Friday, August 26, 2011

"Blow up your dome-piece..."

Unc links to a tale of an elderly couple who botched a suicide pact that involved shooting themselves in the grape. Apparently whatever they used caused little enough damage that they drove themselves to the hospital.

Regardless of what the caliber actually was (my guess would be a .32 of some sort), allow me to expand on the whole "shot in the grape" thing.

A generation of people raised on the TeeVee and vidjo games hears "headshot" and thinks "FATALITY!" with some kind of special animation as your score rolls up. In reality:
  1. The brain only takes up about half of your head. The rest of it can make for messy-but-not-particularly-incapacitating wounds.
  2. The skull is shaped to protect the brain.
  3. Pistol bullets are weak. Even the strong ones.
  4. Most inexpensive pistol bullets have a round nose. The part of the skull that is full of brain is also round. Anybody who has spent thirty seconds at a billiards table knows what most often happens when two rounded surfaces come into contact.
  5. Even if a shot hits right in the face, which is not notably round, there is so much spongy bone before you get to the part where the important stuff is that even major-caliber pistol bullets probably won't reach it.
  6. And if the hit is too high above the eyebrows, that pistol bullet will likely make like the aforementioned billiard balls.
Ergo, "shot in the head" doesn't necessarily mean what the general public thinks it means. There is at least one Vietnam-era helicopter pilot who has a hole from a DShK bullet in either side of his flight helmet. (Which must make for the mother of all souvenirs...)


Bubblehead Les. said...

So, procedure for Zombies is now TWO in the Head? Okey Dokey.

Kevin said...

I'm reminded of the TV reporterette who committed suicide on camera. It appears she got her editor to let her do extensive research into the topic as a story idea so that when she did it on stage she wouldn't screw it up.

.38 round through the medulla oblongata. It's apparently what a doctor told her would be absolutely unsurvivable. It still took her 14 hours to expire.

Chas S. Clifton said...

A .38 semi-wadcutter to the temple works fine. Don't ask me how I know.

BobG said...

I knew a guy who was shot through the head in Vietnam. Didn't effect his memory or intelligence. Not enough sawdust leaked out, I guess.

Tam said...

Chas S. Clifton,

"A .38 semi-wadcutter to the temple works fine. Don't ask me how I know."

I know one person who attempted suicide that way when he was a teenager and only managed to blind himself by severing his optic nerves. (Unusually, he went on to become a 2A activist. He has a CCW, too...)

Art said...

Former 91Charley, WRAMC; at one time or another on my ward,
'Nam Vet caught ak47 round to temple, somehow survived.
Sergeant despondent over wifeys infidelity decides to end it all with m16 under chin, succeeds in only blowing off lower half of face.

Murphy is on duty at all times folks.

Anonymous said...

As a paramedic in the late 1970's I responded to a shooting at an all-night grocery store. Low life pulled a pistol on the clerk and told her this was a robbery. The fellow behind him in line (an off-duty LA County Sheriff)said, "No, its not" and shot LL in the noggin. On arrival we found a fellow sitting on the floor, shocked look on face, feeling his wounds which consisted of a neat hole on one side of his head with surrounding stippling and an equally neat hole on the opposite side sans the powder burns. Further investigation revealed a line of bruising traveling around the posterior of the scalp from one wound to the other, defining the circuitous route of the offending projectile. Speaking of the offending projectile, it had landed on the grocery bagging area pretty much intact.

Bram said...

They made a suicide pact due to "because of financial hardships".

After they get the ambulance and hospital bills, they will be looking for better ways or bigger calibers.

Anonymous said...

"A generation of people raised on the TeeVee and vidjo games hears "headshot" and thinks "FATALITY!"

Those things should actually be called face shots. In Cirillo's book, he details one of those in which the perp ended up blowing the bullet out through his nose while complaining of a headache.

If by some chance, the bullet does penetrate to the brain, you get what John Farnam calls "a perfect husband".

The only target in the noggin' that counts is the brain stem and it's hellish hard to get at. From the front you tend to have to go through the sinuses and they are effectively layered armor.

Face shots may help convince a bad guy to give up but at the very least, we get a chance to maneuver to a better tactical position.


jason said...

It's been said before, but I guessit bears repeating: Sucking chest-wounds = nature's way of telling you to slow down.

Tam said...


"In Cirillo's book, he details one of those in which the perp ended up blowing the bullet out through his nose while complaining of a headache."

