1. RabidChipmunk
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    RabidChipmunk Member

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    How to Treat Crossbow Injuries

    Discussion in 'Research' started by RabidChipmunk, Jan 24, 2014.

    In the story I'm currently working on, a character is shot in the shoulder blade by a crossbow bolt as she tries to escape (the setting is medieval fantasy, so it's a medieval crossbow, not a modern one). However, while I've tried to do some research myself on the topic, the information I'm looking for is sadly not as easy to find as I would have hoped, and I want to make sure I have everything as accurate as possible. Unfortunately I don't know any crossbow experts, so this is where I turn to the internet for help.

    • I don't know how far medieval crossbows could fire and still be effective. I know that, in my story, the character is hit with enough force that it spins her 180 degrees and knocks her down. Is this reasonable to assume (the character is 10 years-old)? How far could a crossbow be fired from and still have this much impact?
    • What kind of damage would the bolt do to her shoulder? It's reasonable to assume her arm would be out of commission for quite some time, but would the shoulder blade be cracked? Is it possible that the damage would be more severe?
    • After being shot, she manages to escape some distance into the woods before passing out and being found by someone who fortunately has a fair degree of survival knowledge. How would a crossbow injury in the shoulder be treated? Would it need to be pushed out the front of the body? How could this be done as safely as possible? And how would her damaged shoulder be treated afterwards?
    Any help or recommendations on where I could do more research are greatly appreciated, thanks :)
     
  2. Morbius
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    How far can a medieval crossbow be fired? It all depends on the crossbow. Medieval crossbows aren't mass produced in factories, by automated machinery. They were hand crafted by individual craftsman, so each was basically unique, but with similar features. They also come in different sizes and different materials that have different properties. Most medival crossbows are effective in the 40 yard to 100 yard range, some are accurate up to 160 yards or more. If your story places the shot in this range you should have no problems with plausibility.

    It all depends on where the bolt hit. A solid metal head can puncture and impale a shoulder blade, possibly even crack or shatter it if the bone is small enough (you said the victim was 10 years old).

    There is a major artery that goes from the heart down the length of the arm. If the bolt passes through and severs the artery, you will have more serious problems to worry about than a cracked shoulder blade.

    If the bolt misses the artery and the bone, but just passes through muscle tissue, the arm will heal over time, but you won't be able to use it for quite some time.

    How the injury would be treated depends on the injury. If the bolt penetrated superficially (spent most of its energy traveling a long distance, before hitting the target), the bolt can be removed by pulling back out the same way it went in.

    If the bolt penetrates deeply and the point is sticking out the back and the shaft is sticking out the front, a standard technique was to snap off the head and ease the bolt back out the front end.

    If the bolt penetrates deeply and doesn't exit out the back (say, for example, it is stuck in the bone) it gets tricky. You can only pull the bolt back out the way it went in, but many times this can result in the bolt shaft breaking off, leaving the head embedded in the bone, potentially resulting in infection and/or gangrene. Such an embedded head can only be removed with surgery (medieval surgery is a roll of the dice for survival, keeping in mind that medieval medicine still involved the use of leeches and the occasional magic charm (because sometimes they work and sometimes they don't) or by just leaving the head stuck in the bone). Leaving the head stuck in the bone runs a high chance of infection/fever/gangrene and if the patient survives, you may or may not have full use of the arm...and you would most likely be disfigured by the lump of the head still inside you.
     
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  3. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Two words: infection kills.

    They had no knowledge of bacterial or viral infections at that time. There were no antibiotics. Only poultices, compresses, plasters, and leeches to draw out toxins.

    Deep penetrating wounds are the worst. The wound doesn't self-cleanse, either because the wound tightens quickly at the point of entry, restricting the flow of blood out of the wound.
     
