Why Removing the Bullet Is Often a Bad Idea in an Emergency

In Hollywood, when a hero is shot, the media and fans alike focus obsessively on the bullet. It’s their main preoccupation. Where everything becomes A-OK once it’s out.

In the real world, forget about it. The bullet has already caused damage. It’s true that leaving it in might raise the risk of infection, but poking around in there might do more damage and likely you will not be able to get it out.

The Most Typical Mistakes When it comes to Removing the Bullet

The following are the most common issues you’ll encounter from a gunshot wound and if you try and remove it:

  • You won’t be sure where exactly the bullet entered, at what angle or how deep it went, making it difficult to know precisely where it is.
  • If you poke at it trying to find out where it is, it will go deeper
  • If it slides out of grasp, it will go deeper making it that much harder to get.
  • If a bullet has damaged a blood vessel, removing it will not help the blood vessel and poking may make the situation worse.
  • If the bullet has gone beyond the flesh and into the abdomen, chest, or head after passing through the flesh, you can’t remove it.

Despite what you may think, you can not only survive but heal and live a healthy life with a bullet, shards, or piece of shrapnel lodged inside your body.


It’s Just a Flesh Wound

Another Hollywood blunder. After the hero is hit in the shoulder, everyone sighs with relief. It’s just a minor flesh wound.

However, there are numerous blood vessels in the neck and around the collarbone. If they aren’t damaged, great. But if they are injured, it’s serious business. This type of bleeding can be life-threatening.

In any type of emergency survival scenario where immediate medical assistance is not available, the absence of expert assistance means you are really left with very troubling situation.

The only thing you can do is apply direct pressure to try to stop the bleeding.

If you have something like QuikClot or Celox then that will help stop the flow, though they are not effective if blood is flowing rapidly, so you must put pressure first to reduce the flow of blood, then you can use QuikClot.

Don’t go digging for the bullet. You will only make the situation worse.


  1. https://myhealth.alberta.ca/Health/aftercareinformation/pages/conditions.aspx?hwid=abs7007
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26815824/
  3. Simon BC, Hern HG. Wound management principles. In: Walls RM, Hockberger RS, Gausche-Hill M, eds. Rosen’s Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 52.
  4. Zych GA, Kalandiak SP, Owens PW, Blease R. Gunshot wounds and blast injuries. In: Browner BD, Jupiter JB, Krettek C, Anderson PA, eds. Skeletal Trauma: Basic Science, Management, and Reconstruction. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 20.

Photo by Jay Rembert on Unsplash

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