variety of healing magic is usually used to repair the damage.

See also Annoying Arrows when this trope is applied to other types of projectiles. Contrast Heal It With Fire. Sister trope to Lodged Blade Removal, where removing a blade lodged in someone's body is treated as harmless and the correct thing to do.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Gunslinger Girl:
    • Triela has to remove the bullet from her handler Hilshire after he's wounded carrying out an assassination mission. With a pocket knife, in a hotel room, without anesthetic.
    • Averted in the anime Il Teatrino when Franco ends up Taking the Bullet for his fellow terrorist Franca. She does an After-Action Patch-Up, but he tells her to leave the bullet in as there's a doctor coming the next day to remove it and he'll be alright until then.

    Comic Books 
  • Batman:
    • A Golden Age story had Robin getting a bullet out of Batman's shoulder.
    • In an earlier issue, this was subverted when Batman, as Bruce Wayne, just went to a doctor to get a bullet out. When the doc asked him how he could have shot himself when there were no powder marks, Bruce just handwaved it by saying he did funny things sometimes.
  • Played straight in Clean Room when a high-ranking member of the Mueller organization is shot. Surgeons operate immediately but claim that some bullet fragments remain and will work their way into her heart within minutes.
  • Averted with an arrowhead in ElfQuest. Cutter is shot by some humans, and (the tribe lacking a magical healer at the time) taken to the trolls for medical care. The troll elder who treats him warns that the arrowhead is caught under a rib, and that it will probably kill him to dig it out; she also assures him that "My eldest got on fine forever with a bear tooth stuck in his butt." The arrowhead stays where it is for hundreds of years (causing some chronic pain) until the tribe has a magical healer again.
  • Common enough in Superman comics and related media, since the kind of bullets that can hurt him are usually Kryptonite, meaning that a) leaving the bullet in is extremely painful and eventually fatal and b) as soon as the bullet is out, his Healing Factor is sure to kick in.
    • One time Superman was shot with such a bullet, the surgeon initially had a hard time making the necessary incision for the extraction. However, he had the bright idea of using fragments of the bullet itself to weaken Supes' skin just enough to allow cutting for the complete extraction.

    Fan Works 
  • The Man with No Name; The Doctor gets shot by a mook and has Simon dig the bullet out of his shoulder. This is justified as Time Lord biology reacts much more severely to foreign objects inside the body, so leaving it in would be more dangerous than taking it out.
  • Stars from Home - discussed when Alex is shot. Ruth tells Erik to take the bullet out, with Hank insisting they do otherwise. Justified when Ruth is able to heal Alex using her powers.
  • Sadistic Tendencies has a rare justified example: A demon that's struck with an angelic bullet will get affected by the bullet's blessing for as long as the bullet remains in the demon's body. If it's not removed, the blessing will spread through the demon's body and eventually kill them by, effectively, cooking them from the inside out, not to mention the excruciating pain it causes the afflicted demon. So when Moxxie is hit with an angelic bullet during the Extermination in chapter 11 and it gets lodged in his shoulder, Striker has to dig the bullet out, if for no other reason than to help Moxxie keep quiet to keep them from being discovered by the Exorcists, as the bullet will cause Moxxie more and more pain the longer it's left in his body.
  • This Bites!: During the escape from Marineford, Luffy takes a seastone bullet to the leg, circumventing his usual Devil Fruit-related immunity. Hawkins is forced to dig out the bullet with his fingers before the wound can even be treated, since the seastone both negates Luffy's rubber powers and saps his strength. It's messy and makes the wound much worse, but in this case fully justified.

