Andromeda Strain

Saw The Andromeda Strain again last night. One of my favorite science fiction flicks. Not only is it a helluva story with a hard science plot, but best of all one of the heroes is an epileptic. Probably the only time I have ever seen epilepsy genuine portrayed on the silver screen, or any screen:

Leavitt had a seizure.
What?  Why in the hell didn’t she tell us about it?
No top lab would have her if they knew. Insurance, prejudice, all that crap.
Sheesh….from the Middle Ages.

Those four lines nail it.

I remember seeing The Andromeda Strain in a movie theater when it came out. I was maybe thirteen and watched the lady scientist have a seizure and it was intense. Wow. There are people like that out there?

Little did I realize….

Anyway last night when Kate Reid, as Dr. Levitt, had her first spell–an absence seizure–I was asked what was happening to her. I don’t actually have absence seizures (and I am immune to flashing lights), hence I can drive. Absence seizures are called complex partial seizures. Simple partial seizures–most epileptics have simple partial seizures–are epilepsy without loss of consciousness. You’re still messed up in your own unique little way, strange symptoms and behaviors, you’re just wide awake messed up. I’ve had lots of those, nice and awake and aware. But with complex partial seizures you zone out of consciousness for a moment (or several moments). Or perhaps you are conscious, awake, but unaware of anything around you. No idea where you are. Lost. But in this first seizure scene, Levitt has obviously lost consciousness. She’s frozen, she’s out of it. She doesn’t fall down or anything, she just zones out and when she snaps back, she is momentarily disoriented. Kate Reid did a good job portraying a complex partial seizure, aka an absence seizure. Obviously Dr. Levitt didn’t drive.

An hour later into the plot, as all hell breaks loose, the flashing red alarm lights send Dr. Leavitt into a full seizure. I had several of those, at night, while sleeping, quite unsettling for somebody sleeping with me. Thankfully meds ended all that as they had seriously trashed my long term memory. Somebody asked me if Kate Reid’s was a realistic portrayal. I said I wouldn’t know, I wasn’t there to watch me. I was never conscious at the time. The brain is zapped all to hell during a tonic clonic seizure, which you probably know as grand mal (“big bad”) seizures. There’s no consciousness during a big bad seizure. The brain is having one hell of an electric storm. I was watching Forbidden Planet today for the zillionth time and when Robbie the Robot tried to take on the Monster of the Id his electronic brain goes white hot with electricity and shuts him down cold. Robbie had the robot equivalent of a big bad seizure. But if you’re flesh and blood (and brain), you only know you’ve had one because everyone around you is freaked out afterward. You wake up with no memory that anything happened at all, feeling quite blissful in fact, while everyone is staring at you like you’re Linda Blair in The Exorcist. And though it’s been years since my last big seizure, I’m so medicated, I still remember their expressions. So traumatized, so concerned, and I hadn’t a clue why. You had a huge seizure they’ll say. I look surprised. Invariably they’ll ask if I remember. Unepileptic people can ask the dumbest questions.

The next day, though, it feels like I pulled every muscle in my body. You never realize how many muscles you have until the day after a tonic clonic seizure. A lot of muscles. Muscles in ridiculous places, muscles that you can’t imagine have any purpose whatsoever but suddenly hurt like hell. But that’s the impression epileptics have of their own seizures. What my big bad fits actually look like I have no idea. So I asked my wife if Kate Reid’s portrayal looked like a tonic clonic seizure. She said yeah, that is what it looked like. Six and a half feet of me stiff as a board, shaking, making unearthly sounds. Then it ends.

Great movie, The Andromeda Strain. But sadly it remains the only film I know of that shows epilepsy exactly like it is.

A complex partial seizure.

A complex partial seizure.

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