Someone might try to kill you one day. And you might want to kill him before he does.
So it’s probably in our best interest to know the different ways death can happen to the human body.
Shock (the one to rule them all)
And while heat stroke, infections, diseases and hypothermia can cause shock, they take time. Some times hours, days.
And in terms of self defense, we’re unlikely to be attacked by someone trying to kill us by means of an infection over three weeks.
Likewise we’re not going to stop a knife wielding attacker by giving him hypothermia.
There are three ways to create shock that will kill someone quickly (and that includes you). All three are simply ways of preventing the brain from doing its job.
1 – Not enough blood to the brain
2 – Not enough oxygen to the brain
3 – Stopping the brain from sending signals
Not enough blood to the brain
We’re not talking a blood pressure of 60/90 here. We mean preventing the brain from getting enough blood supply to actually operate.
This can be done in a couple ways.
The most fashionable way (these days) is the blood choke. Apply pressure to the veins that take blood from the brain back to the heart. This prevents fresh blood from moving up the arteries and into the brain. If the brain can’t get fresh blood, it can’t function. And if the brain can’t function, he can’t keep trying to kill you.
A few seconds (5-10 seconds is usually bandied about) can cause unconsciousness (if you get your arm position correct). A few minutes causes death.
The next way to prevent the brain from getting enough blood is more ancient. It’s through hypovolemia. Or: not having enough blood in the body.
If enough veins and arteries are severed, then the person loses so much blood that there isn’t enough left in the body for the heart to be able to pump any to the brain.
And how do we cause hypovolemia? Reread the part about “If enough veins and arteries are severed”. Stabbing trumps slashing because most of the veins near the surface are fairly minor.
Not enough oxygen to the brain
No oxygen, no ability to produce cellular energy and function. After a delay that is. You see the cells can produce a small amount of energy without any oxygen (or else you wouldn’t be able to run fast or swim underwater).
So how do you cause a lack of oxygen to the brain? Basically air chokes and suffocation. (We’ll ignore blood chokes and hypovolemia here – there’s overlap).
Where a blood choke targets the veins on the sides of the neck, an air choke targets the throat in the front of the neck. It aims to compress the windpipe enough that it stops the person from breathing. You can do this with a hand, a forearm, the edge of a chair (which can happen accidentally to young kids resting their heads on the sides of a chair by the way). Anything that squeezes the throat could work.
Suffocation is anything that stops air from entering your nose and mouth. From simple drowning (e.g. the home invader holds your head in the bath) to the old plastic bag over the head.
Nothing fancy. But it can take up to a couple minutes to work. And that can be a very long time indeed.
If the brain can’t create signals, or the signals can’t leave the brain, then the body stops. The brain has to tell the hand to move forward in order for the BG to stab you. No signal, no getting stabbed.
Can’t create signals
The human brain is pretty good at generating signals to control the body. So the way to make the brain not so good at generating signals, is to cause massive trauma to the brain itself.
Off-hand there are three things that can do this:
the head getting hit very hard (think “brick” more than “fist”;
the head hitting something very hard (think “slamming into walls/floors”);
something physically, um, intruding into the brain (think “knife” or “screwdriver”).
Stopping the signals from reaching the body
Even if the brain can still generate signals to send to the body, if those signals can’t reach the body, then the body stops.
But how do you stop the signals from reaching the body? By damaging the nerves they run through. Specifically, the nerves that run through the spinal column in the neck.
Option 1 is breaking the neck. Breaking the neck doesn’t break the vertebrae, it severs (or mangles) the spinal cord. No spinal cord, no way for the brain signals to travel to the body.
There’s the twisty whisty Hollywood way. But I’ve never seen it done, I’m not sure of the practical mechanics of it (I only know the theory). And I don’t know how much force it takes. So personally I can’t trust it.
But there’s also the rabbit punch way. The neck is put under tension, preferably 2-way tension (e.g. neck is pulled to a side and also twisted), then an impact is added (e.g. a hammer fist to the site of the tension). Does it work? Something similar works on rabbits (hence the term “rabbit punch”).
Option 2 however, I’m petty sure is fool-proof: decapitation.
If the spinal cord is sliced through, then there are no nerves cells connecting the brain to … well, anything below the neck. That means the brain can’t tell a finger to pull the trigger. Can’t tell an arm to stab. Can’t tell the lungs and throat to warn his fellow criminals that you’re making a move. And the best part is, there’s no delay. It’s pretty darn quick.
This is not the job of a pen knife though. Unless you’re ISIS and have 5 minutes to hack and saw through someone’s neck that is. For an average Joe to make this happen (e.g. in a home invasion) you’re talking a good bowie, a kukri, or a machete of sorts. Which most of us don’t EDC.
Some of us do EDC bowies though. So for those guys, if you can draw your bowie without getting stabbed or shot, then decapitation is possibly a good way to drop one home invader without him getting the chance to warn his home invading buddies.
That ends today’s biology lesson. We hope you’ve enjoyed it.