    Film — Animation 

    Film — Live-Action 
  • In The Aggression Scale, Owen gets shot in the chest. The bullet is slowed by a Pocket Protector but still lodges in his chest. He performs some Self-Surgery and digs the bullet out with a combat knife.
  • In the Bean movie, as usual for Mr. Bean, after a series of misunderstandings, he ends up in an emergency room in a doctor's outfit, at which point the other doctors and nurses expect him to retrieve a bullet from the police chief's body. As soon as he does (before and after some Squick), amazingly, the chief's flat lining vital signs immediately stabilize, at which point he regains consciousness, and is apparently going to be just fine afterward. Cue applause from doctors.
  • Blastfighter: After Connie is shoot in the leg by the poachers, Tiger digs the bullet with his combat knife and hand sets her broken bones. Exactly why he thought it was necessary to do this on the spot, rather than waiting till they were out of immediate danger is never explained.
  • The Blood Rules has the heist team's token female member, Jean, shot in her shoulder by the police, and her crew needs to remove it via tweezers later on.
  • At the beginning of The Bourne Identity the fishing boat's medic digs two bullets out of the unconscious Jason Bourne's back.
  • In Bring Me the Head of the Machine Gun Woman, Santiago captures the Machine Gun Woman after she is shot by one of the hitmen after the bounty on her head. She insists that that the bullet needs to come out and talks Santiago through the procedure for removing it. Made more difficult because it is done in the front seat of her jeep, using equipment she has in the car, and she is tied up because Santiago won't untie her in case she escapes.
  • Coolie Killer has the titular Professional Killer removing a bullet lodged into his own arm using a pair of curved tweezers.
  • Counterattack plays this trope straight after the hero, Sergeant Lu, was betrayed and shot by one of his subordinates. After escaping, he removes the lodged bullet using a branch.
  • Danger Has Two Faces have the protagonist performing a rather painful-looking impromptu surgery on himself to remove a bullet. Later on, he needs to dig out a harpoon's shaft also embedded on himself.
  • Carolina digs a bullet out of the Mariachi's arm following the Tarasco Bar shootout from Desperado.
  • In Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid, the female lead sucks out a bullet the male lead had taken earlier. Not only would this be likely to cause both tissue damage and risk infection from all the saliva, but she would get blood all over herself in the process. Fortunately the movie's realism tends to not be very consistent. It's actually down to Rule of Funny, spoofing the Suck Out the Poison trope.
  • Doctor Strange (2016) has a subversion. A patient with a bullet lodged in his brainstem is declared brain-dead, so he's about to have his organs removed for donation. Doctor Strange realizes from looking at the X-ray that the bullet isn't misshapen, meaning that it's been hardened with antimony, which is poisoning the guy. So he has to remove the bullet before the patient dies for real.
  • The Dark Action Girl Jessica from The Dragon Fighter suffers a gunshot in the shoulder, and needs to have it removed via a pair of curved tweezers.
  • The Heroic Bloodshed film The Duel of the Brothers have a scene where Ho-tien, a hitman, gets a bullet lodged in his shoulder, and his girlfriend have to dig it out with a pair of tweezers. When the tweezers fail, he told her to just use her fingers, to her horror.
  • Final Justice (no, not the Western movie, the early Stephen Chow flick - this one) has a Surprisingly Realistic Outcome take on the trope. Sergeant Cheung (Danny Lee, who keeps playing policemen) shoots Bull, one of the bad guys in the chest with a pistol, and in a later scene Bull is being treated by his buddies Judge and Chicken, including trying to dig the bullet out his chest. Alas, even with the bullet removed Bull still dies of blood loss and pre-existing injuries (in fact, the character succumbs literally two seconds after Chicken exclaims, "I've removed the bullet! Here it is!" while proudly holding it between his fingers).
  • Subverted in The Green Hornet: Britt is shot in the shoulder as Green Hornet, but obviously can't go to the hospital lest he give away his Secret Identity. So he tells Lenore to dig the bullet out with a kitchen knife (while he bites down on a spatula), but even the heat from the sterilized knife causes him to wuss out. They end up having Kato (in costume) drive up and "shoot" Britt at a public event, which lets him safely go to the hospital and makes it less likely that people will think he's the Hornet. However, this means that Reid has to spend a day or so with a bullet in his shoulder and not let anyone know about it. Yikes.
  • In Hangman's Knot, Egan is shot In the Back by the Posse and badly wounded. After the troop and the hostages are holed up in the stage station, Molly, who used to be a nurse in the Union army, operates on him to extract the bullet: saying that she is doing so not because she wants to help the Confederates, but because she is a nurse and has no choice.
  • How To Blow Up A Pipeline: Rowan digs the bullet out of her boyfriend Logan's arm and bandages the wound, apparently with no lasting negative effects. In their case, they can't go to a hospital since a gunshot wound requires filing a police report which, in turn, would connect him directly to the bomb plot invalidating Rowan's deal with the FBI and expose the others.
  • Averted in an unusual fashion in Iron Man. Tony Stark ends up with his heart damaged by shrapnel, and instead of having the fragments removed, which would endanger his life, he gets an electromagnetic thingamajig implanted to keep the bits from killing him. However, in Iron Man 3, it's stated Tony probably should have it removed, he's just afraid of having the surgery, even if the long-term consequences are worse. He finally goes and does it at the end of the film.
  • Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter: Juanita says this almost word for word when she examines Hank's wound. As Jesse and Hank cannot go to regular doctor, she takes them to the Frankensteins.
  • After the first shootout of The Killer (1989), Ah Jong has some bullets taken out of him by Fung Sei at the church. It is painful as hell. The same thing happens again when Jong gets a bullet in his arm in the beach chalet shootout, this time with Inspector Lee doing the digging out.
  • In Bill Cosby's opus Leonard Part 6, we're treated to an even more heroically pain-resistant hero: Leonard, having been shot, removes the bullets himself, his trusty manservant only standing by with surgical tools and a mirror. The bullet is then placed in a large and almost full jar of other bullets that have been extracted from him over the course of his spy career.
  • Logan: Justified when Laura sucks a bullet out of her arm — she has a fast-acting Healing Factor, so bleeding isn't a concern and the bullet was in the way.
  • The Magic Crystal has a variant. A character fakes his death by being shot in the head by ice bullets. He regains consciousness after the ice melts. No, the movie doesn't really make sense.
  • Major Payne presents his Love Interest Emily Walburn with a gift that comes from his heart—a bullet that he dug out of his left ventricle.
  • In Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, Stephen Maturin operates on himself to extract a ball round. Subverted, in that Stephen is far more concerned about a piece of his shirt that the ball took with it and which he fears will infect the wound. We even get to see his assistant match the extracted shred to the hole in the shirt to make sure there are no bits left in the wound.
  • In The Matrix Reloaded this trope at first appears to be played straight when Trinity is shot. Neo notes that "The bullet is still inside" and uses his One powers to reach into her body and pull it out. It quickly becomes a subversion when this does nothing to improve her condition whatsoever and she dies. Neo then has to use his powers to restart her heart.
  • Justified in Max Manus. The title character is shot when a pistol accidentally discharges in La Résistance safehouse. At first Max thinks he's dying from all the blood, but it turns out the injuries are superficial because the bullet fragmented. However the doctor informs him that he's not able to find all the fragments, which could cause infection if left in place. Max has to be evacuated to neutral Sweden so he can go to a hospital, and while he's away his best friend Greger is caught in an ambush and killed.
  • Subverted in Micmacs. During a gunfight, a bullet ricochets off the pavement and hits the protagonist in the head but does not kill him. At the hospital, the doctors decide it would be too dangerous to take it out, but the ammunition in it is still live and could go off at any time if he gets too upset. (It's a Jean-Pierre Jeunet movie. Don't think about it too hard.)
  • Murder at Yellowstone City: After Cicero stumbles into the church wounded and collapses, Thaddeus operates on him to extract the bullet.
  • In Prairie Fever, Preston gets shot in the back while getting the wagon with the women in away from outlaw brothers James and Earl. Olivia is (somehow) able to diagnose that they need to get the bullet out, and looks to the other women. Lettie and Blue shake their heads, but Abigale tentatively raises her hand and says that her aunt was a nurse and she once watched her remove a bullet.
  • In Romasanta: The Werewolf Hunt, Romasanta removes the Silver Bullet from Barbara's back after she takes a shot intended for him. Justified in that he has a good reason for not taking her to a doctor to get the wound treated.
  • Robert De Niro has a bullet removed from his body in Ronin (1998) while simultaneously instructing his buddies step-by-step on how to do the procedure. After the excruciating surgery, De Niro's character says "I think I'll pass out now" and does.
  • Justified in the Runaway where the Big Bad is armed with a Hand Cannon firing heat-seeking microshells. One of them ends up in a cop's arm but fails to explode, and the protagonist has to remove it for fear it will detonate before they get her to the hospital.
  • Seven Ways from Sundown: Flood thinks Seven's bullet is probably going to kill him just before he passes out. Seven removes the bullet while Flood is unconscious so he can bring Flood back alive.
  • Averted in Speed: early on Harry gets shot by the villain, and later mentions that the bullet is still inside him.
  • Parodied in Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby when the titular character stabs himself in the leg to prove that he's a paraplegic (even though he's really not; he only thinks he is)—and raises holy hell when it actually hurts. His idiot buddies then try to dig the knife out—with another knife.
  • Ryan uses a switchblade to extract a bullet from his torso at the end of the In Medias Res opening of Ten Dead Men.
  • In They Made Me a Fugitive, Clem gets shot by a farmer and is left with a painful collection of buckshot across his shoulder. When he finds Sally, she takes out the pieces even if she's constantly getting faint from the sight of blood.
  • In To Have And Have Not, a Living MacGuffin gets shot in the shoulder and the hero is called in to get the bullet out which he does.
  • At the start of Tumbleweed, Jim saves Tigre's life by using a knife to dig a bullet out of Tigre's chest.
  • In the Underworld (2003) series, Lycans have to dig out silver bullets and other silver weapons before they get fatally poisoned. They have a Healing Factor, and powerful Lycans can push the bullets out just by tensing their muscles. Also, in Underworld: Blood Wars, David gets shot with a bullet tipped with a spinning drill, so Selene has to pull it out because it is traveling through and damaging his body faster than his Healing Factor can fix.
  • Inverted in The World Is Not Enough, where leaving the bullet in results in superpowers. The Dragon, Renard, was shot in the head by MI6; the bullet didn't kill him, but it is slowly drifting towards his medulla oblongata which will eventually kill him. Unfortunately for Bond, this somehow causes him to feel no pain and become stronger.
  • Possibly averted in X-Men: First Class. After Charles is accidentally hit in the spine by a bullet deflected by Erik, Erik pulls the bullet out using his powers. It's entirely possible (even likely) that the act of pulling the bullet out is what makes Charles a paraplegic in the original trilogy.