And the dude in question had not one but two revolvers full of LRN .38 Special emptied into his noggin from powder-burn range...

Cargosquid said...

Two words.

Congresswoman Giffords.

Oh, and these two guys:


A brave British soldier who was shot in the face by the Taliban spat out the bullet - then walked nearly two miles for treatment before being rushed home for an emergency operation.

Goober said...

Pistol bullets are weak. Even the strong ones.

Interesting point made here, Tam, which I agree with. I've always had a beef with the movies in that they always show pistols doing damage that you couldn't reliably get with a .338 magnum at the same ranges (In Die Hard when Hans shoots Mr. Takinawa with his little .32 for instance...). A 9mm, arguably one of the most popular pistol rounds, has only, at best, less than 500 ft. lbs of muzzle energy. That isn't much more than a good punch.

My other beef is the sounds that they play for gunshots in the movies. I'm not sure that they could possibly get anymore unrealistic, and yet the movie industry almost seems to have a universal agreement to use the same stupid noise tracks for gunshots in every movie.

I remember the stark difference between the Band Of Brothers and Saving Private Ryan, for instance, where the M1 Garand in BOB sounds like a 22 going off half the time (They're getting the mechanical sound of the M1 right, but forgetting that you rarely actually hear it because the report is so loud). IN SPR, the scene I remember was the echoing of the very loud shots in the half-track scene. it was the first time I ever watched a movie and thougt - YEAH! That's actually kind of what it sounds like!

Mr Evilwrench said...

Ya gotta swallow it, man. Goes straight to the brain stem and there's not much in the way.

Anonymous said...

"And the dude in question had not one but two revolvers full of LRN .38 Special emptied into his noggin from powder-burn range..."

I think I shouldn't laugh whenever I reread that story but I can't quite help it.

Cirillo's book (like Bill Jordan's)is a lot more full of really valuable information than it seems after the first read.


Rabbit said...

Had a guy come into the ER one night; .32 ACP RN to the forehead with powder burns, conscious, drunk, combative. Found the bullet on the occipital bone almost 180 degrees from entry wound under the skin. ER doc made a small skin incision, removed bullet for the cops, swabbed the wound channel with iodine swab and admitted him for 23hour observation/hold.

Lots of blood, but fairly straightforward after the xrays came back.

Firehand said...

Used to know a guy who worked through college pulling late shifts in the ER. Had an ambulance pull in one night with two passengers: one passed out from drink, and his slightly less-drunk friend who had a big chef's knife driven straight down through the top of his head. Still conscious, just felt an ache. The knife had gone between the hemispheres and done remarkably little damage. After the exam they let him go to sleep until a surgeon could get in to set up for taking it out.

Happy ending, until his friend- dumped in the other bed in the room- woke up, saw his friend, thought "What did I do?!?" and tried to take the knife out...

Wolfman said...

Worked with a guy once that tried it with a .30-06 under the chin. Lost most of his jaw, upper palate, and a chunk of his sinuses. As far as I am aware, no brain damage.

Anonymous said...

R. Budd Dwyer did it right. In the mouth with a .357 Magnum. He got some pretty dramatic results.

Hemingway got even more dramtic results.

Stephen said...

If the time ever arrives I shall limit my options to Hemingway's out.

David said...

A couple decades ago a guy walked into a crowded bar in Denver, CO. Pulled out a 22 revolver and put six rounds into the head of a patron sitting on a stool at the bar. After a few seconds of confusion the badly bleeding patron got up off the floor, grabbed his bar stool and proceeded to beat on his assailant until the other patrons stopped him. All six rounds failed to penetrate his skull. A couple did the penetrate the skin, slide around the skull and create an exit wound somewhere else.

The targeted patron was in the hospital overnight and had several holes in his head stiched up. The assailant spent over a week in the hospital recovering from his injuries.

Apparently, the assailant had decided that the patron was having an affair with his wife. Turns out the patron did not know either the assailant, or his wife.

Anonymous said...

Goober asked if movie sounds could get less realistic. He should go check out older stuff (The Longest Day, e.g.); they made subguns sound like scifi laser guns. Pew pew!

Doc Merlin said...

So, the next handgun I buy should be 5.56 Nato?

Keith said...

I forget whether he was a Rigby or a Gibbs

A German 7.92 by 57 spitzer ran over the top of his skull under the skin during WWi.

When he returned to the family business, he dropped all pointed bullet loads from their line.

