Do your Research: Live, damn you, live!

This month we have another peek into the medical side of fiction. We covered head trauma before, now it’s time to go a step further, by killing a character off and seeing what happens when Gustav tries to revive them. CPR is one of the most crucial first aid techniques and one that always gets used the wrong way. Let’s do it better, shall we?

The short version:

CPR does not bring people back to life. It only makes sure that if they are revived they don’t end up vegetables.

The Scenario:

After failing to get rid of the Big Bad last time around, Gustav decides he needs to get a partner. And sure enough, as the plot will have it, there’s technological genius Woodrow, who used to be a gay exotic dancer before turning to the life of hacking into evil people’s accounts and giving all their money to Romanian animal shelters. The two quickly hit it off and form a dream team like the world has never seen before.

But gosh! The Big Bad has returned and, witnessing the world-changing teamwork these two put up, develops a master plan to both break Gustav’s spirit and get rid of that pesky kid Woodrow.

Soon, millions upon millions of nanites flow through Woodrows blood stream and at the push of a single button he drops dead, right before they can blow up the Big Bad’s base in the middle of Hungary.

Gustav is nothing if not a man of action. He drops beside his trusty friend and lays his fingers against his neck to check for a pulse. When none is forthcoming he folds his hands over each other and starts applying CPR, begging Woodrow to come back to him. He gives him mouth-to-mouth, even if he swore never ever to kiss another dude.

„Don’t you die on me. Don’t you dare die on me!“ he shouts and as if the Lord had taken mercy on him, Woodrow’s eyes open with a start. He inhales the breath of life, brought back into this life by Gustav’s quick action and true heart.

The Science:

Sorry to break the news, but Woodrow’s a goner. Yep, no saving that kid. Dead as a doornail.

To understand why, we need to look at what CPR actually does.

The abbreviation CPR stands for cardiopulmonary resuscitation, meaning the reactivation of heart and lungs. The name itself is misleading, because what’s dead is dead and can not be brought back except with a well aimed intervention from Thor. Or maybe a defibrillator. Whatever’s handy at the moment.

So what are you doing, if not bringing people back to life like a second coming on budget? And why do it at all?

The main problem with dying is the sudden lack of oxygen in your brain. Of course, there’s also long periods of boredom and lack of variety when it comes to afternoon activites. But mostly it’s the oxygen. If your brain doesn’t have oxygen it withers and dies, shriveling like an old raisin. Not all at once of course. Your brain behaves more like holding itself hostage, killing random parts off one by one if you don’t get the damn blood flowing now.

Since, being dead and all, your heart isn’t very much up to the job, you take on an outside source. Meaning Gustav kneeling over Woodwrow and frantically trying to remember what he learned in his mandatory first aid course twenty years ago.

Gustav is now Woodrow’s heart. By putting all his body weight on his chest he compresses the heart, making the stored blood in it flow up to the brain. When he lets up the pressure new oxygen rich blood flows into the heart chamber which are again compressed via bodyweight and pushed up to the brain.

The oxygen itself is provided by mouth-to-mouth, which is about as far from a kiss as anyone can get. If it isn’t for you, then you’ve probably doing kissing wrong for a long time. More to that later.

Nothing during CPR gives the body any incentive to resume living. It just keeps the brain fresh until Thor or the guy with the defibrillator arrives and can attempt to resurrect it.

This is why there is a very specific rhythm to the speed of compressions. Doing it to ‘Highway to Hell’ is often recommended by First Aid teachers, though you are discouraged from actually singing it.

If Gustav were to put pressure on the heart in too short intervals it wouldn’t have time to refill and thus less blood would arrive at Woodrow’s brain, ridding it of oxygen. Too slow and all the nice blood just sits there doing nothing and again, no blood in the brain.

If Gustav doesn’t press hard enough his efforts won’t go through all the ribs and other pesky biology standing between him and the heart.

There is a very real chance of breaking ribs during CPR. You shouldn’t aim for it, but that’s about the amount of pressure Gustav should be using. Consistently. For as long as someone with some electricity comes running. CPR is bloody exhausting.

There is a brief respite for the minute or so Gustav spends taking over Woodrow’s heart function. Let’s look at the kiss of life, shall we?

Homophobes among you, no need to avert your eyes. This is the least gay kiss you will ever witness in your life.