  • Justified in the second book of the Apprentice Adept series: Red has shot Stile with a bullet that, in Proton, is a tracer for a bomb robot, and in Phaze is a basilisk amulet that will activate the second it gets to Phaze.
  • In Danny, the Champion of the World, a risk run by those who poach pheasants was to be "shot up" by the keepers, usually in the backside. Danny's father describes seeing his own father having pellets of shot dug out of his backside with a potato knife.
  • In Magehunter, the titular Magehunter's ally, Reinhardt, suffers a wound via silver bullet fired by a flintlock pistol, and he'll have to dig out the bullet with his fingers. However, said silver bullet ends up being useful because the Magehunter then uses it as a weapon against his enemy, Mencius the Mage (this time with a Boom, Headshot!).
  • Justified in The Martian. Mark Watney has been punctured by a length of antenna which, along with congealed blood, has mostly sealed his spacesuit against decompression. However when he regains consciousness, Watney has to remove the antenna to apply an emergency patch that will properly seal the spacesuit so he can make it back to the Habitat. In the movie he cuts off most of the antenna, but leaves the remainder in place until he makes it back to the Hab, then yanks out the rod and fishes inside himself with forceps for a nut that's been left in there. However as the nearest medical attention is millions of miles away, and he's got to engage in a lot of physical activity over the next few years, it's not as if he has any other choice.
  • Subverted in a story told to the Orkney children in The Once and Future King, in which a king has a bullet-like projectile hit him at the base of his skull while fighting in the war. It had to stay in there, because no doctor could remove it without killing him. Unfortunately, he wasn't left much better off, seeing as any serious rise in blood pressure could still kill him from the wound. He ends up dying when he hears that Jesus Christ had been crucified and he took his sword and ran from his home in fury to save his Savior, the anger causing his heart rate to spike enough to kill him.
  • In Ramage, the title character must find a doctor (in enemy-occupied Italy) to have a bullet removed from the beautiful Marchesa di Volterra, and trust the man not to give them away.
  • After meeting her, Black Tip helps Vickey from Run Wild remove "pellets" from her leg after hunters shoot at her.
  • The Saga of the Sworn Brothers (Flateyjárbok version only): After the Battle of Stiklestad, a healing-woman tries to pull out the arrow-head from Thormod's chest with a pair of tongs, but fails because the wound is swollen and the arrow has barbs, and so Thormod does it himself. He pulls out some of the "nerves of his heart" with it, "some of which were red and others white, yellow and green". Looking at the arrowhead, Thormod remarks that King Olaf has fed him well because there's fat in his body ("The roots of this man's heart are white"); moments later, he keels over dead. The procedure is justified insofar as the only reason for it seems to be that Thormod wants to give one more proof of his hardiness, as the saga asserts that he already knows he will die.
  • Temeraire: Military surgeons are often found cutting cannon or rifle shot out of dragons after battles, and the titular dragon voices his concern when he sees that another dragon healed over a piece of shot. Justified in that it causes a much higher risk of infection or abscess if the shot isn't removed, and these are lead bullets from muskets. Also, standard procedure is to cauterize the wound immediately after removing the shot.
  • Justified by the time period in Under A Painted Sky, when Sam takes a bullet out of an outlaw's leg. The book is set in 1849.
  • In The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax by Dorothy Gilman, Mrs. Pollifax (a little old lady spy) and a fellow agent called Farrell are captured by the enemy. Farrell is shot in the shoulder during an attempt to throw himself off a cliff to avoid questioning, and as his condition worsens, much is made of how the bullet must be removed before it kills him. As soon as this is done (not by a doctor, in the rather unsanitary environment of a prison cell), Farrell's health begins to improve.
  • Watership Down. After Hazel is wounded by a shotgun blast, the seagull Kehaar tells the rabbits they have to remove the "little black stones" for him to get better. He locates two shotgun pellets by smell and plucks them out before Hazel has time to flinch.
  • James Carlos Blake's Wildwood Boys - justified by time setting (ACW) and characters being bushwackers.
  • In Words of Radiance when Dalinar says if you have an arrow in you the best thing to do is to get it out in one pull and accept it's going to hurt, Kaladin, who trained as a surgeon, reflects that often the best thing to do is leave it in so it'll block the wound. He decides not to interrupt the meeting to correct his superior officer's metaphor, even if Dalinar has probably done this for real.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The A-Team. In the episode "Curtain Call", Murdock is shot and Hannibal takes the bullet out with a knife. Subverted, as Hannibal is not concerned about the bullet itself (he notes that bullets often sterilize themselves in the barrel) but about the pieces of cloth that it took with it. However, it is still portrayed as a dangerous operation.
  • Band of Brothers: Bull Randleman has to have a Dutch farmer do this to him after he is wounded and stuck behind enemy lines. Technically not a bullet (it was shrapnel from an exploding British tank), but the concept remains the same.
  • The Bionic Woman remake justifies this: Jaime's nanomachine-based Healing Factor isn't programmed to handle the situation, and it's actually pushing the bullet deeper inside her.
  • Black Mirror. In "Metalhead", the protagonist is being hunted by an implacable killer Robot Dog, and has to cut out a piece of shrapnel containing a Tracking Device using a knife and pliers. She's able to destroy the Dog, but not before it detonates another shrapnel bomb peppering her body with similar trackers, one of them next to her carotid artery. Realising she can't cut them out without fatal injury, she uses the knife to commit suicide rather than wait for other Dogs to arrive.
  • Blue Bloods: Averted when Linda is shot: the hospital leaves the bullet in because it lodged close to her spine, making removal dicey.
  • Subverted in Boston Legal. A man is shot while robbing a convenience store, and a man who later appeared at a hospital with a bullet wound in the same area is arrested and the police try to get the bullet out to see if it's a match for the one in the store owner's gun. He successfully takes them to court to allow him to leave the bullet in. He is later given the card for an under the radar option to get the bullet out.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
