Thursday, September 22, 2005
Stuff I didn't know yesterday
There is a certain colorless crystalline alkaloid that is one of the bitterest substances known to man. It is so bitter that it's taste is detectable in doses as small as one part per million (1PPM).
This crystalline alkaloid is also quite deadly, having a lethal dosage of just 1 mg/kg. As if that weren't scary enough, you don't have to eat it to die. It can be inhaled or even absorbed through the skin!
As quickly as 20-30 minutes after exposure to this substance the muscles in the head and neck begin to convulse and the victim starts to become hypersensitive to external stimuli (sound, touch and noise)... any one of which will trigger a new round of seizures. The convulsions start out relatively mildly, but quickly progress in intensity and frequency as they spread to the rest of the body... especially the spine.
The process by which this substance takes control of, and ultimately kills the victim can best be illustrated by thinking about an electrical circuit. A circuit can be either open or closed. Our body functions through unimaginably complex electrical impulses sent to the muscles by the brain via the central nervous system. Nerve synapses are constantly being issued with momentary instructions to either close or open... which causes the related muscles to either contract or relax. As this poisonous substance is absorbed by vulnerable receptors in the brain and spinal chord, increasingly frequent signals are sent to all of the synapses to close, causing powerful full body contractions... otherwise known as convulsions/seizures.
As the frequency and intensity of the convulsions/seizures increase, the body becomes increasingly fatigued. One of the larger muscle groups in the body - those associated with the diaphragm - are particularly sensitive to these signals to contract. Picture involuntarily exhaling all the air in your lungs at the same time that all of your body's muscles tense up in unison. Now as the seconds tic by and you can't get a new lungful of air, the world starts to turn sparkly and gray as unconsciousness threatens. Each subsequent convulsion is worse than the last and brings both physical exhaustion and suffocation close enough to touch. It is as if you are experiencing the worst possible labor pains... but with no hint of joyous relief.
If you've figured out that what I've been describing are the attributes and effects of Strychnine, give yourself a gold star! You know way more than I did at this time yesterday.
The reason I didn't know any of this yesterday is that I am not a big fan of crime/detective stories (other than Sherlock Holmes*), and Strychnine has been so carefully controlled as a pesticide that few people can legally obtain/use it.
However, late yesterday evening my wife asked me to take a look at our beloved Black Lab mix Jordan. Zahava said that she'd heard Jordan fall down and she was now acting very strangely. When I went to have a look, Jordan was having trouble standing and was shivering rhythmically.
I tried to coax her into having a drink from her water dish... and she really seemed to want to... but she was having trouble bending her neck down far enough for her tongue to reach the water.
For almost 30 minutes we all fussed over Jordan in the well lit kitchen, petting her and speaking to her in reassuring tones. I now realize with horror that each touch... each sound... and even the blinding lights were triggering ever more powerful muscle convulsions.
Remember... yesterday I wasn't the fountain of knowledge you see before you now.
Finally, after even more time had passed a very dim bulb began to flicker in my head. I realized that she had no sign of physical injury or bite. I realized (with Zahava's help) that Jordan was getting worse, not better. I realized that she most likely had been poisoned.
After a few frantic phone calls we found a veterinary clinic in Jerusalem that had a 24 hour on-call number. I phoned and described Jordan's symptoms. After a few pointed questions ("When did the symptoms start?"... "Do I know what she might have eaten?"... "Is anyone else in the house experiencing similar symptoms?") the vet told me to put her in the car and get to the clinic as fast as I could. Within moments our two tearful big kids watched as a more tearful Zahava helped me load a twitching/seizing Jordan into the back seat of the car.
Throughout the endless 15 minutes it took me to get to the clinic, I listened helplessly to Jordan grunting and thrashing on the seat behind me. When I arrived at the clinic she couldn't walk and was having trouble breathing.
The vet looked her over for less than a minute and told me she was most likely suffering from Strychnine poisoning. He explained that the only way to fight the nerve synapses convulsive closing was to force them open using heavy and constant doses of anesthetic.
As he set up the I.V. drip and began pushing first Valium and then Nembutal into her vein I watched as Jordan relaxed and drew a normal breath for the first time in over an hour. She still twitched from time to time, but she seemed to be getting relief. When I pointed this out, the vet warned me not to take this momentary relaxation as too positive a sign. He described how the next 6 - 8 hours (at least) would be a very serious tug-of-war between the Strychnine's attempts to cause convulsions and the anesthetic's ability to relieve them.
