5 The gun has been behind some of the great advances in medical historyAs guns have evolved through the centuries, so too have medical responses to the injuries sustained from them. In the 14th century, gunpowder’s harm caused doctors to believe bullets were contaminants. This led to the practice of burning the wound to rid the body of poison. By the American war of independence (1775-83) surgeons were suggesting that, if a gunshot wound was to be sewn up, a piece of onion was best put inside, and the wound reopened after one or two days.
By the Crimean war of the 1850s, though, Florence Nightingale’s efforts to clean hospitals had a notable impact on patient mortality, which dropped from 52% to 20%. Joseph Lister’s experiments applying carbolic acid to wounds also helped reduce death rates. And Roentgen’s development of the X-ray in 1895 helped pinpoint fabric, bullets and bone fragments. The impact of these discoveries was revolutionary: research into the Spanish-American war in 1898 suggests that 85% of US casualties survived.
Medical innovations in gunshot trauma continues today. Tranexamic acid, used to ease heavy menstrual flow, has also helped save the lives of haemorrhaging gunshot patients. Syringes containing tiny sponges can stem a gunshot wound in seconds.