Thursday, March 27, 2014

The colander's place in the history of radiation treatment

Certificate X.

If you don't know what it is, it sounds slightly ominous, right? It isn't really, but I lay my lack of understanding about radiation right at the feet of said certificate.

When I was growing up in Scotland, the cinema ratings carried certificates. If you watch some of the older British movies on TV, you can sometimes see the certificate at the beginning of the film. It is an actual certificate complete with verifying testifying, mystifying... all your important -ings, plus a letter. and X meant the movie could not be viewed by anyone under the age of 16.

By the way, if you have the feeling, way back in your brain, that you've heard of certificate X, and you are of a certain age, it may be because you heard the song “Lady Godiva,” by Peter and Gordon, waaaay too many times in the mid-60s. The lady in question, after her famous ride, ends up in the movies with her director: “He directs certificate X, people now are craning their necks to see her.”

Anyway, seeing a film bearing a certificate X, most of which were science fiction or horror, at my age was out of the question. Imagine my surprise, then, when we came to America and virtually all the films I remembered as certificate X were now being shown on Monster Movie Matinee. Seriously. The originals of “Frankenstein”, “Dracula” were X. But mostly X was saved in Britain for any film that featured a giant anything, usually exposed to... right, radiation.

What I can't figure out is why British censors would try to protect Britain's youth from these decidedly unscary films. For example, have you seen “The Killer Shrews”? They're dogs with crazy-looking hair stuck on them!!!! “The Amazing Colossal Man”? Hard to be scared by a grown man in a diaper, no matter how big he is. “The Attack of the Puppet People”? They are not puppets and they do not attack. They mostly just climb over everyday items built really, really big to foster the illusion.

And then there's on of my personal favorites: “Bride of the Monster,” directed by Edward D. Wood Jr., once voted the worst director in movie history.

In “Bride” we get to see Bela Lugosi, by this time addicted to morphine and methadone, just about year before he died, match acting chops with the one-of-a-kind Tor Johnson, a former professional wrestler with a huge gut, bald head, and dialogue limited, usually, to variatons of the expression, “Ugh.” As the movie climax nears (the heroes observing an atom bomb blast from about 500 feet away; a blast that doesn't even muss their hair), Lugosi straps Tor to a table and exposes him to massive doses of radiation delivered by a colander hung upside down from the ceiling. I don't mean something that look liked a colander. It was a colander! To Tor's credit though, his “ugh” variations certainly made it seem as though the colander was delivering serious pain.

Which, more or less, brings me back to what I wanted to write about- radiation treatments. They were something I knew about, of course. I even knew people who had them. Other than those former certificate X films, my knowledge was lacking. I didn't know what a treatment looked like for example. I was fairly sure it didn't involve a colander hung upside down from the ceiling, but that was about all I knew. Did you actually see rays coming out of the radiation machine? Didn't think so, but I was less sure of that than the colander thing.

Of course, the equipment turned out to be the very latest in radiation technology managed by three accomplished women; there were no kitchen utensils anywhere.

The radiation was to be of my fractured clavicle and what I have come to call my “bee ribs,” which were what got me to the doctor's in the first place. Radiation as I was exposed (har har) to it, can now be pinpointed to an exact area, of any given shape or size. Only the areas to be treated receive radiation. That certainly seemed to lessen the chance of becoming the Amazing Colossal Man. Whew.

Once the areas to be treated are properly defined, the technicians then put tattoos at key points. Now, I assumed “tattoos” was a casual term for one of those lick and stick kind of tattoos, or a “tattoo” written with a Magic Market, or something like that.

Surprising as it may be, I was wrong again! Tattoo meant tattoo, which meant being stuck by a very, very sharp, really, really pointy needle which had me using “Ugh” in ways even the great Tor Johnson had never considered. And, oh yeah, they're permanent. I considered being outraged at this defilement of the temple that is my body, but... Since my body is more like a 7-11 than a temple, and the tattoos were so small I had trouble seeing them even when they were pointed out to me, I decided to leave my tongue in its sheath for once.

I guess I had always thought you would feel the radiation somehow' just as I thought I'd feel cancer cells eating through my body like Ms. Pacman, But that isn't the case. The procedure was quiet and painless. I couldn't help but think of poor Tor Johnson being blasted by the Cancer Care Colander.

One thing I did learn, though, that I would like to pass on to you: watching science fiction movies from the 1950s is no way to prepare yourself for radiation treatments in 2014. Seriously. Even a great one, like “Attack of the Giant Leeches,” brings more confusion than clarity. I just thought you should know that.

There are a variety of versions of the story that gives this blog its name. The pony is the constant in all of them. A man is on his way to a party when he comes across a young boy shoveling ass over tea kettle at an enormous mountain of manure. The man asks the child if he wouldn't rather go with him to the party than shovel all that poop. The kid says, “No way man. With all that poop... there must be a pony in there somewhere.”