EMS guide to 'Star Wars': 8 injuries and how to treat them

A father and son realize their destiny is assessing and treating blaster and lightsaber wounds in a galaxy far, far away


Editor's Note: Star Wars super fan, hockey player and fifth-grader Michael Friese has watched the Star Wars movies more times than he can remember. He has read, reread and quoted from character encyclopedias and built nearly every Star Wars LEGO set, except the Millennium Falcon and the Death Star, as he is keen to remind me in the weeks before his birthday and Christmas. Michael shared his Star Wars expertise for this column and on May the 4th he talked about Star Wars injuries on the Sunrise 7 morning show. 

By Michael Friese and Greg Friese

During our epic father-son lightsaber duels in the basement we frequently reenact the battle and dialogue between Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker in the bowels of Lando's Cloud City.

"I am your father," I shout!

"You are not my father," Michael wails in return.

"Actually, I am your father," I reply in my best James Earl Jones voice. "I am also a paramedic, and let me tend to that lower arm amputation."

Which leads us into conversations about how to treat the various injuries and ailments experienced by "Star Wars" characters. I have asked Michael to describe some of those injuries so we can review the treatment we might provide in this galaxy for lightsaber and blaster wounds and other injuries that are not so far, far away.

1. Force lightning

Michael: When Mace Windu is dueling the Emperor (Darth Sidious) in Episode III, he is shocked with Force lightning before losing his arm and being thrown out the window.

Greg: Mace Windu is one of several characters that is electrocuted with the high voltage, low amperage force lightning. Anakin Skywalker in Episode II, Yoda in Episode III, and Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader in Episode VI were all injured by Force lightning.

When a patient has been electrocuted, our top concern is scene safety. In this case we want to make sure the Emperor is removed from the scene, which finally happened when Darth Vader threw him into the depths of the Death Star.

The next step is a primary assessment of the patient; open airway, adequate breathing and a pulse. If there are life threats, we will treat them as we find them.

Michael: We know Darth Vader's lungs were damaged, since he was having a hard time breathing.

Greg: Electrocution can cause external and internal injuries. Vader needed an open airway. If his mechanical ventilation system was damaged, it makes sense that he would remove the helmet, thinking it would help him breathe better. As long as he is able to achieve adequate ventilation on his own, let's help him into a position of best breathing and administer supplemental oxygen if indicated by pulse oximetry.

2. Penetrating abdominal trauma

Michael: In Episode I, Darth Maul spun around and stabbed Qui-Gon Jinn, Jedi master, through the abdomen. Would that kill you right away?

Greg: This was a grim injury for Qui-Gon Jinn, my favorite Jedi master. His injury was lethal in seconds, I suspect, because his abdominal aorta and inferior vena cava were lacerated, causing him to bleed to death.

Michael: He didn't bleed to death. Lightsabers are so hot they seal up the blood vessels.

Greg: If the inferior vena cava was cauterized, Qui-Gon's prognosis is still grim. Without blood returning to the heart from his lower body he was unable to keep his brain perfused with oxygen, which quickly led to respiratory arrest and cardiac arrest.

Michael: It actually took him a couple of minutes to die. Remember, he was still alive while Obi-Wan got through the barriers, killed Darth Maul and then held Qui-Gon in his arms as he died.

Greg: I suppose prolonging his life added to the dramatic impact of the scene. How about a patient we can actually treat?

3. HazMat exposure in the Death Star

Greg: One of my favorite scenes is when the rebels are trapped in the Death Star's trash compactor.

Michael: Luke is pulled underwater by some sort of snake, slug or serpent. When he was released, he didn't have much air and he was coughing. He could have drowned.

Greg: Luke was submerged for an uncomfortable amount of time. Certainly he was underwater longer than most of us might be able to hold our breath. He comes up gasping for air and coughing. The good news was that he was conscious.

Michael: Since he was dragged under that dirty water with all that trash, that could have been bad for his lungs.

Greg: Another excellent point about drowning and dirty water. First, I want to know if he experienced any chest wall trauma. Can he take in a full breath and fully exhale? Is it painful for him to breathe? I would also auscultate, which is to listen, for breath sounds. Are the lung sounds clear and equal, bilateral?

Longer-term, we need to get Luke to the hospital for a chest X-ray and to get started on antibiotics. But before we transport Luke, the whole team needs to go through a hazmat decontamination station — out of their clothing, shower and rinse, and into new clothing.