First, no real kiss requires of you to push your intended’s head back to his neck, so the line from mouth to lungs is straight. Second you shouldn’t hold your intended’s nose closed, unless you’re into that sort of thing. And there won’t be much lip contact. In fact you will pull your mouth over the other’s as if it was a condom. Nice and snug around with no chance of air getting by. Then you blow as if you wanted to fill a six liter balloon with air in one go. Because, essentially, that’s what you’re doing. See? Mouth to mouth is closer to a children’s birthday than romantic interaction. (It’s equally stressful and traumatising, too.)

So, no homosexual subtext. But what about that sudden gasp when Woodrow wakes up after a heartfelt plea to the heavens? A myth, sadly. Rule of thumb: If someone wakes up from CPR, he didn’t need it in the first place.

Although, sometimes it can be hard determining if someone is still breathing or not. Looking for a pulse at one of the pulse points like the wrists or the neck (there are seven in total, though at least one is where you don’t want to look for a pulse on a perfect stranger) isn’t a good way to determine heartbeat. Sometimes the heart beats so faintly that you couldn’t find a pulse even if the person was upright and walking. People with low blood pressure often have that. It could also beat so fast that you can’t detect it by pure sensation of touch. Then you have to take into account that you rarely search for a pulse while completely calm and collected. Even trained professionals who spend their career looking for the dead in people sometimes have trouble detecting a pulse. That is why you check for breathing instead and with three methods. By hovering closely over the patients mouth you can listen for breath and feel it should he exhale. Your turned head also allows you to watch the chest and determine if it rises or falls. This is the most sure-fire way but even there is a margin of error.

If in doubt, apply CPR. Except for hurting like a bitch, it won’t harm your potential dead guy, but will save him a world of trouble should he actually need it.

To sum it up, you should apply CPR everytime you think someone’s dead to keep the brain blood saturated until the heart can be jumpstarted. If there is no such help forthcoming, as hard as it may be, don’t bother. There is nothing you can do without an electric shock.

On a side note: When resucitating people via a defibrillator, sometimes adrenaline is adminstered as well. It is believed it also can get a heart beating again or at least help in the process. It’s standard procedure in Emergency Rooms and ambulances, but it’s effectiveness hasn’t been proven. It may help or it may turn out to be the 21st century equivalent of blowing smoke up ones ass.

The Alternative:

Three Rules to keep in mind:

Number 1: CPR is only useful when there is further help coming

Number 2: Waking up from CPR is not a result of the technique but of your chest hurting like hell

Number 3: Mouth to mouth is only romantic for a very select people.

The best way to get familiar with CPR and all other forms of First Aid is to do a course. It will help you get the viewpoint of administering CPR much better than if you just read about it. For example, people tend to underestimate the sheer strength and stamina needed to apply CPR for a longer period.

Courses are held practically everywhere and don’t cost much. I would strongly urge you to take one, not just for your writing but for general life as well. You could save a life with that knowledge.




In case some of you wondered why I gave sources for the post about guns but nor for the one before. This is because I am working in the medical field and write mostly from first hand experience. Guns are a topic I was not inherently familiar with, which is why I had to do a lot of manual research. If enough people are interested in the professional literature I used during med school or some of the manuals we use in our daily lives I will post them.


Do your research: Armed and dangerous

Welcome back everyone!

This episode of ‘Do your research’ is all about shooting. No wussy heroes being brain-damaged by a knock on the head, no this time we’ll bring out the big guns.

This issue will be concentrating on semi-automatic pistols, with a side-dish of the differences to a revolver, though most of the things I’ll speak about go for rifles and shotguns as well. If there’s enough interest, I will do a follow up with them as well, addressing issues particular to these weapons.

So let’s return to Gustav, our hero and see what we can do wrong before whacking him with reality.


The short version

You can avoid many mistakes writing about guns by knowing exactly which model the character is using and what its features are.



The Scenario

After his involuntary trip to Siberia, Gustav is back and he’s out for revenge. By his side his trusty Glock 19. He releases the safety and enters the Big Bad’s secret underground lair, shooting two guards on sight. The shot rings through the building, the guards thrown back by the impact of the bullet, and sure enough not a minute after there’s te-  thirty mooks blocking the path.