  4. bossfearless
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    bossfearless Active Member

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    It really depends on how big a crossbow we're talking about. There were all sorts of different models. Some were small enough to be used one-handed and were the equivalent of a backup sidearm, while others were enormous two-handed monsters that needed a crank to pull the string back. A ten year old girl would not survive being hit with a heavy crossbow. Those things would cause far too much trauma all at once, and she'd be done on the spot from shock. A light crossbow could be accurate and effective up to, say 40 or 50 yards, while the big monsters were able to reach 80 yards or more. In order for her to survive, you're looking at a light crossbow, and you might want to have her rescuer point out that she's lucky the bolt wasn't barbed, or something like that. The tip is probably protruding from the other side of her, assuming it missed or deflected off the shoulder blade. You'd have to snip the shaft with a pair of shears and then pull it the rest of the way through.

    I have to agree with Cogito, the biggest threat here is infection. I think that a good bit of narration should be given over to her going in and out of consciousness in the grip of a nasty fever, her rescuer constantly waking her to make her drink some foul-smelling herbal remedies and commenting on how her wound is closing but still angry, that sort of thing. It's going to come down to her own fortitude rather than the medicines of the time as to whether or not she pulls through.
     
  5. Storysmith
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    Storysmith Member

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    One thing to bear in mind in terms of medical knowledge, is that real world medieval European knowledge was held back by the Catholic Church's position that illness was a punishment from God on sinners. In your fantasy world, you may want to have better medicine available, or provide a reason for medicine not being more advanced - matching the real world is not always realistic.
     
  6. CapnNogrow
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    CapnNogrow Member

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    Well a modern 70 pound compound bow, for comparison, can easily penetrate a 3-4 mm thick steel and go clean through wooden walls. that is with "practice" tips. broadheads wouldn't penetrate as far but do more damage because of it creating a larger entry wound. Take a crossbow now. It would fire a bolt with maybe 150 pounds of force at around 130-140fps. Slightly faster than a bow. Note that a medieval longbow fired arrows at 200pounds. So the force from the crossbow bolt would probably shatter a shoulderblade of a child. of course it depends on multiple factors. What kind of material does it pass through and so fourth. also infection
     
  7. mrieder79
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    mrieder79 Not a ground squirrel

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    The bolt would need to be passed through the shoulder, then a red hot metal rod would have to be inserted into the wound to cauterize it and (hopefully) sterilize the wound sufficiently to prevent infection from killing the child. From there, assuming the vasculature has not been destroyed, I would expect the person to be limited in shoulder strength and use. I would expect two weeks where the arm cannot be used. At four to six weeks, the character can probably use it for light tasks such as tying things, lifting objects less than 5#, and reaching short distances. At eight to twelve weeks, the wound is reaching complete healing. At this point the muscles have atrophied from lack of use and the tendons and ligaments within the shoulder joint have tightened, thus limiting the mobility of the shoulder. I would expect the character will have weakness of the arm for the rest of his/her life and will be unable to raise it above ninety to one hundred twenty degrees.

    Of course, this is assuming the infection didn't kill her and no
     
  8. CapnNogrow
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    You could always write that the wound was infected but the person saving her used herbs to cleanse it. She wandered in and out of a feverish coma for days until the infection disappeared (in which you could write about her past or memories in the form of dreams, perhaps nightmares) and she miraculously survived. People have survived things that should have killed them 20 times over in the past. Besides you said it was medieval fantasy, it gives you some leverage and freedom to make up a fictional treatment. Look up Ancient Roman surgery and medical treatments. They very extremely advanced for their age. They could even put a person under and operate to a certain degree. Even successfully operate on glaucoma, restoring up to 50% vision if I remember correctly.
     
  9. RabidChipmunk
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    RabidChipmunk Member

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    Thanks for the help, you guys, it's been really useful. I think I'm going to play the "fantasy universe" card here and say that this world has access to both herbal remedies that can help prevent infection, as well as the knowledge to know how to use them (the man who is treating my MC has lived alone in the woods for almost 20 years now, I figure he'd know what works and what doesn't).

    I've done some research on my own on how to deal with fractured bones, in particular a fractured scapula, which has really helped as well. So I'm thinking that my MC is in for a few days in dire condition, followed by a few hard weeks after that, and then should mostly be fine, if not ever fully recovered. So again, thanks for your help, it has been extremely useful :)
     

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