Friday, April 28, 2017

Poisoning People for Fun and Profit #27—Warfarin




Did you know that warfarin, also known as Coumadin—that stuff that Grampa takes to prevent a stroke—was originally developed as a rat poison? It came as a surprise to me.


Kale can combat the effects of Warfarin
In high doses it can kill a human. It's a touchy drug, that doesn't get on well with lots of food. Especially green leafy foods like broccoli and kale and parsley, which diminish its effects. (Any food that's high in Vitamin K will interfere with it.)

It becomes more potent when taken with aspirin or other NSAID drugs like Advil and it's also given a boost by garlic and ginger.

The substance now called warfarin was first discovered in the
Warfarin was first discovered in spoiled sweet clover
1920s when American and Canadian cattle started dying from a mysterious bleeding disease. After some medical sleuthing, scientists discovered that the stuff causing the disease came from some fermented sweet clover in the cattle feed.

This mysterious substance prevented vitamin K from forming blood clots, so the cattle would die from minor cuts and abrasions or develop internal bleeding.

It wasn't until 1940 that scientists at the University of Wisconsin isolated the anticoagulant that caused the bleeding and gave it a name: dicoumarol.
Coumarin makes new-mown grass smell sweet


This powerful anticoagulant is produced by a fungus acting on a plant molecule called coumarin. Coumarin is the substance that makes new-mown grass smell sweet. But if the grass is allowed to ferment, rather than dry, the fungus grows and produces dicoumarol.

After World War II, researchers at the University of Wisconsin patented the substance as "Warfarin," a name derived from the acronym WARF: (Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation) and the suffix "arin" from coumarin.

Warfarin was first registered for use as a rodenticide in the US in 1948.


Rats soon became immune to Warfarin
Apparently it was very effective in killing rodents because it's odorless and tasteless, so the rats and mice would keep coming back for more until enough Warfarin accumulated in their bodies to do them in.

In 1954, Warfarin was approved for medicinal use. But patients have to be carefully monitored to make sure the right balance of Vitamin K is preserved. It can cause skin necrosis and "purple toe syndrome" if the dose is too high. It is risky enough that pregnant women are advised not to take it.

But it stopped working as a rodenticide because rats developed immunity to it. That led scientists to produce "superwarfarins" brodifacoum, diphenadione, chlorophacinone, and bromadiolone . These superwarfarins are marketed under a number of colorfully named brands like Pestoff, Ratshot, Mouser, Havoc, and the better known D-Con. 
D-Con is a common superwarfarin

Superwarfarins stay in the body much longer and reduce Vitamin K more quickly, so they are much more lethal. Like warfarin, they can be absorbed through the skin, so people need to use care in handling them.

Both warfarin and superwarfarin can kill humans. The Handbook of Pesticide Toxicology reports that a 32 year old man was murdered by being given warfarin for 13 days. Since the drugs are odorless and tasteless, they are easy to administer, but the killer has to stay around for at least a couple of weeks.

In 1988, two teenaged girls tried to murder their parents using the superwarfarin D-Con. But luckily the parents went for medical help for the symptoms before they succumbed to the poison.
It's not a good idea to add warfarin to your weed.


The American Journal of Hematology reported that some wildly misguided stoners have found that if they mixed superwarfarins like D-Con with their weed, it will extend their high. When they land in the emergency room with mysterious bleeding, they often don't disclose that they've been exposed to surperwarfarins, which makes treatment difficult.

One young Einstein in Utah decided that if smoking rat poison was good, eating it would be even better. He nearly died of the bleeding disorder before he admitted he had been munching on D-Con.
You'd need a lot of these to do in nasty old Aunt Augusta

But most poisoning with warfarin and its cousins is accidental. The good news is that if a person or pet takes it by mistake, they will achieve full recovery if they get to a hospital, where large doses of Vitamin K combat the action of the drug.


To the mystery writer, warfarin and its nastier cousins might provide some interesting plots. If the wealthy, bullying matriarch everybody is hoping will die is already taking warfarin for a medical condition, a little of the colorless, tasteless rat poison in her cocoa might make for the perfect murder. Hmmm.

What about you? Have you read a mystery where warfarin is used as a weapon? Can you think of a good plot for murder by warfarin? 

