Everyone at some point has cringed while watching the Hollywood version of their profession butchered in a movie. For example, law enforcement hates how police are shown jumping rooftops, forensics experts take minutes to find evidence, and attorneys take a couple hours in a courtroom to convict a perpetrator. We in the poison business have the same cringe-worthy moments when watching movies where someone has taken a lethal ingestion but survives due to a ridiculously simple or outrageously dramatic approach to the treatment of a poisoning or overdose. We genuinely fear that the general public will believe in what they are viewing.
Everyone truly enjoyed the scene from Pulp Fiction where Uma Thurman overdoses (‘ODs’) on heroin and they just happened to have a gargantuan syringe filled with adrenaline which they inject directly into her heart. She wakes up and is able to walk through her front door with no further problems. While this makes a great movie drama, it is not a likely scenario or outcome… it’s not even the correct antidote!
Awhile back, we published a blog post correcting the urban myth that ingesting Visine eye drops will cause excessive diarrhea (as portrayed in the famous scene with Vince Vaughn and Isla Fisher in The Wedding Crashers). Ingesting this type of eye drops(which contain imadazoline decongestants) can actually cause severe drowsiness and dangerous drops in a victim’s blood pressure. These symptoms can potentially be fatal in small children.
I recently had the pleasure of watching Bachelorette, a movie starring Kirsten Dunst and Isla Fisher. I really appreciate both these actresses, but was deeply frustrated by the scene in which Kirsten Dunst finds Isla Fisher unresponsive on the bathroom floor after an apparent overdose on a benzodiazepine (used to treat anxiety and insomnia) . She holds Isla’s head over the bathtub and shoves her finger down her throat making her vomit, and suddenly Isla Fischer is awake, alert and can now attend the wedding.
There are sooooo many things wrong with that situation. Where do I start??
One of IPC’s key messages regarding ingested poisons is : Never make anybody vomit for any reason, at any time!!! There are several reasons Kirstin Dunst should have called the poison center for advice in this particular instance.
1. If a victim is unconscious and you induce vomiting, the vomitus is likely to be inhaled into the patient’s lungs and cause severe lung damage. In many cases this is more dangerous than the initial overdose itself.
2. The fact that Isla Fischer was already unconscious was a sign that she had probably already absorbed most of the drug and there was very little left in her stomach. There was therefore minimal to no benefit in trying to decontaminate her stomach (?) via inducing vomiting.
3. Vomiting does not reverse the drowsiness caused by any substance once it has been absorbed; it does not remove the toxin from the bloodstream. If someone is already “passed out”, forcing them to vomit under any circumstances is not in the least bit likely to cause them to awake from slumber sleeping beauty style, fresh enough to attend the ball.
I am planning an Isla Fisher movie weekend to see if I can link her to any further poisoning gone awry situations. In the meanwhile, stay safe and don’t believe everything you see on the big screen.
As always, If you or someone you know has been exposed to a potentially harmful substance, please call the Illinois Poison Center at 1-800-222-1222. For information on substances commonly ingested by children, check out the Illinois Poison Center “My Child Ate” resource center.