In medical dramas, all a doctor has to do is look at an x-ray, CT scan, or MRI to make a Lethal Diagnosis
. It doesn't matter who the doctor is, what their specialty is, or if they're treating that particular patient. (In some instances, they might not even be a doctor - nurses and radiology technologists are just as prone to this as physicians.) The moment they hold the sheet of film up to the light box, their facial expression changes. This may involve a condition that is lethal and virtually untreatable like advanced stage cancer, or something that needs urgent attention like an intracranial hemorrhage or an aortic dissection. In more modern works, the personnel involved will be standing in the radiology control room as the images are shot, with the same horrified expression as the images result on the technologist's workstation. Ultrasound is also used for this purpose, typically in an Imperiled in Pregnancy
plot, and makes for even more drama since the imaging is always acquired in real time and there isn't really any good way to avoid or delay the bad news.
A subtrope of Lethal Diagnosis
- One Green Arrow story Zig-Zagged this by having him get an x-ray after his ribs are bruised, and the doctor discovers that he's about to die. Halfway through the story, the doctor calls up to say there's been a mix-up, the Radiograph Of Doom actually belongs to...Oliver Queen! At the very end it's revealed that Ollie got speckles of radium on his chest from a broken watch before his x-ray and this botched the film.
- In The Fugitive the titular fugitive Doctor Kimble looks at the X-ray of a little boy and realizes immediately that the child is going to die if he doesn't get into surgery immediately. He fakes the necessary documentation, the kid is operated on and survives.