Scissors Shears

JT Ellison

The DorothyL listserve had a discussion last week about hospitals. Can characters walk in and out of sections of a hospital without being stopped, can a patient slip out of ICU unnoticed, all that good creepy kind of thought process. Since I never feel really good about hospitals, the conversation fascinated me.

Unfortunately, I’ve had some experience here. And as fate would have it, during the online conversation, my mum took ill and we needed to put her in the hospital here in Nashville. She’s fine now (Hi, Mom!) and back home in Florida. But the five days she spent in St. Thomas really had me freaked out.

I’ll tell you one thing that’s an absolute – if you want to wander into a hospital room, no one is going to stop you.

If you look like you know what you’re doing, you could go into a room, kill a patient, and walk away with no one the wiser. For five days, I walked in and out and not a single person asked who I was, who I belonged to, who I was visiting, nothing. It was horrifying, really. I’m shocked there isn’t a higher number of hospital fatalities and murders. We won’t even go into the lack of attention paid to the patients.

I’ve never been comfortable in the hospital. The surgery side is fine, emergency is sort of fun in a gruesome ‘things are horrible but they will get better’ kind of way. It’s the ‘spend the night’ areas that I don’t like. I’m not sure where my intrinsic fear of this comes from, having been in hospitals all my life. Maybe it’s the constant barrage of daytime soaps that I watched growing up — DAYS OF OUR LIVES must have set every third scene in University Hospital. Maybe the barrage of people who died, came back from the dead, lingered in comas, had affairs, tainted my worldview.

But I do know one event in particular that really blew it for me. Seeing the Exorcist III in the theater.

I lived in Washington, D.C. at the time, and spent an ungodly amount of time carousing in Georgetown. I didn’t really want to see the movie, but a boyfriend insisted (he wasn’t a boyfriend after that night, I assure you). What a mistake that was. I’ll never forget how scared I was, seeing the halls of Georgetown University Hospital, knowing the streets, the signs, the shops intimately and imagining that the Gemini Killer was real – hell, I couldn’t go to Georgetown unaccompanied for months.

Think I feel things a bit too keenly? That’s why I don’t watch horror movies.

There’s one scene in particular in the movie that still haunts me, where the Gemini Killer comes flying out of a room with the shears to cut off the nurses head – yeah. It was too much for me, I still get chills thinking about it.

Now I find that the movie is based on the book, LEGION, by William Peter Blatty, (yes, quit rolling your eyes, I didn’t know that the original EXORCIST was a book first, I’m sorry) and I find myself wondering if I should get it and read it. Knowing my track record with these kinds of things, I’m thinking no. I just spook too easy.

I watched half of CONSTANTINE (wasn’t scared in the least, just got tired and needed to go to bed) and ended up having one of the most horrific nightmares I’ve ever experienced. Read Peter Straub’s GHOST STORY and couldn’t walk down the hallway to my room by myself for a year. What’s so sad is I read GHOST STORY when I was eight, and saw CONSTANTINE when I was thirty-six, and had the same damn reaction. I just can’t handle the scary stuff.

Yet I can research and write books about serial killers, write short stories about stalkers and demons who terrorize innocents. Any psychologists want to explain that one to me?

Wine of the Week – Maybe this will cheer me up – Molly Dooker Shiraz

8 thoughts on “Scissors Shears

  1. Elaine

    Egad, J.T.! You really chose a timely subject. Yes-I read the posts on DL about hosiptal security-and it really hit close to home for me as well. My husband had surgery last week-and NO ONE stopped or asked me a damn thing either. And-there were no set visiting hours, so I was free to stop in anytime at all.

    And I’m with you on the horror movie problem. I love them, but I close my eyes half the time and miss most of the film. 🙂

    My most memorable scene from The Exorcist? An evening shot of one of the actors (the priest?)going down a long flight of stairs between two buildings in Georgetown. When I was there a few years ago-I decided it was best not to look around too much.

  2. Inigo

    I’m with you on the scary movies – I still don’t watch horror movies. I saw Constantine when I was 38, and it did scare me just a bit in the second half. I don’t need any help with nightmare material.

    Watching those medical TV shows anymore (and the CSI and serial killer/cold case shows) also gives me the creeps, especially stuff about kids, since mine are now in the age range where the most horrific cases they talk about fall.

    And yet, like you, I write the violent and the deranged as characters, sometimes even sympathetic characters. Must be that the monsters aren’t so scary if coming from inside my own head, rather than someone else’s.

    Worst horror-movie moment – first date while in college to see Nightmare on Elm Street (part IV, maybe?). I closed my eyes halfway through, and didn’t open them until the credits. My 5′, 115-lb, blonde date laughed at me for hours afterward, then dumped me the next day.

    Second-worst scary-movie moment – first date where my date paid – she took me to see Fatal Attraction. Also a tiny blonde. Also dumped me. What’s up with that? (he asked the petite, blonde author in the photo…)

  3. Rob Gregory Browne

    Perfect timing. The book I’m working on involves a hospital and the ability to slip in and out unnoticed. So it’s good to hear about your experience with it.

    As for Exorcist III, I thought it was a terrific movie — and one of the scariest I’ve seen. It was directed by Blatty and he did a terrific job. I even bought the DVD.

    There is one scene in the movie in a hospital corridor that almost made me jump out of my chair at the theater.

    I LOVE those kinds of movies.

  4. JT Ellison

    Inigo, if you’re calling me out as the petitie blonde, I hate to disillusion you — I’m 5’11”. Don’t have the petite girl mentality. Wish I did, there’s always soemthing nice about the idea of being tiny. A different perspective on the world, I’m sure.Rob, I have great respect for you. I can’t take the scares, I’m just too much of a baby.

  5. J.B. Thompson

    Like my good friend here, I cannot handle scary movies. I don’t do too terribly well with suspense, either. And yet, also like JT, I can write it with ease. Stephen’s right, it’s a control issue. As long as I’m in control and know what’s going to happen, I’m okay, but I do not like movies that mess with my mind, or things that jump out at me. I can read it, and I can write it, I just can’t watch it.

    I had one really bad experience in my hometown when I was around 15 or 16 where two guys followed my friend and me home from our local movie theater. That may have triggered the whole don’t like slasher movie thing for me. That and seeing GHOST STORY in the theater with my then-boyfriend. After the first five minutes, I buried my head in my hands and didn’t even come up for air until the thing was over.

    Don’t have that boyfriend any more, either. 😉

    Glad Mom is better, too – and best to Elaine’s husband post surgery.

  6. Elaine

    Thanks all – for sending good wishes to my husband. He’s doing much better. And reading up a storm! He’s going through favorite authors faster than I can buy them. 🙂


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