6
$\begingroup$

I am wondering if scientifically it is possible to cauterize a wound using molten metal.

I was thinking of a character whose wounds and scars were healed with metal, leaving her with spots and streaks on the skin that was cauterized.

The book would take place in a sci-fi, futuristic world.

$\endgroup$
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Pouring molten solder on a wound is gruesome but feasible. Having the metal somehow bond with the skin and tissues and not fall off is something else entirely. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Aug 29 at 13:00
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ There is no wound were pouring molten metal on it helps, most metals will be toxic and the few that are not have way to high of melting point and will destroy a tremendous amount of tissue. $\endgroup$ – John Aug 29 at 17:11
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Dad was a foundry man; burnt his foot. Took about a month to heal; spent the next decade putting lotion on it every morning. Not recommended. $\endgroup$ – Mazura Aug 30 at 1:31
8
$\begingroup$

The problem is, cauterizing a wound implies tissue damage to the extent of closing off blood vessels. Such damage leaves a layer of dead tissue on the top. And the dead tissue will slough off in a day or two and take the metal with it. Yes there are metals that melt at temperatures that won't kill the tissue. But they won't cauterize the wound.

So it's very unlikely that molten metal will both stick to the wound and cauterize it.

It's just barely possible to prepare tissue for accepting metal and keeping it there. You would have to get some portion of it sub-cutaneous, so that as the tissue grew it would not eject the metal. Basically, you are doing the equivalent of a little anchor in the flesh. Probably it would be difficult to make this stable and long lasting, unless you put it quite deep. Skin is capable of gradually ejecting foreign material unless it's really well embedded. Example from Live Science.

If the splinter isn't removed, the body probably won't absorb the invader or break it down. Rather, the body will likely try to push the splinter out, Biehler said.

Cauterizing is usually a "battle field" type operation, when the bleeding has to be stopped and only rudimentary medical capability if available. It's not what would be done in a hospital, for example. So preparatory equipment to make the tissue accept the metal is not likely to be standard in a battle field med kit.

So the combination of cauterizing and keeping the metal in there is extremely unlikely.

However, who says it must be combined? The metal could be added after the wound is at least partly healed. For example, to make the wound look less gruesome. Or more gruesome, depending. A shiny metal covered scar is probably more difficult to miss. Or possibly as a badge of honor or symbol of combat veteran status. Or various other possible intentions, depending on the culture and context. The notion of cauterizing the wound with molten metal could be the popular lore to make the fighters even more scary.

$\endgroup$
15
$\begingroup$

I was thinking of a character whose wounds and scars were healed with metal, leaving her with spots and streaks on the skin that was cauterized.

You can get them by using a "standard" glowing hot metal bar, like it was done in the past to treat dog bites and other wounds at risk of infections, or pouring boiling water.

Using liquid metal makes it more difficult if not impossible to control the application time, and would cause tremendous damage to the surrounding tissues, due to the sudden boiling of the water there contained. Moreover most metals are more dense than flesh, so they would sink into the point of application as they char the flesh around it.

There are some metals with a rather low melting point, but they are also highly reactive, so not a good choice (i.e. magnesium or sodium).

$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ Some metals are less dangerous than others in their melted form. In particular, the solder alloy (60 to 63% tin, 37 to 40% lead) melts at 183 to 190 degrees centigrade and many amateur fans of electronics have spilled some on their fingers... $\endgroup$ – AlexP Aug 29 at 12:58
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP, right, but spilling a droplet is not the same as pouring a whole bunch, as anybody who has ever fried knows. The thermal capacity involved makes a big difference. $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch - Reinstate Monica Aug 29 at 13:49
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @AlexP also, lead is bad news. and RoHS compliant solder forms those pesky tin whiskers! $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Aug 29 at 14:37
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ @CortAmmon: The EU directive banning tin-lead solder was taken after long and careful consideration, taking into account the large number of EU citizens who sought to derive sustenance from eating their electronic devices. I cannot see any other reason. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Aug 29 at 15:00
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Sean But a solid metal bar is unlikely to flow, slosh and bubble all over the place uncontrollably. $\endgroup$ – Aron Aug 30 at 1:45
3
$\begingroup$

There are lead/tin/bismuth/indium alloys (or some combination of two or more of those metals) that melt at temperatures as low as below boiling water. It shouldn't be too hard to hand-wave a similar alloy that melts at around deep frying temperature.

The bigger problem is that these alloys are slightly toxic (though it's worth noting that current medical protocol is to leave a bullet in place in the wound if it doesn't create a hazard to nerves, blood vessels, or organs; it will be encysted by the body and won't introduce enough lead to cause trouble over a lifetime), and if hardened in a wound that breaks the skin will be pushed out of the body as the wound scars under the "patch". That is to say, the hardened "patches", if visible, would be very temporarily, lasting only weeks at most.

It might make more sense, in a far-future world, for her body to have been altered so that her own scar tissue shows a metallic sheen, and handle cautery with the classic red hot blade or poker (though cauterization is normally only needed for major wounds like amputations or sword cuts).

$\endgroup$
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ If you're letting the scar tissue look metallic instead of trying to embed molten metal, you might have a bit more leeway - maybe some medicine that is drawn into a wound as it heals and gives scar tissue a metallic sheen (ends up something like a tattoo)(can be on purpose, or an accidental result of some healing property). I don't think it would work just applied before cauterization, the wound would likely be too traumatized to absorb anything, but it could work if applied afterwards... maybe it's even only applied to burns, so cauterized wounds will look metallic while other wounds don't. $\endgroup$ – Megha Aug 31 at 7:15

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.