    • In "The I in Team," Spike is shot with a tracer, apparently deeply embedded, and it has to be removed quickly by the team. Justified because a tracer isn't a proper bullet and Spike is a vampire, without the same medical concerns as a human.
    • In the episode "Villains," Willow magics out the bullet that hit Buffy, but it's OK because she witch-fus all of her wounds closed at the same time.
  • Burn Notice does this all the time. Whenever someone is shot on that show, it is always treated as a priority to get the bullet out, and it is also assumed that doing so will save the person, often all by itself. The finale to season six contained a notable example.
  • In Castle, Castle becomes an impromptu bullet-remover for his own father, because going to the hospital would compromise his mission.
  • CSI:
    • Averted with an attorney who was shot in the head. Her doctors had left the bullet in place for years due to its dangerous location near the basilar artery of her brain, but later needed to remove it because it had shifted position over time and was sure to become fatal soon. She tells Sara that she honestly doesn't expect to survive the operation. She lives through the surgery, but the belatedly-extracted bullet provides new clues that exposes her as a murderer.
    • Also averted in an episode guest starring Roger Daltrey. A mobster, long thought dead, decides to come back to take revenge on the thugs who tried to kill him after a mob doctor tells him that the bullet they put in him is pressing on an artery and will likely kill him within weeks, but cannot be removed without killing him due to its location. He explains this to Catherine while laying in a hospital bed after having a heart attack while in police custody... and then she shows him the bullet, saying that mob doctors become mob doctors "because they suck".
  • Averted variation on CSI: NY in "Officer Blue." Mac needs a bullet that had lodged inside a horse when a mounted officer was shot to death. Stella gives him a lot of grief for not insisting on that from the beginning of the case. He knows the retrieval surgery will likely kill the animal, so he manages to stall long enough that the horse does survive.
  • Earth 2: Justified in one episode when a character is shot with a high explosive bullet with a delayed fuse. The bullet needs to be removed from the victim before it can detonate, which will be lethal and messy.
  • The Fall: Both justified and averted in the same patient in the opening to series 3. In the course of an extensive operation to repair severe organ damage, the surgeons remove one bullet that happens to be close to the surface and easily reachable in passing, but leave another alone that's travelled deeper into the abdomen (destroying his Useless Spleen in the process). It's later shown in X-rays to have shattered, and the doctors predict the body will harmlessly encapsulate the fragments.
  • Firefly:
    • Simon removes a bullet from Kaylee's stomach wound during the pilot, but as part of a much longer surgical procedure that isn't shown on-screen and (most likely) involved a lot more than just pulling the bullet out.
    • Subverted in the final episode. Simon is shot in the leg, and doesn't have the bullet removed until the end of the episode, and with somewhat sophisticated imaging and removal tools to minimize damage.
    • In "Safe" Zoe removes a bullet from Book's shoulder (Simon is too busy being kidnapped at the moment), but that isn't the end of it. Zoe is not a trained surgeon, so while she can remove the bullet and bandage and clean the wound, the damage inflicted by the bullet would still eventually kill Book unless he got professional medical help.
  • In the Get Smart episode "Physician Impossible," a KAOS agent gets shot in the shoulder. His associates hatch a scheme to kidnap a doctor in order to remove the bullet.
  • In the first-season Harper's Island episode "Gasp," a physician directs his friend (and romantic rival) to remove a bullet from his shoulder. "You have to get the bullet out" he (incorrectly) insists.
  • Played with in Heroes Reborn, with Farah Nazan, Carlos, Micah and Jose when Farah is shot. Carlos, Jose, and Micah take her to the hospital, and try to help her. Jose manages to dig the bullets out of her stomach, except since he phases his hand into her chest, then phases the bullets out, it doesn't have the same medical implications as the other methods of bullet removal.
  • Averted in House when a police officer has fragments of a bullet lodged in his skull. The team desperately wants to do an MRI, and House shoots a corpse in the head to test if the metal bullet will interfere with an MRI. The bullet gets violently ripped out of the corpse's skull and breaks the MRI.
    • While most materials commonly used in munitions aren't ferromagnetic, Foreman specifically states that the particular bullet used was. More often than not, the actual type of bullet used isn't known, so they'd be gambling with his life. Also, House tends to play it fast and loose with MRI-related physics. While shifting, the bullet wouldn't likely have ripped out of the skull, but would slowly burn during the scanning process.
  • Averted in an episode of Kamen Rider OOO, of all places. After debris falls over the Monster of the Week's host and a shard of glass pierces through her waist, Akira correctly warns Gotou not to pull it out, since it's probably plugging in several blood vessels, stopping them from bleeding out. Turns out he used to be part of a team of doctors who travelled around the world aiding those in need.
  • Deconstructed in one Law & Order: Special Victims Unit episode, when a couple stumbles across a man trying to get into their car having mistaken it for his own due to intoxication and the effects of a knife in his groin. When he collapses they promptly call 911 (good), pull the knife out (bad), and stick the knife back in to try plugging the wound when he starts bleeding out (worse).
  • The Listener: Zig-Zagged in "Desperate Hours," in which Toby and Oz get kidnapped and forced to help a man who was shot. The kidnapper makes Toby perform surgery to remove the bullet, which he believes is the only way to save the man's life, despite the fact that Toby is a paramedic. Toby gets them to call Olivia, an actual surgeon, who advises that the safest way to handle the bullet wound is just to stitch it up and leave the bullet in. Then Toby finds the bullet lodged against an artery; removing it could either be necessary to save him or make things fatally worse. They end up removing the bullet to find little damage in the artery, meaning he's in the clear. He then goes into cardiac arrest and dies anyway.
