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Gunshot Wound: Care Instructions


When you've been shot, you can have a wide range of injuries. The injuries depend on the type of firearm used, the size (caliber) of bullet, where on your body you were shot, and how soon you were treated.

You may need a range of treatments as well, including surgery to remove the bullets or repair tissue. You may need to stay in the hospital while you recover. You may also get antibiotics or other medicines.

Whatever the extent of your wounds, there are things you can do to care for yourself at home. Your doctor may also want you to come back for a wound check. The doctor will check how your wound is healing and if you need more treatment.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • Follow your doctor's instructions for how to care for your wound. If you did not get instructions, follow this general advice:
    • Wash the wound with clean water 2 times a day. Don't use hydrogen peroxide or alcohol, which can slow healing.
    • You may cover the wound with a thin layer of petroleum jelly, such as Vaseline, and a nonstick bandage.
    • Apply more petroleum jelly and replace the bandage as needed.
  • Keep the wound dry for the first 24 to 48 hours. After this, you can shower if your doctor okays it. Pat the wound dry.
  • Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
    • If the doctor gave you a prescription medicine for pain, take it as prescribed.
    • If you are not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter medicine.
  • If your doctor prescribed antibiotics, take them as directed. Do not stop taking them just because you feel better. You need to take the full course of antibiotics.
  • If you have stitches, your doctor will tell you when to come back to have them removed.
  • If you have strips of tape on the cut (incision) the doctor made, leave the tape on for a week or until it falls off.
  • If you can, prop up the injured area on a pillow anytime you sit or lie down during the next 3 days. Try to keep it above the level of your heart. This will help reduce swelling.

Caring for your feelings about the shooting

  • Ask your doctor for help if you find that you are thinking a lot about what happened, avoiding reminders about the shooting, or thinking negative thoughts about yourself and the world. No matter how the shooting happened, it can be traumatic. Counselling or some other kind of treatment can help you feel more in control of your emotions, have fewer symptoms, and enjoy life again.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You passed out (lost consciousness).

Call your doctor or nurse advice line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have new or worse pain.
  • The skin near the wound is cold or pale or changes colour.
  • You have tingling, weakness, or numbness near the wound.
  • The wound starts to bleed, and blood soaks through the bandage. Oozing small amounts of blood is normal.
  • You have symptoms of infection, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
    • Red streaks leading from the area.
    • Pus draining from the area.
    • A fever.
  • You have trouble breathing.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse advice line if:

  • You do not get better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

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Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.