I've seen the scar left by a .22LR which ran up the bridge of a guy's nose and exited from the middle of his forehead. Either the alcohol he'd consumed or the impact knocked him out for the night.

FxR said...

I had an ex-GF who was doing a ride-along on FDNY ambulances for her EMT Certs. They got a call for an "obvious death". Which is what happens when you suck on the business end of a 12 gauge.
She told me she had to spend 15 mins digging brain matter out of her boot treads.

Oh, and not to be a nitpicker, but Hans used a H&K P7M13 in Die Hard.

og said...

You can still put your hands on tetraethyl lead.

Tam said...


"Which is what happens when you suck on the business end of a 12 gauge."

Unless you do it wrong and live to sue Ozzy.

Rabbit said...

Yeah, tetraethyl lead is nasty, but quite effective.

Ambulance Driver said...

Last year about this time, 65 year old suicidal guy is discharged from the psych ward because he's all better.

Except the wasn't.

He went home, got his S&W Model 10, and drove out to a country road, put the barrel under his chin, and fired a lead round nose bullet into his brain. When he discovered, much to his chagrin, that he couldn't hear any harp music, he cocked it and fired again. That bullet wound up smack in the middle of his brain, about an inch from the first.

Still no-joy on the angels and Heavenly choir.

So, despondent and no doubt suffering from the loss of self esteem that comes from knowing that you even suck at killing yourself, our patient climbs out of the truck, sits on the ground in front of the bumper, and waits to bleed to death.

We found him that way, still very much alive, and able to mumble around his broken upper dentures, "I ain't going to no f*cking hospital. I know my rights."

I gently explained to him that I had two 158 grain reasons that said he doesn't get to make his own decisions any more, and I took him to the hospital. He was doing so well at clearing his own airway from the blood accumulating there, that I didn't even see the need to intubate him.

He was still alive 5 hours later, albeit sedated and chemically paralyzed, when I picked him up to take him to a bigger hospital 200 miles away. As far as I know, he's still alive today.

So yeah, not only were two bullets in the brain not immediately fatal, they wouldn't have even taken him out of the fight.

Darrell said...

This reminds me--COM vs. headshot, both might kill you, but somebody shooting you in the head seems more...personal. Does that make sense? Like it's an assault on the consciousness, ya know? I mean, yeah, dead is dead, but the headshot seems like an intentional insult. :S

Tam said...


Twice?!? Ouch! Now he's got all the same problems he had before AND a pair of gunshot wounds to the noggin.

See? That's why I've told people that if I'm ever found dead of a "self-inflicted gunshot wound" that isn't caused by suck-starting a rifle firing a high-velocity expanding rifle bullet 6mm or larger, I don't care how convincing the "suicide note" seems; y'all get the homicide investigation rolling tout de suite.

Justthisguy said...

My Uncle Wilson used the Hemingway method. It was immediately and completely effective. The splatter did mess with the minds of the wife and kids. That may be why his son, my favorite cousin, used CO. (car in closed garage)

WV: nosum. Opposite of Yes'm.

Justthisguy said...

If I ever do it, I think a small closet, a big bottle of compressed nitrogen, and some duct tape for the door is the only way to go. Nitrogen is heavier than oxygen, right? (gotta know whether to leave top or bottom of door untaped)

Go out Happy, with Hypoxia!

staghounds said...

Alright, I personally dealt with what I believe is the mother of all these shot in the haid cases.

But first, a caution. Worked what looked like a homicide. Actually the man has shot himself in the temple with a .38 Colt Police Positive in .38 S&W.

The bullet severed his optic nerve, and the pain must have been awful. Didn't kill him, though.

We thought it was a homicide because he literally beat- well, more like ground- himself to death against the brick and stone walls of the cellar he had chosen as a place to die.

Hemingway for me.

The mother of all stories?
Vietnam veteran #1 and Vietnam vet #2. Both had been truck mechanics or something, had not served together but chose their VN veteran status to define their lives. Both in their 40s, both ordinary in size, health, and shape.

One night, #1 got angry at #2 for his actions with the woman they sort of serially shared. So he picked up the pistol...

All this happened in a 15 foot maximum range.

The two were facing each other. #1 shot at #2, who heard a cry behind him.

Where the woman had been standing and was now lying. The bullet hit her exactly between the eyes.

Up under the scalp, out the back, through and through the drywall, the center of a 2x4 wall stud longways, the siding, and onward to who knows where.