  • In a season 2 episode of Lost, Sawyer digs a bullet out of his shoulder with his fingers. This one is justified in that a) this causes him more problems than it solves, including a nasty infection, and b) Sawyer isn't a doctor.
    • Dealt with a little better in two later episodes, where after the bullet is removed the hole is cleaned and stitched.
    • Which is surprising as in the pilot episode Jack explains that he won't remove a piece of shrapnel from a wounded man's abdomen because he expected a rescue party to show up soon and have him in a sterile environment when they do. As they are not rescued immediately, he removes it and tries to keep the resulting infection at bay with the rather weak antibiotics he can scrounge up. It doesn't work.
  • Lucifer (2016): When Linda is coaching Maze over the phone on how to fix a gunshot wound, her first piece of advice is to check if the bullet is still in there (which Maze does by sticking her hand into the wound), and then says she needs to get the bullet out. In Linda's defense, she's a psychiatrist, not a medical doctor.
  • Marvel's Netflix franchises:
    • Defied in Daredevil (2015). After Vladimir gets shot by Wilson Fisk's corrupt cops, Matt Murdock is left receiving advice from Claire Temple on how to cauterize the wound. He assumes he needs to remove the bullet, but Claire bluntly informs him that having an untrained medic (and a blind one at that) rooting around will cause far more damage than just leaving the bullet in. Matt is forced to cauterize the wound with a road flare, which inadvertently draws a passing police officer to the scene and makes a mess in a whole different sense.
    • Done twice by Claire in Luke Cage (2016). First, she does it on Rafael Scarfe after he gets shot by Cottonmouth. Later, she tries to do it on Luke after he gets shot by Diamondback with a Judas bullet, but with little success. She's forced to take Luke to the doctor who oversaw the original experiment that gave Luke his abilities to give Luke an acid bath.
    • The Punisher (2017):
      • After the torture and execution of Ahmed Zubair, Frank Castle removes the bullet he just put in Zubair's head, which greatly unsettles Gunner Henderson, the Marine who's helping him bury the body in an unmarked grave. This foreshadows that Gunner was the leaker who filmed the Zubair execution.
      • When Frank tracks down Gunner upon realizing he's the one who filmed the tape, he gets a arrow to the right shoulder from Gunner (not realising who Castle is). The wound gradually becomes infected with bacteria, so when Frank and David get back to New York, David has to bring Curtis Hoyle in to get the arrowhead out, which is a very painful experience. David has cleaned the wound as best he can, and been giving Frank the correct treatment of fluids and antibiotics, but the wound has become septic due to a foreign object (the arrow) being covered in bacteria.
      • Billy Russo gets shot in the right arm by a DHS agent as he's fleeing Micro's base. In the start of the next episode, he's extracting the bullet himself prior to killing a bunch of DHS agents sent to apprehend him at his apartment.
  • Justified in an episode of M*A*S*H, where the 4077th gets a patient that has a live grenade in him.
  • An episode of New Amsterdam (2008) has John help an old colleague who is dying of lead poisoning from a bullet that was never extracted.
  • Doctors on NY Med told a shooting victim's mother that they would leave the bullet in her son, as it had lodged itself in his calf and would do no further damage. The mother, believing in this trope, immediately put up a fuss.
  • The Orville: In the episode "If The Stars Should Appear", Alara takes three bullets to the chest. Fortunately, 25th-century medical technology combined with Alara's naturally resilient Xelayan physiology allow Dr. Finn to quickly remove the bullets and seal the wounds, and Alara is soon back on her feet.
  • Quincy: Quincy is shot in one episode by a murderer attempting to cover up his crime. They initially don't operate due to the danger of causing more damage, but then do remove the bullet due to a suspicion that the round is shifting in the wound and might cause a major hemorrhage. They turn out to be right, and it saves Quincy's life.
  • In the Smallville episode "Extinction", Clark Kent is shot with a kryptonite bullet, so his parents have to get it out before the kryptonite kills him. As soon as they get it out and take the bullet a safe distance away, his wound heals up.
  • In Sons of Anarchy season 1, a very unfortunate Irishman gets shot in the buttocks. Since he's a wanted criminal in most parts of the world, they cannot take him to the hospital, so they take him to the Sons' clubhouse and instantly start digging up the bullet with the help of pliers and whiskey. This goes just as well as you'd expect, and once they get the bullet out, he starts gushing blood all over the place.
  • Subverted on Star Trek: Enterprise when Malcolm Reed is shot with a projectile gun on an alien planet and ends up with a bullet in his leg. Dr. Phlox administers basic first aid, but doesn't try removing the bullet until they're back on Enterprise.
  • A justified example in the Supergirl (2015) episode "The Darkest Place": Mon-El has been shot with a basic lead bullet, but he's lethally allergic to lead, so the bullet has to be removed before it kills him.
  • Supernatural:
    • In the episode "Death's Door", Sam and Dean take the fact that the hospital staff was not rushing to remove the bullet as confirmation that said staff had given up hope of saving the victim Bobby Singer. Also, the Reaper that comes for Bobby tells him that the bullet in his head is killing his brain.
    • Played straight in "Born Under A Bad Sign" where Jo digs a bullet out of Dean's shoulder so he does not need to seek further medical attention.
    • In an unusual variation, Castiel has to dig a bullet out of his stomach not because it's necessarily killing him, but because the bullet was cast out of an angel blade and it's the only weapon he has on hand to take out the angel guarding him (by shoving it through the guy's eye). It's implied he could bleed out over time, but he's likely more concerned with escape when he removes it.
  • Averted in The Tick (2016), a back alley doctor is shown trying to remove a bullet from a criminal when Dottie, an EMT and a med student, shows up and tells him to stop. She explains you just repair the damage as she stitches the wound closed.
  • In Underbelly, Johnny Ibrahim's mates take him to a vet to have a bullet removed, as the corrupt police officers have declared that there are to be no shootings in King's Cross, and a hospital would have to report the shooting to the police. Then they take him to a hospital.
  • In The Walking Dead Herschel Greene insists they have to get the bullet out of Carl, who has been accidentally shot.

