Pontifications on Poison
Being some ramblings on events associated with poisonous plants.
Sunday 29th January 2012
By chance, I came across a mention of a poisoning incident
Solanum dulcamara, woody nightshade, on an internet forum
and was able to learn more about it.
I won’t give any more details of where I came across it or
from whom but it is, I think, worth giving some detail about it
as it points up a number of lessons.
It happened in the late 1970s and involved a 2-year old boy
picking blackberries with his father. The father noticed that
growing in amongst the brambles was another plant with red
berries on it but didn’t recognise the plant or think anything
of it. He was not aware that his son, as well as eating some
blackberries, ate some of these red berries. He says it was
three berries but I think this was the conclusion reached by the
hospital rather than a precise count.
I’ve always said that woody nightshade is not a plant to be
too wary off because the berries are so bitter that no-one,
least of all a child, would be inclined to eat a lot of them.
Obviously, in this case, I’m wrong but it hasn’t been possible
to determine whether the child chewed the berries and ignored
the bitter taste or simply swallowed them whole without chewing.
Not surprisingly, the man has few if any memories of what
happened to him as a small boy.
The father only became aware that something was wrong when
his son began panting and sweating and had a very high pulse
rate. Realising what may have happened, the father took some of
the woody nightshade plant with the boy to A & E where they
confirmed that his symptoms matched Solanum dulcamara poisoning.
The boy was hot, shaky, thirsty and hyperactive for two days
but it was a further two and a half days before his blood
pressure and pulse returned to normal so he could be released
from hospital. He suffered no long-term effects and his father
went on to become a professional gardener who would not ignore a
patch of woody nightshade again.
I asked whether the incident had been written up in a medical
or other journal but the father thinks not.
This story points up some interesting things. First, there is
the importance of taking to the hospital whatever is suspected
as being the cause of poisoning. By identifying the poison early
on proper treatment can be given and ‘proper treatment’ includes
avoiding unnecessary treatment ‘just in case’.
The whole incident, of course, is a lesson in the need to
keep children away from potentially harmful substances until
they are old enough to understand that they should not
experiment without knowing what it is they are about to eat.
For me, I need to revise my view that poisoning incidents are
so unusual that they invariably get written up as case studies.
Clearly, it is not a universal occurrence.
And, I need to qualify my comments about being deterred by
the bad taste of many poisonous plants by pointing out that
swallowing whole bypasses the taste and can happen.