She was knocked unconscious. #2 carried her to their van (you knew it was a van, right?), drove her to the hospital and carried her into the ER.

Where the nurses surprised him by pointing out that he had the EXACT SAME INJURY.

Yep- There was powder stippling. The bullet hit exactly between his eyes, too.

Travelled up, under the scalp and out the back before it x-ringed the woman. He never even noticed.

Oddly enough, his body was devoid of alcohol or drugs. Cold sober.

It gets better- on trial day, #2 refused to testify. "We're brothers, man!"

EVEN better. Turns out that #2 had actually been shot in the face before, about two years before. Twice, a .22 rifle. Once in the cheek, once in the chin. From head on.


As I told him, "Fourth time he shoots you in the face, he might get lucky."

Oh- the gun? A 6 inch S&W .357 N frame loaded with Speer Lawman 125 grain +P .357. Back before Gold Dot, when it was the premium stopper ammunition. I actually took the gun and the rest of the ammunition to the range and chronographed it. Full power loads, worked fine. Punched through 2 refill type propane tanks, too.

I swear to Edward Blackstone, W. J. Whiting, and Christian Louboutin this is the absolute truth. I saw it with my own eyes.

Justthisguy said...

Alice Sheldon (James Tiptree) managed it with both her husband and herself. Which reminds me, she wasn't on the SF list, and should have been.

WV: syngl. Well, yes, how could you tell?

Justthisguy said...

Stag, now I see why people like to have large magazines for their pieces, and many of them. If you make enough holes, eventually all of the blood will run out. Caesar took a lot of sticking before he fell over.

WV: honst. Honest! Google is messing with my mind.

Cormac said...

I don't understand suicide...never have, never will...

That being said, if I was going to, I imagine I would just go skydiving and not pull the cord. Free-falling is awesome!!

Also, I remember seeing on the "Fight Club" (yeah, I know, It's a moovee) that they had consulted a doctor for the suicide attempt...doc told them the round could ricochet off the jaw, leaving a massive gash on the side of the jawline/neck to match the bloody and broken mess inside on your chow-hinge.

I wonder how effective a frangible round to the head would be...could it penetrate the skull? Because I imagine the damage caused by those little pellets would be pretty severe.

Michael said...

My gun smith and friend was shot in the head with a .22 and he drove himself home.

Darren Duvall said...

Some places don't tolerate penetration well. The posterior fossa, for example. People aim too high, you hit them at or below the ear but above the cervical spine and all of that is prime real estate. None of this piano lessons and memory of Aunt Gracie crap up in the cerebrum, all there is in the posterior fossa is the cerebellum and the brainstem. You can't breathe or move without a brainstem, and while you can pull a trigger without a cerebellum, you can't aim at all, fine motor goes out the window on the same side as the injury.

Of course, the posterior fossa is a pretty small target and it happens to be protected from frontal injury by the petrous bone, one of the densest bones in the body. We aren't here by accident, whether by design or by evolution the really vital things are often very well protected.

I think one reason head wounds are survivable is that while the brain can take a fair amount of damage (outside the posterior fossa) the one thing it won't take is pressure. Epidural hematomas, subdural hematomas, these things are lethal because even though they're not pushing on vital tissue directly they are increasing the pressure in a confined space and eventually the pressure prevents bloodflow into brain and it becomes time to call the organ donor folks. Pretty much by definition if you're shooting someone in the head you are putting at least one and possibly two holes in the skull and allowing depressurization, at least in the acute phase. If the damage is great enough the edema (brain swelling) and hemorrhage will get them in a couple of days, Gabby Giffords likely would not have survived without immediate neurosurgical intervention and further decompression of her skull. Strokes that prove to be fatal are often fatal due to the degree of swelling and downward pressure on the brain (doctor word is "trans-tentorial herniation").

Dave said...

If you are referring to the church step suicide pact that played out in delayed slow-motion, that involved Judas Priest, not Ozzie. Kid did die, eventually.

Old NFO said...

Saw a guy much like staghounds... And I know of at least TWO Nam era Navy helo helmets with bullet holes through both sides, and they are both setting on mantles of the guys that wore them and brought them back...

Larry said...

Even a .22 LR can do the job if done right: suicide machine.

Firehand said...

Knew a female about twenty years back who did manage to successfully off herself with a .32; of course, she was a nurse and had figured out exactly the best place to use it.