Every 20-30 minutes the effects of the anesthetic began to wane and the effects of the Strychnine became more pronounced. First the trembling and twitching would begin... and then her body would start to involuntarily arch and stretch. Each time this happened the vet gave her a little more narcotic and the tremors would subside. He explained that this was a dangerous game to play because too little anesthetic would allow the Strychnine to cause death by asphyxiation or exhaustion... but too much anesthetic would cause death by overdose.
The entire clinic was not even as big as my bedroom. The vet and his two attendants worked on Jordan and several other late-night casualties simultaneously. In between the tidal flow of seizures crashing on Jordan's convulsing shore, I watched the vet sew a cat's mostly severed ear back on, euthanize an ancient Poodle while its head lay in its sobbing Russian owner's lap and remove a Golden Retriever's horribly bloated/infected uterus... all the while talking non-stop to all the owners.
Before sending me home, the vet told me that he was optimistic about Jordan's chances... but said that there were far to many unknowns and variables to make any guarantees. He said that he had seen dogs come in to the clinic in worse shape survive... and others who had seemed in much better shape succumb. What he promised was that he would watch her all night as if she was his own, and continue the tug of war with the poison for as long as possible.
At 6:30 this morning I spoke with the vet again and he told me that Jordan had made it through the night and that he was no longer giving her anesthetic. He said she still had mild tremors, but that he was relatively sure that the fluids were starting to wash the poison out of her system and that Jordan would pull through. The way he put it was, "Go ahead and buy the champagne, but don't open it just yet."
Another conversation at noon was even more encouraging. He said that the lingering anesthetic in her body would keep her sleeping for at least another day, but that the combination of the I.V. drip and a diuretic would continue to flush out Jordan's system. He reassured me that he felt she was now completely out of the woods.
We still don't know who put Strychnine out in our neighborhood. I am horrified to think that Yonah could just as easily have come in contact with the poison as Jordan. in fact, fatherly pride aside, at this age Jordan probably has considerably more common sense than Yonah when it comes to ingesting unknown substances.
While we have reported this to the local authorities and hope they get to the bottom of how this deadly poison came to be so close to where we live... a part of me hopes that I never find out the guilty party's identity. Right now I don't know if I can be trusted not to give the culprit a taste of his own medicine, so to speak. Obviously these kinds of thoughts are neither rational nor helpful, so instead of eating lunch today I decided to provide you all with this educational public service announcement.
After all... I didn't know any of this stuff yesterday. Maybe you didn't either.
* Yes, I am aware that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle makes reference to a 'strychnine-like substance' in 'The Sign of Four'. However, he doesn't describe the early onset of symptoms so I never made the connection.
Posted by David Bogner on September 22, 2005 | Permalink
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I was stunned to hear about this, for obvious reasons.
Me and Pikachu are rooting for Jordan's complete recovery.
Posted by: Tanya C. | Sep 22, 2005 3:52:59 PM
Thanks for that public announcement. I hope everything will be back to normal real soon...great pics!
Posted by: Jewish Blogmeister | Sep 22, 2005 3:54:39 PM
Wishing Jordan a speedy recovery. Could it be that she ate something containing rat poison? I know that stuff used to cointain strychnine. May be in some countries its use is still not-so-carefully controlled.
Posted by: Sandra | Sep 22, 2005 4:14:27 PM
As a fellow Efrat resident, especially one who enjoyed playing with Jordan, this obviously disturbs me as well.
I found this link, which might shed some light on the subject:
It mentions how strychnine used to be commonly distributed by municipial officials until its banning a couple of years ago. This was done particularly in areas with rabies threats, such as Efrat. But what's particularly disturbing is that strychnine can "remain potent for years".
So maybe the municipality put out a bait before the ban and Jordan only discovered it now?
Posted by: Dave | Sep 22, 2005 4:18:02 PM
Poor girl. Good work keeping your heads and getting her to the doctor without delay. Please give her an extra hug for me when you see her.
Like Sandra, rat poison is what I think of when I hear the word strychnine. I also remember a high school rumor that it's in lsd, but I have no idea if that's true.
Posted by: Tanya | Sep 22, 2005 4:37:57 PM
Tanya C... Watch Pikachoo closely when you are out for a walk. If (G-d forbid) you notice any of the symptoms don't wait around the way we did... take fer directly to the vet.
Jewish Blogmiester... Thanks. We hope to have Jordan home for shabbat.
Sandra... That is certainly what it was. The only reason it is used these days is as a rat/rodent/bird poison, and then only by municipalities (under very tight guidelines).