Gustav prefaces with the patented Action Hero Smirk and racks the slide, the classic tchk-a thus informing his enemies that he means business. Thirty hits later he steps over the neatly piled bodies of his enemies and on to the Big Bad.

No hero worth his money would just shoot the Big Bad on sight. It’s personal, Gustav wants to know the why. This time his archnemesis won’t get away. He presses the pistol’s muzzle against the Big Bad’s head, demanding for him to explain himself.

But whatever self-preservation instinct the human mind possesses, it floats into nothingness the moment you have to proof you are the more aloof in a dangerous situation. The Big Bad provokes Gustav. Probably makes a mean joke about his dead girlfriend.

Gustav cocks the hammer, reminding the Big Bad who’s in charge here. After a bit more of snarky banter he pulls the trigger. An empty click is all that happens. The gun’s magazine was empty. The Big Bad seizes his chance, knocks the gun out of Gustav’s hand and opens up the scene for a badass melee battle.


The Science

This scene contains nearly every mistake you can make when writing about firearms. Most of them occur because I tried to write about four different guns at the same time.

See, the reader doesn’t need to know every detail about the gun Gustav is carrying. But you as the writer, do.

First, let’s look at what are we actually going to talk about.



This is the Glock 19 used by Gustav in our scenario.

Glock is a big and one of the most popular manufacturer of pistols. It’s a good all-around gun, not the best in anything but it has no major flaws either. That’s one reason it is used by law enforcement and military all around the world.

Let’s go through the list of mistakes in order of their appearance, shall we?


The first thing Gustav does is to release the safety on his gun.

… Notice the safety on the picture above? No? Good, because the Glock doesn’t have one. It uses an internal safety system, that keeps the gun from firing unless the trigger is fully pressed down. Some models have a manual safety switch (many single-action do), but this one? Not really.


He shoots the first guard and – hold your horses, no shooting yet. The Glock is a semi-automatic pistol.

Semi-automatic means that the gun uses the energy from recoil after every shot to automatically load a new round from the magazine into the chamber. But before your first shot you have to do it manually, by pulling back the upper part of your gun (the slide).

Now, usually, you don’t have to mention anything of this, but later in the scenario Gustav is shown ‘racking’ the slide when he clearly doesn’t have to because he’s between shots and his weapon’s mechanism would have pulled a new round into the chamber by itself.

So if you want to mention the motion for dramatic effect, make sure you do it when it’s appropriate. Meaning, after your Gustav reloaded his gun.


The shot fired by Gustav throws back the guard. Only it doesn’t. Even if Gustav’s pistol would have miraculously transformed into a shotgun loaded with giant slugs (the ammo, not the animal. Though the latter would shake routine up), there would be no throwing back. The human body is simply too big and heavy to be thrown back by gunfire.


Okay, the mooks don’t perform air tricks after being shot once each, wounded fatally. Think about this. Shooting targets at range is an olympic discipline. And there the contestants shoot in a safe environment, worrying about having all their dreams crushed in case they lose, instead of, say, having their kidney’s pierced.

On a battlefield over 90% of all shots fired never hit anything remotely living. (They are not even meant to. Most of them are just a tactical way to advise the enemy that it might not be such a good idea to raise your head and take your time aiming.)


But, let’s just say Jesus helped Gustav aim (if he can take the wheel, he can pull the trigger, just saying) and now he confronts the Big Bad, who promptly proves to be a major asshole by making an inappropriate remark about Gustav’s girlfriend. Cue cocking the hammer, aka, pulling that tiny lever on top of the gun down. That means it’s asskicking time.

It’s what makes that delicious ‘click‘ noise prior to any well-done shooting. Let’s do it again, shall we? Look for that lever on the picture above, to cock the hammer. What do you mean, you can’t find it?

Should have gone with a M1911.


Beware, because it gets a bit technical.

Firearms are classified into single-action and double-action mechanisms.

The Glock 19 is a double-action (actually, it uses a different system entirely, called ‘safe-action’, but that distinction is not important for our purposes).

Double-action means that the trigger performs two actions on being pulled. The first is, well, triggering the shot. The other is cocking the hammer, which on these models is placed on the inside of the gun. Nothing to cock for you there.

On a single-action pistol, like the M1911 you have to do that manually, but only before the first shot. After that the slide cocks the hammer for you on a semi-automatic. On a revolver you have to do it after every shot.

