Thursday, July 24, 2014

Don’t Do This: The 3 Most Common Medical Mistakes Writers Make

by D. P. Lyle, MD

The Quick Death: No one dies instantly. Well, almost no one. Instant death can occur with heart attacks, strokes, extremely abnormal heart rhythms, and cyanide and other “metabolic” poisons. But trauma, such as gunshot wounds (GSWs) and blows to the head, rarely cause sudden death. Yet, how often has a single shot felled a villain? Bang, and he drops dead. In order for that to occur, the bullet would need to severely damage the brain, the heart, or the cervical (neck) portion of the spinal cord. A shot to the chest or abdomen leads to a lot of screaming and moaning, but death comes from bleeding and that takes a while.

The One-punch Knockout: You’ve seen and read this a million times. The hero socks the bad guy’s henchmen in the jaw. He goes down and is apparently written out of the script, since we never hear from him again. It’s always the henchmen, because the antagonist, like most people, requires a few solid blows to go down. Think about a boxing match. Two guys that are trained to inflict damage and they have trouble knocking each other out. And when they do, the one on his back is up in a couple of minutes, claiming the other guy caught him with a lucky punch. Listen to me. Only James Bond can knock someone out with a single blow. And maybe Mike Tyson. Your car-salesman-turned-amateur-sleuth cannot.

The Bleeding Dead: Your detective arrives at a murder scene a half hour after the deed. Blood oozes from the corpse’s mouth and from the GSW in his chest. Tilt! Dead folks don’t bleed. You see, when you die, your heart stops and the blood no longer circulates and then it clots. Stagnant or clotted blood does not move. It does not gush or ooze or gurgle or flow or trickle from the body.
Don’t make these mistakes in your manuscript. I know. It happens all the time, and often readers and viewers don’t notice. But some do. Some cringe. Some walk away from the story. Some will not purchase your next book. That’s never a good thing. So get it right. Your readers expect it.

ORIGINAL SIN—a new Samantha Cody thriller
Dr. Lucy Wagner was on top of her game. The only cardiac surgeon on staff, a new pediatric cardiac unit dedicated to her, and an impeccable reputation not only put her at the apex of the local medical
pyramid but also garnered a few powerful enemies. Such is the nature of jealousy and greed. Turf wars can get ugly. Still all was good until the day old John Scully, the spiritual founder and leader of a local snake-handling church, died on her operating table. Fainting spells, nightmarish dreams, and patient after patient succumbing to some violent psychosis followed, putting her career, and her life, in jeopardy. Aided by long time friend and ex-boxer, ex-cop Samantha Cody, Lucy must reach deeply into her family’s past and into her own soul to find the strength to confront old and very powerful forces she never knew existed.

D. P. Lyle is the Macavity and Benjamin Franklin Silver Award winning and Edgar, Agatha, Anthony, Scribe, and USA Best Book Award nominated author of both non-fiction and fiction (the Samantha Cody and Dub Walker thriller series and the Royal Pains media tie-in series). Along with Jan Burke, he is the co-host of Crime and Science Radio. He has served as story consultant to many novelists and the screenwriters of shows such as Law & Order, CSI: Miami, Diagnosis Murder, Monk, Judging Amy, Peacemakers, Cold Case, House, Medium, Women’s Murder Club, 1-800-Missing, The Glades, and Pretty Little Liars. He invites you to visit him at his website:; blog:; or Crime and Science Radio: 


Peg Brantley said...

I heard about another error (I'm sure there are hundreds): depicting a suffocation as being a fairly quick event. The guy puts a pillow over the victims head, or strangles him, and bingo! we have a corpse.

Unknown said...

Very useful info - thanks! My fave is the bright red old blood. In my (very limited) experience, it just ain't so. Thanks again!

Nancy G. West said...

I live in fear of plopping a medical or forensic mistake irretrievably into my novels.
So if I make one, tell me privately so I can grieve in solitude. (:

chuck said...

I must respectfully disagree when it comes to the part about the one-punch knockout. One solid punch to the face with a bare fist can and has in many cases killed the recipient. A single solid rage-fueled punch to the jaw will break it, if not shatter it. Also with the nose, unless one is wearing a padded boxing glove, which can still break a nose if it's not a boxer's nose. And even boxers wear mouth guards so their teeth don't get broken by those padded gloved fists. They also train in how to take a punch. I don't have statistics, but I do know that the last thing an adult should want to do when venting anger is punch someone bare-knuckled in the face or neck, because of how easily a solid punch by an adult in the right place can kill. Often it's just bad bad luck.

Terry Odell said...

A question for you -- back in junior high (which was a LONG, LONG time ago), I recall a science instructor talking about "glass jaw" and saying something about a well-placed punch disrupting some nerve transmission, or something like that. Any input, explanation? Like I said, it was a long time ago, and my science teacher was also a PE instructor/coach.

Tina said...

Back in 1977, Kermit Washington, during a basketball game, delivered a punch to the jaw of Rudy Tomjanovich that shattered Tomjanivich's face. So one punch can do a great deal of damage.

That said, I think I understand your point: one blow to the face by an amateur (like myself) is not going to knock someone out.

Cynthia Weitz said...

After your post about blood not flowing after death, I had my victim stabbed in the chest, instead of the heart. I wanted blood to flow before he died, so there would be a pool of blood beside his body.

Does that work?


D. P. Lyle, MD said...

Great comments. Thanks. Yes, one punch knockouts do happen but not often. And usually delivered by someone who knows what they are doing, often with an object and not a fist, and always associated with some degree of luck. But the average amateur sleuth isn't likely to deliver such a blow. Unless a baseball bat is involved--then all bets are off.