Giz Explains: What Happens When You Get Shot In The Head

Giz Explains: What Happens When You Get Shot In The Head

You may or may or may not see it coming, but it doesn’t really matter. You’re not going to have time to react. Because a bullet can travel at speeds exceeding 975m/s, which is too fast to duck or yell or plead. Hang in there. Taking a cap to the dome means that it will be over faster than a fatal wound anywhere else.

The bullet with your name on it slides past hair, skin and muscle before it smashes into one of eight cranial bones engineered to keep your brain safe. Unfortunately, it’s too late for that now. Bullets beat bones. The projectile’s entrance into your skull makes easy shrapnel of your calcium, phosphorus, sodium and collagen case. As a souvenir of the opening, you gain a circular hole rimmed with abraded skin. Distance matters, too: The closer you are to the bullet, the more the gun’s smoke and powder could burn your flesh.

But enough about the blemish; the real work happens deeper. The connective tissue and fibrous membranes that act as internal cushioning are split open just before the bullet dives into your cerebrospinal fluid. This fluid serves as a shock absorber. It, with some other structures, allows you to ride roller coasters and join mosh pits without injury. But again, because your 1.5kg control system is being taken out, this will be your last head bang.

The bullet travels through your brain faster than the speed at which your tissues tear. This means that it’s actually pushing tissues out of the way, stretching them beyond their breaking points. When high velocity long arms are responsible, bullets travelling at thousands of feet per second will exit your body before your tissues have a chance to rip.

The ability to process information and solve problems? All gone when the bullet shoves its way through your prefrontal cortex. Your ability to index memories? Gone with your hippocampus. In the bullet’s wake, a long temporary cavity is left. When the tearing finally does happen, your tissues will snap back toward the initial opening and overshoot their original position. You know that back and forth thing that happens when you kick one of those springy door stops? Well that’s what your tissues do when the shock waves kick them.

Then the passage collapses. The high-speed firearm that produced the bullet created a disruption in your brain 10 times its diameter.

But you’re lucky, relatively speaking. If you were shot in the heart, your blood pressure would quickly drop, but it would take 10 to 15 seconds to lose brain function. In that time you could draw your gun, utter last words, or spend some time thinking about your unfortunate situation. But a shot to the brain is different. Your brain stops functioning almost immediately. In just a fraction of a second, you’re gone.

Rachel Swaby is a freelance writer living in San Francisco.

Image credits: Shutterstock, EMI Films/Universal

Republished from Gizmodo


    • You forgot to bitch that it isn’t about games.

      It was a good read. Go sperg out somwhere else.

      • haha sperg.

        Interesting article though, since all the moron jocks who play FPS are obsessed with ‘BOOOOOM HEADSHOTZ!!1!” I’d say it’s related to games in some way, making it worthy of a re-post.

  • Because the poor girls twitter has already been attacked by the mouth-breathers, I’m going to point out “Head shot”. That’s why it’s related to gaming.

    Moving on, this was cool. Gross, kind of disturbing, but I rather liked it – wouldn’t mind seeing more from the “games vs what actually happens” theme.

  • This just reminded me of a quote I once read that was attributed to blues musician R.L. Burnside who spent time in jail for murder in his younger days. In his defence he supposedly said “I never meant to kill nobody. All I meant to do was shoot the sonofabitch in the head. Him dying was between him and the lord.”

  • Is this supposed to make us feel good about the thousands of BOOM HEADSHOT moments we’ve had over the years?

  • Well I thought it was interesting.
    Next cover how explosions can seriously mess you up internally, even if you look fine on the the outside.

  • “Taking a cap to the dome means that it will be over faster than a fatal wound anywhere else.”

    Unless your name is Mister Alexander Jay Murphy.

  • when i was 11, i was shot in the head just behind my left ear, with a 22.250 at point blank.. i remember everything very clearly, the pain was like an intense burn, within a few seconds i blanked out, maybe 5 to 8 seconds – it doesn’t take long for your body to go into shock… today im 30, bullet is still sitting nicely in my skull, have a mad xray pinned up in my kitchen to prove it 🙂

    1 in 1,000,000,000 chance of survival… witnesses say that blood was pissing out of my ears, nose, mouth and entry wound, and screaming like a gutted pig…
    the recovery wasnt to bad, being so young helped, your body shuts you down when it has to and then kicks into overdrive to repair itself,
    long term issues are headaches, short term memory loss and have to take 2 types of medication to regulate certain chemicals within the brain.

Show more comments

Log in to comment on this story!