Reel To Real: How Long Can You Survive After Sawing Off Your Own Foot?

According to our medical expert, it doesn't look good for the victim in 'Saw.'

The Reel Story: In a crowded Halloween market, the gory, gritty and completely strange "Saw" stands out. Imagine waking up in a dingy, filthy room with a heavy chain shackling your foot to the wall and absolutely no idea how you got there. The only thing your captor has left you that might help you escape is a saw, but you can't seem to cut through the chain.

That's the horrifying premise of "Saw." Amazingly, one of the captive men takes his torturer up on his hideous offer of freedom through self-mutilation and amputation. (We're doing our best to avoid spoilers here, but if you've seen the trailer, TV spots or promotional posters for the film, you kind of know what's coming.) In a moment of unbelievable distress, convinced that no other solution exists, the character saws off his own foot. He starts crawling, but he has no idea where he is or how far he will have to travel to find help. All that gritty, gory fun brings up the question: How long can a person survive after amputating his own limb?

The Real Story: It doesn't look great for our crawling friend, but with a little luck, he just might make it. "You can't amputate a foot without an arterial bleed. It's impossible," said Dr. Marc Siegel, associate professor of medicine at New York University. "You'd survive no more than an hour."

Siegel points out, however, that you can buy yourself a little time. "You could tie it off with a tourniquet, and you could survive a few hours with proper tourniqueting," the doctor explained. According to, you (or the guy you plan to chain to the wall in your rec room) would also be at risk for infection and physiologic and emotional shock. And if you happen to be dragging your fresh wound through a filthy sewage-treatment plant — like the victim in "Saw" — you are at especially high risk for a nasty infection and shock.

Because the film's victim had the presence of mind to tie off his stump with a belt, he probably bought himself a little bit more time to find help — an hour, maybe two. That is, if he doesn't bleed to death, go into shock or run into the killer first.

For more on the movie and its creators, check out our feature "Buzz 'Saw' " as well as everything else we've got on "Saw."

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