Dave... Thanks for the link to that article. It is scary to think about all those strychnine pellets laying around out there for pets to stumble across.
Tanya... I suppose...if you call sitting around making kissing noises and scratching her behind the ears 'keeping our heads'. I shudder to think think how long we sat around NOT doing anything constructive. [shudder]
Posted by: David | Sep 22, 2005 5:33:43 PM
A refuah sheleimah to Jordan.
Posted by: Jack | Sep 22, 2005 5:34:19 PM
Oh! Oh! Poor Jordan!
I'm sure you've thought of this but . . . is there an online Efrat list you can use to alert the community? Your neighbors should know what happened, for the safety of their own kids (and pets) as well.
Posted by: Sarah | Sep 22, 2005 5:55:48 PM
I'm very relieved to hear that Jordan is doing better.
Posted by: beth | Sep 22, 2005 6:01:24 PM
Yikes! A speedy recovery to Jordan followed by a scratch behind the ear from me.
I would like to make a motion that really scary stuff stop happening to you and yours so you can get back to eating big bowls of gravy for lunch. Do I have a second?
Posted by: Doctor Bean | Sep 22, 2005 6:22:53 PM
Posted by: Tanya | Sep 22, 2005 6:31:40 PM
I'm with the Doctor; seconds AND thirds.
If indeed there are leftover strychnine pellets out there, that's a veritable pet/small child mine field. And in that regards, I'm with Sarah. Don't wait for the authorities. Get on the horn, start with your neighbors.
Wishing Jordan a speedy recovery and a scritch/scratch from me as well.
Posted by: jennifer | Sep 22, 2005 6:37:36 PM
So sorry to hear about your pooch. Rub her tummy for me. How frightening.
Posted by: Alice | Sep 22, 2005 6:48:47 PM
That was painful to read, glad the ending will be a happy one. We've got tons of stray animals in our neighborhood and I will now be asking the local Vaadot about what has been/is being used for this. We just got a lab puppy, so the timing on gathering this information is perfect...thanks for the important PSA.
Posted by: Yonah | Sep 22, 2005 6:56:11 PM
You wrote that so well. You could have been a doctor. Or at least a chemist.
Posted by: psychotoddler | Sep 22, 2005 6:59:35 PM
How frightening. I'm so glad you got Jordan to the vet in time and that as things look now she'll be OK and home in time for Shabbat.
Please give her some skritches and tummyrubs from me.
Posted by: Rahel | Sep 22, 2005 7:05:24 PM
Speedy recovery to your doggie, and I am with Doctor Bean on that motion! : 0
Posted by: Irina | Sep 22, 2005 7:09:05 PM
David, I'm so happy Jordan is out of the woods - please give her little ear and tummy scratchies for me. She's a beautiful puppy.
Posted by: Carol | Sep 22, 2005 7:25:04 PM
A refuah sh'leimah to Jordan - you were lucky not to have waited any longer.
Strychnine, the alkaloid produced by the nightshade plant, is why that plant has the nickname "Deadly Nightshade." [And why the villain in Beany and Cecil was called Dudley Nightshade.] Nasty stuff, that.
The only good thing I can say about a close call like this is that it shows us all how important our Loved Ones are to us - including our Animal Companions.
Posted by: Elisson | Sep 22, 2005 7:45:28 PM
What a harrowing experience! Glad Jordan will be ok. Really well-written post.
Posted by: mcaryeh | Sep 22, 2005 8:20:40 PM
Just to reassure folks out there, we most certainly did NOT wait for the local authorities to pass the word on. Thanks to a caring and empathetic client who happened to be on the phone with me when Jordan begun convulsing violently, I posted the location, timing, and specific symptoms of Jordan's ordeal on our community chat list to warn our neighbors of the potential continued threat before going to bed last night. This morning, after bringing Yonah to Gan, I personally knocked on all my immdediate neighbors' doors to inform them of what had happened and to use continued caution regarding their pets, children and grandchildren.
There are so many terrifying aspects of the last 24 hours that it is almost impossible for me to articulate them all. Suffice it to say that we fervently pray that no one else suffers similar circumstances.
Posted by: zahava | Sep 22, 2005 8:45:38 PM
I will never cease to be amazed by the skill and dedication of veterinarians. At a fraction of the pay of human doctors, they often master a wider range of medical techniques, which then have to be applied to patients that they can't directly communicate with (large animal vets amaze me even more; that work's half medical and half large-scale contractor work).
