Tuesday, October 03, 2023

Angiograms Don't Show Demons!

It's round about the 50th anniversary of The Exorcist (cue Tubular Bells).

What a great movie! Scary etc etc. for sure, but such cinema verité as well! (Probably got that term wrong.) I mean as in superb naturalistic acting and non-intrusive directing, for the most part anyway, not counting, you know, the exorcism part..

However, a great source of amusement to me about this fillum, is that what freaked out my friends more than any guacamole, pea-soup, head-turning, bed-bouncing, etc, were the medical sequences.

As the radiologist stabbed Reagan's carotid artery directly and withdrew the stylet prior to putting in a guide wire, then attaching the tubing with a Luer lock connection to the angiomat injector, blood spurted out very realistically, and then went up the tube very realistically. Did they actually cannulate the poor girl? Probably not. But to my friends this was incredibly distressing and they thought it was most horrible thing they had ever seen! Worse that the rest of the movie, as it was so realistic and the rest was obviously, you know, a horror movie...

But not me, it was just another day at the office.


I was a young radiography student at the time we were all old enough to see the movie at the drive-in (around 1977? drinking Melbourne Bitter long-necks on the bonnet of the car), and when I was rostered into Room 2, the angiogram suite (hardly a suite! A cramped room full of antiquated public hospital equipment with jerry-built accoutrements to do the job despite that generous Govt funding - a bit like the battered and chipped equipment they used in the film GE I think) we used to perform two, three, four, six, of these procedures on our angiogram days. It also the room we used for barium enemas, etc. But the stabby, bloody bits were just part of the terrritory, as it were, for the brain (as in the movie), but also for the kidneys, the aorta and down the legs etc... (We didn't do cardiac.)

I would occasionally own that pair of hands that are holding Reagan's head still while the needle is being placed... The blood spurting out was a sign the radiologist hadn't missed (always good) so for me that gave a positive feeling, as we could get on with the radiography bit.

However! One issue that has really bugged me since I first saw the movie, and I can't get it out of my head or forgive them 46 years later, is that when they were actually taking the x-rays and the AOT film transport machines were banging away, moving a film up the intensifying screens, then moving it out and placing another one, (we had to load them in a pitch black darkroom, counting the metal slots for each film in the desired sequence) was that...

*Reagan moved her head in the middle of the bloody procedure...!!!*

We she opened her mouth here ^ for a silent scream, she lifted her head as well! I'm sure it was great acting, but it was terrrible patienting!

"Noooooo! You've blurred several of the most important images!! We'll have to do it all again! Oh my God. Open more contrast, Bruce. Sister Zoe, we'll need another guidewire... Now listen! Please! Keep! Your! Twisty-turny Green Vomity Head! Perfectly! Effing! Still! (You stupid demonic bitch!) Phillip, tighten those head straps (until her skull cracks)!"

Sigh. Verisimilitude collapses like Schrodinger's wave function, and the cat is dead after all.


As an aside, the mechanised display system they used to look at the array of processed films (kachunk, kachunk - the Film-o-matic, or something stupid like that - someone here will know) was a pain to load (it was often done by the - you guessed it - student radiographers i.e. me), and every now and then it broke down, or a film fell down underneath it and was a shit to retrieve...

An another anside: not long after this film was made, radiologists changed to a different approach to cerebral angiography, so that the needles were not longer stabbed into the neck (occasionally causing a dissection of the carotid - never saw one thankfully...).  It all moved down to the groin, using the Seldinger technique of placing the needle into the femoral artery (hopefully): remove the stylet: advance guideware up to the aorta: remove the needle: advance a shaped catheter over the guidewire to the root of the aorta: remove the guidewire: attach the Injectomat (hopefully a nice new one) and inject from there for the first bilateral run: put the guidewire  back in and reposition (replace?) the catheter into the appropriate carotid near the origin and off you go for the next run... Don't forget to stress the student radiographer out when he goes to processes the films after each run, refill the AOT of whatever the brand name was with the right number of films in the right sequence or Herbert will throw a film cassette at him...  


Ah, back to the movie: the crucifix scene was probably not quite as explicit in the version we first saw (or perhaps I had my hands over my eyes at the truly scary scenes)... but just as a suspense movie, great effects, great score, fantastic acting (the coffee scene with Lee J Cobb and Ellyn Burstyn, brilliantly understated - however Ellen in The Last Picture Show, OMFG, how good was she there?!), and not to forget the accurate medical sequences, The Exorcist is undoubtedly one of the top 10, maybe top 5, top 3? films of all time for


1 comment:

savannah said...

I remember reading the book while I was pregnant with my first child and my Mama and the MITM's Mama were MASSIVELY upset that I had chosen to read it so close to my due date! Go figure, right? As if Cap't Chaos's obsession with skulls is a direct result...

Anyway, the MITM has started watching the movie again, so I might have to watch it since I don't remember any of it! (or the book, for that matter) I'll make sure to pay attention to the scenes you referenced!

Perfect for Halloween, sweetpea, justperfect! xoxo

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