Why do wrist slashers on TV, in movies, etc., run water during their exits?

Dear Cecil:

Could you explain why all the wrist slashers of popular literature, television, and film make a practice of running water (bath, shower) during their exits? Is it intended to keep the hemoglobin from coagulating, or is it merely some kind of embellishment from art forms whose true origin has been lost to the mists of time?

Cecil replies:

The idea is that very hot or very cold water will, to a small extent, anesthetize the area to be carved. Cold water discourages bleeding, and hot water promotes it, and the suicide may use either according to his or her preference. Although the running water bit is almost standard procedure in Hollywood, it is apparently not overwhelmingly popular among suicides in real life. (Ha!) The movie men have no doubt latched onto it because it is a convenient form of cinematic shorthand–depressed person brandishes razor, turns on water, sticks arms into sink, and you think suicide without ever having to see any of the gory details. One other common detail of movie suicides is quite accurate, however (at least as depicted in movies of the last several years, such as Ordinary People): if you’re serious about self-destruction, slash your wrists parallel to the arm, not at right angles. A right angle slash can be stanched and sewn up much more easily than a longitudinal slash. Another helpful hint from your friends at the Straight Dope.

By the way, less than 2 percent of U.S. suicides use cutting or piercing devices to do themselves in. Firearms and explosives are the “in’ means these days, accounting for more than half of all male suicides and almost a quarter of the females.

Send questions to Cecil via cecil@straightdope.com.

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