Tam said...

It you're serious, why take chances?

Anonymous said...

"The Hemingway Method"...

What, decades of madness, alcoholism and desperation born of the same psychosis that produced flashes of unbelievable and unsustainable brilliance? Seems like an awful lot of trouble just to off one's self.

Oh, you mean the shotgun thing...

Effective, yes. But no more so than the standard Eat Your Gun approach, which if done lying back into pillows will spare your loved ones some shock and trauma.

But of course even that final scene was part of Ernest's preordained final work of art and genius and insanity, wasn't it?

Anonymous said...

Had a guy take two to the head from an AR of frangible I believe. Suicide by cop attempt. Lived, not much good for anything. I don't believe they penetrated but it would still be like getting whacked by the business end if a ball peen hammer.

Rabbit said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rabbit said...

I seem to recall the big exit in The Fly (1958) was pretty effective. Sticking your fly-noggin in a big freakin' hydraulic press insures a completed job, but it takes a little while to pop the cantaloupe.

Sport Pilot said...

Retired veterinarian I knew used GI 1911 w/hardball ammunition and was DRT. He knew exactly what he was doing and where to position the muzzle. I won’t even attempt to speculate on his choice or go into any detail of muzzle placement and execution. I have seen many other GSW to the head, it’s not the painless, easy way out so many people believe it to be.

FxR said...

A .45 with ball ammo is how my father managed to do it when I was an infant. I never did want to know the exact details.

perlhaqr said...

Now I'm thinking that severing the femoral arteries might be the most appropriate way of taking oneself out.

tickmeister said...

My plan involves a fifth of Jack and a lawn chair out in the cornfield on a way cold winter night. I like to look at stars and I don't think I will feel a thing.

But then my son says I'm such a screw up that I will probably just freeze off my ears and nose and he will have an even uglier old fool to take care of.

Anonymous said...

Just came across this:

Soldier was stabbed with a 9" knife into the head and survived.

Not for the squeamish.


wv: wares. Nope I ain't selling any

staghounds said...

What, nobody ever heard of Marvin?

Anonymous said...

Geez, everyone relax. This is just politics in the United States of Chicago.

Gibson gives money to Republicans and thus gets shut down. Martin gives money to Democrats and won't even get an angry letter from the feds.

This is a warning shot to those Republican businessmen won't even think about giving money to the GOP. You write a check and .gov will shut you down.

Shootin' Buddy

FlatDarkMars said...

This reminds me of the passage in Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon where a British officer lectures Shaftoe's commando unit on "the correct way to blow your own head off".

"You would be astonished at how many otherwise competent chaps botch this apparently simple procedure."

Mikael said...

Re: Justthisguy: Air is mostly nitrogen... so neither heavier or lighter than air. If you want to use a heavy compressed gas that would be hard to expell from your lungs, try argon, it's used in some specialty welding(and for technical scuba diving as a drysuit-filling-only gas, not to be breathed).

Anonymous said...

Then there is the opposite; .22 in elbow that kills.

Chicago Police uniformed Officer on duty outside a school at end of day, .22 fired from a highrise, the Officer had his arm up waving at something, bullet struck just north of the elbow joint, followed the path of least resistance via the arm and chest to the heart.

He was a large, well muscled guy skinny guy like me probably would have survived.

Beaumont said...

TYPICAL: Houston, TX, 1970s: Stevedore and Low Life Guy get into an argument outside a bar. LLG pulls a .25 auto and shoots Stevedore 3 times in the forehead. Years later, Stevedore still well known for 3 eqidistant divots in his forehead.

OTOH: Kingsport, TN, 1970s: despondent man shoots hinself in the temple, once with a .25 auto. Expires within five minutes.

Just goes to show...

wv: navatio. Patio in the Four Corners area.

Justthisguy said...

Oh, yeah, Anonymous 11:28, and Beaumont!

Surely, we all remember the story of the farmer in Kenya or someplace like that who was trying to scare an elephant out of his field by shooting near it. Being a bad shot, he actually hit the elephant, under the armpit I believe, and the elephant expired right there.

The poor guy got into all kinds of trouble with the gummint. Shooting elephant without license was the LEAST of it.

His weapon? .22 Long Rifle.

The moral of the story? There ain't no tellin.

Practical advice?

Say as Freewheelin Franklin said to Fat Freddy: "Hey, motherfucker! Don't point that thing at me!"