  • Done in the fourth season of The Magnus Archives, when Jon and Basira perform hasty surgery to remove a bullet from Melanie's leg. Justified in this case, because although the bullet had been in there for months without physical complications, it's a cursed bullet, and has to be removed to halt Melanie's transformation into a hyper violent avatar of the Slaughter.

    Video Games 
  • Ace Attorney:
    • Played straight in Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney's second case. Wocky Kitalki got shot in the chest and barely survived. His physician (the case's victim) failed to remove the bullet, but lied to the Kitalkis that he did. When Apollo later takes Wocky's X-Rays to someone with the medical knowledge to properly interpret them, the doctor notes that the bullet is in an extremely precarious position close to the aorta (he estimates Wocky had sixth months to live since the X-ray was taken- and it was taken 6 months ago), and it could move at any time and kill Wocky for good, so it does need to be removed, but the operation would take a world-class surgeon. This is essential to puzzling out the killer's motive. She was a nurse working with Wocky's surgeon Pal Meraktis, and helped him cover up the fact that Wocky needed another surgery that Dr. Meraktis couldn't provide. Meraktis tried to kill her to prevent Wocky from finding out, but that failed and she killed him and framed Wocky for it.
    • Averted in the first game: Manfred von Karma had a bullet lodged in their shoulder for 15 years. It's incriminating evidence, but they didn't remove it because doing so safely would require a surgery, leaving a medical record. The injury still seems to occasionally bother them, as whenever they're stressed they clutch at the affected shoulder.
  • In Fallout 2, Marcus the Mutant carries a substantial amount of munitions in his hide. If you bring him to the leading doctor in Vault City (which requires substantial authority, as mutants are usually not allowed inside), the doctor will dig out several dozen rounds (fully reusable) of various ammunition and an undetonated frag grenade. The doctor mentions that Marcus was in a very real risk of suffering fatal lead poisoning.
  • In Far Cry 2, when a player's health drops to a critical level they must perform emergency first aid before they bleed out by, of all things, ripping/cutting bullets out of their body with pliers or a knife, accompanied by a blood spurt. Then again, another healing animation involves resetting the ulna bone that is poking out of the elbow socket, so it's not like this game can really double as a trauma surgeon simulation. Far Cry 3 and Far Cry 4 take it even farther, as Jason and Ajay can be seen prying bullets out of their skin with dirty sticks or their own teeth.
  • In Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, Snake is able to dig out bullets, arrows and various other projectiles from his body with his knife. Doing this ingame will cause the wounds to heal faster, but leaving them over time will cause the wounds to naturally heal around them, leaving the projectile in the for remainder of the game.
  • Ubersoldier II have the cutscene after the T9 facility's destruction, where your partner Maria digs out the bullets in you while listening to a briefing. Being an Ubersoldier, you don't even flinch.
  • The Walking Dead (Telltale):

