Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Surviving Fictional Limb Amputation

This is yet another post that concerns AMC's post-apocalyptic zombie series, "The Walking Dead". In this post I shall discuss the story line concerning the amputation of one of the character's legs after being bitten by a "walker", which was done in order to prevent his being infected, getting sick, dying, and coming back as one of the dead.

The following excerpt from the April 24th airing of MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show (in which she discusses the aftermath of the Boston bombing) points out a reason why this story line might not be that realistic...

Rachel Maddow: Doctors and nurses, on their days off, started flooding into work as soon as they heard the first reports. Many of them have been in operating rooms ever since. Operating, in some cases, on the same patients two or three times. Amputations, for one, are not one operation deals. They are complicated multi-part surgeries as the doctors have been willing to explain to us...

Amputation isn't a simple as presented in TWD. The character Hershel is bitten in the ankle by a Walker (zombie). What happens next, according to precedent established by the writers, is that the bitten person develops a fever and then (eventually) dies. Then they rise from the dead as an unthinking thing that is technically dead, but somewhat alive. And all they want to do is eat the living. Other food (such as canned hams) is rejected.

If you follow this series you know that everyone is already infected. The scientist at the CDC told Rick that. But being bitten infects the bitten individual more seriously and that causes death... I guess (I'm still not clear on that specific detail). I guess the virus is present in lesser quantities in living persons, and kept at bay by their living-ness. But being bitten delivers a massive quantity of the virus, and that leads to death.

Which is why Rick cut off Hershel's leg after he was bitten - to prevent the massive dose of the virus from spreading from the bite throughout Hershel's bloodstream and killing him. How Rick amputated the leg was with an ax, which I think would have killed Hershel (even if it did prevent the spread of the virus). Shock, blood loss, and infection would certainly finish him off, as amputation involves surgically removing the limb and then covering the stump with skin flaps or skin grafts. None of this was done in the removal of Hershel's leg, so his surviving was probably highly unlikely.

This was a deviation from the "graphic novel" (which I have not read). I did read about the graphic novel though, and it says another character (one that is not present in the series) was the one who had his leg amputated. This character survived the amputation, but his wound later became infected and he died from the infection (a normal infection. I'm not referring to the zombie virus). But Hershel (the guy who's leg was amputated on the series) lived and has now recovered completely.

According to Wikipedia, a surgical amputation is accomplished via the following method...

The first step is ligating the supplying artery and vein, to prevent hemorrhage (bleeding). The muscles are transected, and finally the bone is sawed through with an oscillating saw. Sharp and rough edges of the bone(s) are filed down, skin and muscle flaps are then transposed over the stump, occasionally with the insertion of elements to attach a prosthesis.

What occurred on TWD was a "traumatic amputation", which is the "the partial or total avulsion of a part of a body during a serious accident, like traffic, labor, or combat". Wikipedia says this kind of amputation "creates the immediate danger of death from blood loss".

Wikipedia also notes that, "due to technological advances in prosthetics, many amputees live active lives with little restriction", but our heroes (TWD characters) do not have access to these technologic advances. Hershel currently gets around by hopping and using crutches, and for that reason I thought he was going to die before the season ended. I thought a zombie would get him or one of the Governor's men would shoot him. But he is still alive at the end of season three, and will be present at the beginning of season four.

Or I expect him to be. I suppose that they could say he died in between, as I've heard there is going to be a time jump when the new season starts (same as when season three began - several months elapsed between the season two finale and the first episode of season three). Hershel will die eventually I'm sure; and not from old age. This isn't a show where nothing bad can happen to any of the primary characters.

I read on TWD blog that the series creator can even envision killing off the primary character (Rick Grimes). IMO he was lying in order to create some tension. It makes it more exciting for the audience if they aren't convinced that certain characters are safe (can't be killed)... but killing off Rick? I'd be very surprised if that happened.

PPP #23, TWD #4.

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