4. Blaster wound to the arm

Michael: In Episode VI, while they were trying to break into the shield generator power station for the Death Star on the forest moon of Endor, Princess Leia got shot in the arm by a Storm Trooper blaster. She grabbed her arm and waved Han Solo off, saying she was fine.

Greg: Again, this is an unsafe scene for rescuers. The Rebels are pinned down with limited concealment and cover, unable to escape and under heavy yet inaccurate fire. Since there are no signs of life-threatening bleeding or disability, I am not going to provide any immediate first aid. My care might be limited to a question-and-answer assessment of Leia to determine the severity of her injury.

When able, I will expose the wound by cutting away her sleeve, then examine the wound depth and size and treat any external bleeding with well-aimed direct pressure. We might consider a compression bandage and a sling until she can be seen at the hospital.

5. Head injuries

Michael: Wicket, the Ewok, hit himself in the head with a rock.

Greg: Did he lose consciousness?

Michael: It was hard to tell because he fell over behind a log. He was in later scenes.

Greg: Let's ask him questions to see if he has any amnesia about events before and after the head injury. I also want him to rate and describe his pain — we can use OPQRST — and to know if he has any visual disturbances or light sensitivity. All this is complicated by my not speaking Ewok.

Michael: C3PO could help.

Greg: What about Luke's head injury?

Michael: Luke was stuck outside in the ice planet Hoth, and he was hit in the head by a Wampa ice creature. He was knocked out and dragged back to the Wampa's cave.

Greg: Luke definitely had a traumatic brain injury, which is a concussion. Most of our treatment for patients that have a concussion is symptomatic — comfort measures, pain control and transport to a hospital. We will also assess Luke for a spinal cord or column injury, applying spinal motion restriction if indicated.

Michael: He was stuck upside down in the cave and used the Force to get his lightsaber, cut himself down, cut off the Wampa's arm and run out of there.

Greg: Lots of characters lose an arm in these movies. Luke is definitely experiencing a traumatic brain injury as he stumbles out of the cave disoriented, hallucinating and ataxic.

Michael: Could this (his symptoms) be because he was hanging upside down for a few hours?

Greg: That's a good question. I don't know. We should cast a wide net and consider all possible causes for his altered mental status — concussion, hanging upside down and hypothermia.

6. Prolonged cold exposure

Michael: When Luke stumbles out of the cave he sees and hears Obi-Wan, his mentor, before he collapses.

Greg: His odds of survival are not very good in the bitter cold of Hoth.

Michael: Han Solo comes and puts Luke inside the warm body of the dead Tauntaun.

Greg: The general treatment for hypothermia is to end the cold challenge and rewarm the patient. Han got started on the first by getting Luke out of the cold and into the Tauntaun. Since Luke is unconscious, we want to make sure Tauntaun innards don't obstruct his airway. Rewarming, or at least prevention of further heat loss, must have continued in the emergency shelter.

Episode V was rough on Luke. A concussion and hypothermia on Hoth. Hyperthermia, which is overheating, while carrying Yoda around the swamps of Dagobah …

Michael: And then he got his hand cut off (motioning to just above his wrist).

7. Hand or arm amputation

Michael: Darth Vader cut off Luke's arm. Then he jumped into the air conditioning.

Greg: For any amputation, our immediate treatment action is to assess for and control severe bleeding. If needed, apply a tourniquet proximal to the wound, high and tight. In addition, consider a fluid bolus, pain medication and sedation while we fight our way out of the City in the Clouds to evacuate Luke to the medical frigate at the rendezvous point.

8. Decapitation

Michael: What about a head amputation?

Greg: For example?

Michael: In Episode III, Count Dooku gets his head sliced off by Anakin.

Greg: He isn't the only character to lose his head.

Michael: Jango Fett is killed by Mace Windu. Do you think they took a dummy, sliced off his head and pushed it over?

Greg: I don't know about how the scenes were made; they definitely didn't slice off a real person's head. Decapitation is an example of an injury incompatible with life. When a patient's head is separated from their body, they are, as we say, dead dead.

Michael: What does that mean?

Greg: The patient is really dead. There is no treatment.

Michael: Obi-Wan cut off Darth Maul's lower torso and he lived.

Greg: He did?

Michael: Yes, in a book I read he kept hunting Jedi masters because he had robot legs.

Greg: We need to wrap this up.

Michael: Can we go see the "Star Wars: The Force Awakens"?

Greg: Of course … May the Force be with you.

Michael: And also with you. 

Photo: The author, Michael as Darth Vader, with his sister on Halloween. 

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