Unless you count the week that my family house-sat a gerbil, and the occasional goldfish, I never had a pet. The Lovely Wife(tm), on the other hand, can go into an hour's worth of rhapsodizing over Willie, the weimaraner that she grew up with. I can only imagine what the last 24 hours were like for mishpachat treppenwitz. Here's hoping for only good news from the turdistan side of the house from here on in.
Posted by: efrex | Sep 22, 2005 9:01:56 PM
I seem to recall a Robin Cook book that dealt with strychnine poisoning. That vet sounds like an amazing person. Refua Sheleima to Jordan.
Posted by: Essie | Sep 22, 2005 9:26:51 PM
I was almost afraid to completely read this post on the chance that the outcome was not good. Thankfully, it was a relief to continue reading and find that Jordan is doing better.
Give her a scratch and a smooch from us and I hope she makes it home for Shabbat. Hugs to the family for having gone thru the ordeal. I love you all.
Posted by: val | Sep 22, 2005 9:37:20 PM
refuah shelema to jordan!
Posted by: alan scott | Sep 22, 2005 10:46:49 PM
David, you scared the crap out of me. At first I was happy for earning a gold star (tribute to Dr. Paul [toxicology / pharmacology] but quickly faded. We loooove Jordan. if it wasn't for Jordan we wouldn't have a dog! I hope you find the source so it can be contained and removed. When Jordan gets back, let her give you kisses all over your face. We wish her a full recovery, and she has a playmate waiting to see her again in Mount Vernon.
Posted by: Daniel | Sep 22, 2005 11:45:40 PM
actually, i was producing tears at the beginning of this post, so don't be angry if i say happy to hear the recent news [i.e. that things are well]. i too think it is rat poisoning and that either some idiot got their hands on it to use it privately or the first case mentioned above. in either way it's a reckless and dangerous behaviour. maybe this stuff is lingering somewhere in the fields behind your yard and j. picked it up there.
i wish dog goodies here were kosher enough, so to send over a get well box :(
in any way. my sister in-law is a vet at and back in the country, so please feel free to let me know if she can be of help.
Posted by: mademoiselle a. | Sep 23, 2005 12:25:25 AM
I remember meeting Jordan when we stopped by your house. She's such a sweet doggie! I hope she recovers fully and you have many more years with her. Give her a hug for me.
Posted by: Mirty | Sep 23, 2005 2:10:12 AM
Wow! Wishing your dog Refua Shleima.
Posted by: Evan | Sep 23, 2005 4:07:27 AM
Jack... Thanks. Your good wishes worked.
Sarah... As Zahava mentioned that was done right away. Thanks.
Beth... Knowing what animal nuts you and Chuck are, I don't have to explain how scary this was... or how relieved we are. Thanks.
Doctor Bean... We really live a fairly boring life here. I just don't write about the boring stuff. If you want a couple of journal entries about me washing dishes or cleaning toilets, I'll try to oblige. :-)
Tanya... Nice to see that everyone has their copy of 'Robert's Rules of Order' handy. :-)
Jennifer... Done... and heartfelt thanks.
Alice... Jordan is not going to lack for attention this weekend. :-)
Yonah... We were very stupid not have had an emergency plan for Jordan. I'm glad our lesson didn't cost Jordan her life.
Psychotoddler... Nah. I only retain stuff that is personally important/interesting to me. I'm guessing that not all of the pharmacology and microbiology you took hit quite this close to home.
Rahel... Consider it done.
Irina... Thanks. I'll try to keep the emergencies to a minimum. :-)
Carol... Thanks so much. I am giving her ear scratches as I write this.
Elisson... There was never a question of Jordan's place/importance in the family. This just accentuated the point. Thanks for the info (and the good wishes).
Mcaryeh... Thanks. None of us has left her alone since she came home.
Efrex... Thanks for the good thoughts. You're so right about the past 36 hours being harrowing.
Essie... You have no idea how impressed I was by the vet. He was true to his word and took care of Jordan as if she were his family pet. It was wonderful to watch.
Val... Thanks. She's home now and everyone is sticking very close.
Alan Scott... Thanks. your thoughts are much appreciated.
Daniel... I'd rather see them playing in our yard over here (that's the more likely scenario, no?).
Mademoiselle... I appreciate the good thoughts and the offer. I'd love to have her info anyway since we do take Jordan on day trips and you never know...
Mirty... Consider it done (more than once.).
Evan... Thank you very much. I can't help thinking that good thoughts are always helpful in a successful recovery.
Posted by: David | Sep 23, 2005 3:21:07 PM