  • In Cuanta Vida, Scout is shot in the arm. He doesn't want to go to the Medic, so Pyro removes it for him. Possibly justified as Pyro (probably) isn't a doctor, and might not know any better.
  • Possibly justified in FreakAngels, as apparently the bullet remaining in the wound screws up their Healing Factor somehow or other, and in any case the two individuals we see getting shot are neither in the presence of The Medic or especially well-equipped with brains.
  • In Last Res0rt, Scout Arael in her civilian wear removes a sniper's bullet from Jigsaw's chest — it may be justified not only because we don't know if it's some kind of futuristic bullet, but also in that Jigsaw is a vampire — so it's possible she was "staked" by the bullet, requiring its removal.
  • Subverted and lampshaded in Zombie Ranch; you think this is what Chuck is going to do when he's operating on Brett's shoulder. Instead, he just yanks a piece of Brett's shirt out of the wound.
    Chuck: "Take that bullet out, are you crazy? Guess it goes without sayin', folks watch way too much T.V."

    Web Originals 
  • The Salvation War has a scene where the angel Michel is demanding a bullet be taken out of him. Justified since angels have healing powers that have already healed over the bullet wound and that said bullet was an iron round that was burning inside of him.
  • In Twig, Jamie removes a bullet from Sylvester after the latter is shot, duplicating battlefield surgery using a Photographic Memory rather than acting on any foundational medical knowledge.
  • We're Alive features this when Saul is shot and the bullet is removed without proper tools, antiseptics, or morphine. Plus the only one actually trained to perform the operation is Saul himself.

    Western Animation 
  • Subverted in Archer. Archer gets shot twice by border patrol and is taken to a veterinarian in lieu of a doctor, who removes the bullets and sets Archer up on an IV... only to tell him that the operation "probably did more harm than good" and that he should see a real doctor as quickly as possible.
  • In the final episode of Part 2 of Disenchantment, Princess Bean uses a knife to remove a bullet from her father, Zog, because she believes the risk of infection is just too dangerous, along with Dreamland's backwards methods of healthcare, such as letting freshly shampooed rats swarm around Zog in hopes a rat's natural attraction to filth and disease will draw the sickness out. Problem is, she's doing that after she's escaped from the dungeon while her brother, King Derek, was mulling over the verdict of Bean's attempted murder trial for accidentally shooting King Zog in the previous episode. Unfortunately, Derek steps into the room while Bean is still holding a bloody knife over a barely conscious Zog. Derek immediately announces "GUILTY!"
  • Justice League Unlimited, "To Another Shore": Devil Ray shoots a poison dart into Wonder Woman's shoulder, and Agent Farady pulls it out to prevent any more poison from seeping in. The dart has a barb, so he recommends she finds "a bullet to bite" - they're in a firefight, so there's plenty lying around.
  • In The Simpsons episode "Simple Simpson", after Homer (as the Pie Man) gets shot in the arm, Lisa later finds him in the kitchen digging the bullet out of his arm with a butcher knife, while naming the things the knife is touching (including "vein", "NERVE!" and "bone").
  • Played with in The Venture Bros. When Phantom Limb rescues Brock Samson, he gives the following comment:
    Phantom Limb: No, don't get up. You've been shot. Sadly, it wasn't fatal. I've removed the bullet and three others, a blowgun dart, two sharks teeth, the tip of a bayonet, a twisted paper clip and a meager handful of buckshot. You may want to learn to duck.