If you want that click, make sure you pick a single-action gun.


There is a special type of semi-automatic handgun that’s called SA/DA, a mix between single-action and double-action. The difference there is that it can work like a double-action, aka you don’t have to so much as look at your hammer. But if you want to, you can cock the thing yourself.


Back to business. After Gustav cocked his non-existent hammer, he finally decides to shoot. Only, the magazine is empty. No bullets left. A sad click is all you get.

Except you don’t even get that.

A semi-automatic pistol doesn’t click on an empty magazine. The trigger is disengaged, you can do as much as you want with it, without ever hearing anything. The only gun that clicks on empty is the revolver, because the cylinder keeps rotating each time you pull the trigger.


And here’s another mistake right on top. If you kept count, you know Gustav shot 32 mooks on his way to the Big Bad without ever reloading.

A standard Glock 19 comes with 15 rounds capacity. You can load an extra bullet into the chamber beforehand (called ‘topping off’) which raises your capacity by one. That still makes only 16.

With a Glock you can however use magazines with different capacities (even use magazines from other models as long as the caliber is the same or other brands, since they often design their magazines to fit into a Glock). On this specific model you can get up to 33 rounds, topping off makes 34.

That’s why it’s important that you keep track of your shots. In this situation Gustav would either have run out of bullets halfway through the mook slaughterfest or actually have two rounds left to shoot the Big Bad with.

So there’s our reality. Now how to make reality and Rule of Cool kiss and make up?


The Alternative

Know your guns. Even if you write about fictional guns that shoot blue-eyed fairies, write down some facts that you stick to.

Here are some of the most commonly used handguns in the United States to help you along.


Name: Glock 19

Caliber: .9mm

Capacity: 10, 15, 17, 33

Fire Modes: Double-action (safe-action)

Used by:

Law Enforcement Agencies from all around the world. Among them Australia, Brazil, France, Hong Kong, Iceland, India, Iraq, Israel, Mexico, Russia, Switzerland and the United States.

Some branches in the US and UK military also use the Glock 19 or it’s larger sister the Model 17.


Name: Sig Sauer P226

Caliber: .9mm, .40 S&W, .357 SIG

Capacity: 10, 12, 13, 15 (.40 & .357)

10, 15, 17, 18, 20 (9mm)

Fire Modes: Double-action, DA/SA

Used By: Mainly Military from around the world, especially Canada, Finland, France, UK, US, Germany as well as many others


Name: Beretta M9

Caliber: .9mm

Capacity: 10, 15, 17, 18, 20, 30, 32

Fire Modes: DA/SA

Used By: Along with the P226 it’s the main semi-automatic pistol used by the US military, also used in Libya, Afghanistan, among others


Name: M1911

Caliber: .45 ACP

Capacity: 7

Fire Modes: Single-action

Used By: The standard semi-automatic pistol for the US Military until the 1970s, widely used around the world until replaced with more modern guns like the Beretta and the P220 series

Additional Notes: There are many alternative versions of the M1911, with different calibers, capacities. It also allows for much customization. It’s the one gun where you can get away with pretty much anything


Name: Desert Eagle .50

Caliber: .50 Action Express

Capacity: 7, 8, 9

Fire Modes: Single-action

Used By: Pretty much nobody, except for Poland, Portugal and Israel (certain branches only)

Additional notes: Widely described as one of the worst guns in existence. The main point of critique is the insane recoil and unusual caliber but there are many other points. I included this because it seems to be a fiction-favourite.

(for reference, it’s the gun that’s used by the girl in this video)


Name: Smith & Wesson Model 27

Caliber: .357 Magnum, .38 special

Capacity: Six-round cylinder

Fire Modes: Double-action

Additional Notes: One of the most widely recognised revolvers


This list is of course only a peek into the vast array of handguns available on the market. The best way to write well about guns is to know exactly which model your character is carrying. But remember, the reader doesn’t need to know every single detail. Experts can fill in the blanks themselves, amateurs wouldn’t know what to do with the information either way. Make sure you stay consistent with the amount of detail you describe and to remember that a gun fight is badass in even the most realistic setting.

If you like to continue reading on guns and how fiction butchers them, Cracked has an interesting article about how movies gets gun-fights wrong. Be sure to check it out



See you next month on a new episode of “Do your research”.

I’ll also announce any news on my Twitter