Messy Business

Blood is pretty standard down here. It moves from inside to outside if your skin is opened up. Once outside it tends to pool on the ground. But what happens if you bleed in orbit? Lets see what happens when Zach decides to be clumsy (or have something go wrong).

The Fun Part

February 23, 2033
En-route to Asteroid 101955 Bennu, Approximately 126 million miles from Earth

Get him into the trauma pod Dan. Stop fucking around…he is already missing part of his fucking leg…you aren’t going to hurt him more by hurrying this up.

Zach…can you hear me….we are going to get you through this. The trauma pod is going to help us stop the bleeding, and we have enough IV fluids here to stabilize you. But you are going to need to stay calm.

Zach…look at me….just stay calm…i know it must hurt like a fucking bitch,…but just look at me…

Dan…why the fuck do I still see blood floating around? We have about 3 minutes before that shit is pulled into the air system and we are all seriously fucked.

Not that I think you have AIDS Zach…but I really would prefer to not be breathing your blood.

Dan, hand me the IV pump once you get the trauma pod pressurized. We are going to need to get Zach to a bed to strap him down, and then we are going to have to figure out a least time course back to a hospital.

I’ll take care of getting the IV going and getting some sedatives in him so he doesn’t fuck with his leg…or whats left of it.

I already let the boss know that something went wrong while Zach was outside repairing the panel after that impact, but I didn’t have a ton of details then. While you are plotting our new course can you call home and let them know it looks like something out there explosively decompressed and took off Zach’s leg from below the knee?

How this fucker got back in is beyond me…but we are going to be lucky to stabilize him long enough to get back.

The Real Deal

So a couple of issues going on here, and we will address them all. First is bleeding in micro-gravity. Where does the blood go? Second, how will we deal with trauma in space?

A Vampire’s Paridise

For those of you who have never cut yourself bad enough to bleed here on Earth, here is a lesson on what happens:

  1. The stuff on the inside can get to the outside…this is mainly the red stuff…but depending on where you are cut and how deep it can be other stuff too
  2. Your heart pumping (assuming it still is), pushes the blood out of your body
  3. The blood runs from wherever it is pushed out to wherever the ground is.
  4. The end

In zero- or micro-gravity (this is important because if you are under acceleration you will have the quasi-gravity that makes wherever the engine is the ‘floor’) steps 1-2 are pretty much the same…if for no other reason your body is still doing about the same stuff. Step 3 is where things change because there is no ‘ground’. So instead of your blood running anywhere it just starts to pool in place. And before you think that this could be good (the blood forming into a little ball around the wound to help itself clot), remember step 2 is still happening.

So the fact that blood is pooling around the wound just means you can’t see the actual wound. The blood is still coming out.

If you have caught on to something I said in the Fun Part, and are thinking that my explanation is missing something then (1) good attention to detail and (2) shut the fuck up. I’ll get to that…

So our little lesson on space cuts is up to step three:

  1. The stuff on the inside can get to the outside…this is mainly the red stuff…but depending on where you are cut and how deep it can be other stuff too
  2. Your heart pumping (assuming it still is), pushes the blood out of your body
  3. Your (now on the outside) blood now becomes path dependent. Possible paths are below based on the actual conditions you are in:
    1. Somewhere with no, or poor air circulation
      1. Blood pools in a bubble outside the cut…just sitting there…but growing until complete (if you don’t know what complete means in this case then we need to talk)
    2. In a vacuum (e.g. space)
      1. The blood exposed to the vacuum begins to boil off, allowing more blood to takes its place on the outside…continues until complete
    3. Somewhere with robust air circulation
      1. Blood is pushed away from your body by airflow, and gets pulled into air vents to be recirculated…continues until complete
  4. The end

So a lot of people have talked about blood boiling in space, and how much fun that might be, so lets just skip step 3.2, and instead focus now on 3.3.

Not sure the air filter is enough for this

Over the past two decades of the International Space Station operating we have learned to ensure there is plenty of airflow throughout the station because without it pockets of exhaled air just stay in front of your face, which can suffocate you if you don’t move around on your own. Ensuring there is plenty of airflow may end up being a bit of a problem in a trauma situation, because it may be enough air moving, to make the blood move as well. And the blood…like any good liquid is just going to follow the current…right into the re-circulation system.

ISS Life Support System

Not sure if you caught it…but I didn’t say air re-circulation system…the air system is connected to the water system. So your little blood droplets are moving along with the rest of the air into the re-circulation system (as depicted in the totally readable and not at all complicated picture above). What happens next?

Well much of the liquid in the air is pulled out and sent for filtration to be used as potable water. And the air itself is recycled, filtered, and sent back into the station.

So then – because you were clumsy enough to cut yourself…and happened to be on a station that had good enough airflow to prevent you from suffocating…your blood gets to become both an airborne and waterborne hazard to everyone else on board! Yay! The gift that keeps on giving!

Now we can probably assume you don’t have any communicable diseases (I am polite like that), so then what is the risk to everyone else?

Turns out maybe not a lot. Assuming not a lot of it gets into the water or air.

don’t want to drink/breathe your buddy’s blood?

So a solution to this problem is to build filtration systems that are able to:

  1. Remove toxins from blood (ranging from iron to germs)
  2. Ensure all filtration systems (water and air) have ultraviolet sterilization systems built in to kill those germs that get through the filters
  3. Remember that you are in space and already drinking everyone else’s urine…so maybe you should be less squeamish

Another solution is to just not be clumsy and get hurt…I call that plan A. But I can’t speak for you.

Next Time

Lets get a little less icky next time. How about we look at sleeping in space…any other things that might go along with that.

Until then, check out some of my other posts on medical issues we will have in space (or when we come back). Feel free to reach out to me below if you want to know more about a specific topic in my short story form.

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