    Real Life 
  • In general, sometimes you have to remove the bullet, and sometimes you don't. Many times it's a "wait and see" approach, allowing time to see if the foreign object is still causing bad things to happen.
    • If there are no more ill effects, you might as well leave the bullet in. There's a famous case of an elderly British man who went to the doctor complaining of dizziness, only for an X-ray of his head to reveal a bullet lodged at the base of his skull — he surmised that it must have dated back to World War II, and the doctors figured that if he hadn't even noticed it before, it can't be doing much harm and it would be better to leave it alone. Sometimes, it's just safer to wait until after the immediate trauma has healed to attempt removal even if it's otherwise necessary.
    • On the other hand, if the bullet is lodged against a vital organ or blood vessel, it's usually better to try to remove it before it shifts in a way that does cause harm later on. Bottom line — that's why they pay doctors so much. If the foreign object is an explosive, it's also a case of immediate removal — it's been known to happen for people to pop up in an emergency room or field hospital with a live grenade embedded somewhere not immediately lethal, and in those cases you need not just a surgeon but a damn bomb squad.
  • This features in the cases of several United States presidents, who have sadly had a historical tendency to get shot at:
    • Andrew Jackson was considered weird for not doing this — he was described as having so many bullets in him that he rattled when he walked. Not that he didn't want to remove them — he had one bullet that was causing him chronic pain, but his surgeons didn't want to remove it for fear of causing more damage, and after 19 years he had to beg his doctors to remove it. Another anecdote has him being so bored during one Cabinet meeting that he pulled a knife and spent the meeting digging an old bullet out of his arm, then gave it to his secretary to mail it to his shooter.
    • James Garfield was probably killed by this line of thought. When he was shot, his doctors probed for the bullet with dirty instruments, and didn't even come close to finding it. Notably, Alexander Graham Bell used an early example of a metal detector he had developed, called an induction balance device and based on his telephone in an attempt to locate the bullet, which might have worked had the staff not laid him on a fancy new coil-spring mattress. Doctors feared the bullet had punctured his intestines, so they decided to administer food and whiskey rectally, which led to Garfield having lost 100 pounds from starvation by the time he died. Garfield's assassin Charles Guiteau famously insisted that "the doctors killed Garfield; I just shot him," and (unsuccessfully) defended himself at trial with that argument.
    • William McKinley's doctors elected to remove only of two bullets, fearing they would do more harm than good. They had the right idea, but he inevitably died of gangrene anyway, because the shot had punctured his intestines and antibiotics had not yet been discovered.
    • Theodore Roosevelt got shot but refused to have the bullet removed, and thus survived. There were several factors in his decision — one being that he was aware of what happened to Garfield and McKinley, one being that he was giving a speech when he was shot and the bullet was significantly slowed down by thick stack of notes and a glasses case in his pocket, and one being that he was giving a speech and wanted to finish it, declining medical attention until after he was done speaking. As they say, the bullet was too afraid of Roosevelt to kill him.
    • Ronald Reagan proved to be an unusual case in that the doctors didn't really want to get the bullet out — Reagan was an old man who couldn't handle the procedure very well — but they were more afraid of the news media lambasting them for leaving a bullet inside the President. They probed for the bullet, which turned out to be a very good decision in hindsight, because the bullet stopped less than an inch from his heart and was an explosive one that had failed to detonate, so this was one of the few situations when they really did Have to Get the Bullet Out.
  • When Wild Bill Hickok was murdered in 1876, the bullet passed through his head and lodged in the wrist of another man at the table, riverboat captain William Massie. Massie left the bullet there the rest of his life, and apparently reveled in the fact that he had the bullet that killed Wild Bill in his arm.
  • Steve Irwin reportedly pulled out the stingray barb that had punctured his heart. Some speculate that he may have survived to get medical help if it had been left in place.
  • The geographical version of this trope is unexploded ordnance, usually left over from a past war. It's definitely better to remove it, but it might be too dangerous, too expensive, or otherwise too difficult to access; in some cases it's considered safer to intentionally set them off (surrounded by sandbags and with everybody in the immediate area evacuated) rather than try to remove the unstable munition and have it go off during transport. Especially in the third world, the only way to find certain old mines is for a poor civilian or farm animal to unwittingly step on it. Europe has old mines and unexploded shells dating back to World War I littering its fields, but those had such shoddy quality control that farmers have had more than a century's experience in digging them up themselves, in tradition called the "Iron Harvest". In the States, some of it dates back to The American Civil War. A few old battlefields remain fenced off entirely because of the prevalence of old mines, among the most prominent being the grounds of the Vimy Ridge War Memorial (still littered with craters from the shells that did explode). It even happens underwater, as in the famous case of a sunken World War II ship in the Thames Estuary with a cargo of explosives considered too dangerous to disturb. The trickiest versions are bombs discovered in urban areas (more common from World War II, given the prominence of aerial bombardment in that war), which can result in the evacuations of whole neighbourhoods; the town of Oranienburg north of Berlin was so heavily carpet-bombed that, because the East German government was too cheap to actually conduct a proper search and get rid of them all at once, this kind of thing happened about a dozen times a year for decades.


Video Example(s):


Gouge Out the Arrow

High Elf Archer takes a hit and requires some impromptu surgery before healing magic can be applied.

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Main / WeHaveToGetTheBulletOut

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