Here's a list of all the posts in the poison series

Part 25: Yew
Part 26: Toxic Relationships


Enjoy the post? Take a look at some of my books!

THE LADY OF THE LAKEWOOD DINER is a comedy that pokes fun at the myth of a Golden Age, making parallels between the Grail legend and the self-mythologizing of the Baby Boomer Generation.

Someone has shot aging bad-girl rocker Morgan Le Fay and threatens to finish the job. Is it fans of her legendary dead rock-god husband, Merlin? Or is the secret buried in her childhood hometown of Avalon, Maine?

Morgan's childhood best friend Dodie, the no-nonsense owner of a dilapidated diner, may be the only one who knows the dark secret that can save Morgan's life. And both women may find that love really is better the second time around. Think Beaches meets Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe.

The Lady of the Lakewood Diner is only $2.99 at all the AmazonsiTunesKoboNook and Books 2 Read

Friday, March 31, 2017

Toxic Relationships—The most Dangerous Poison of All?


Poisons come in many forms, and psychological poison can be the deadliest. 
This week I saw a tweet for a piece I wrote for Compose literary journal in June, 2013 where I talked about psychological poisonthe kind that can kill relationships and destroy souls. 

It was "the story behind the story" of  my poem, No One Will Ever Love Him, which Compose published in its debut issue in early 2013.

I hadn't read the piece since it came out. After reading it again, I realized it was about three different poisonous relationships:

1) The one I had with a talkaholic friend who refused to allow me to speak but was determined to monopolize my time.

2) The relationship she had with a narcissistic, philandering man.

3) The man's unresolved relationship with his long-dead, alcoholic mother.

Toxic relationships can be as lethal as any poison, but sometimes they can also inspire art, the way mine inspired this poem.

But I'm glad to say I'm finding healthier sources of inspiration these days. 

First I should explain that I’m not really a poet. My muse seems to have a comfort zone of 60K-100K words. I’ve only had about twenty poems and short stories published over the last decade—most written before I was publishing novels.

No One Will Ever Love Him is included in my story and poem collection, Why Grandma Bought that Car, which came out with Kotu Beach Press in 2014.

I didn't set out to write a poem that day. It kind of hijacked me. When a poem or flash-fiction piece comes to me, it often emerges as a whole, needing only a few alterations. 

It will inevitably show up when I’m working on something longer or my focus is elsewhere. 

Like a needy little kid, the poem will keep tugging on me until I give it the attention it needs.

This one emerged while I was on the phone. I’d been listening to a talkaholic friend complain about a bad boyfriend, which she did for hours nearly every day. She’d get home from work and dial my number and dump her complaints of the day on me. I became kind of an emotional garbage can for her. 

She had a lot of issues and I felt sorry for her. But the problem was she'd never reciprocate. She was incapable of listening to me. She probably knew what I was likely to say about her toxic boyfriend, and couldn’t bear to hear it. So she shut me up whenever I tried to comment on her monologues, orheaven forfendtalk about what was going on in my own life.

She'd talk over me, hang up, or—weirdest of all—make fake "listening noises" that were often comically inappropriate. If I mentioned a friend had died, she'd say "Great! Isn't that wonderful!" and go on with her monologue. Or if I said I'd had a story published in a prestigious journal, she'd say "Oh, I'm sorry," and chatter away. 

At first this seemed kind of funny, and I used to test it all the time, dropping in ridiculous things like "I have a date with Johnny Depp tonight!" (Response, "Awww. I'm so sorry") or "I have six weeks to live." (Response: "Fabulous!")


But after a while, this stuff took its toll on my psyche. It was like having duck tape put over my mouth for two hours a day. It started to make me doubt my own self worth and my sanity. It was like slow poison.

Like an idiot, I kept letting it happen month after month, thinking that someday it would be "my turn" to speak. (Yes, I tend to suffer from chronic Pollyannaism.)

She'd had a series of boyfriends who all seemed to have substance abuse problems combined with difficult-mother issues.

On this occasion, my friend told a story about how her bad boyfriend had abused a dog. It upset me a lotand because she talked over me when I tried to respond, as usualI wasn’t able to tell her what I wanted to say: "Run! You’re going to be next."


She nattered on about this man’s terrible childhood, and how she was the only one who could give Bad Boyfriend the love he'd never had.

"No one has ever loved him!" she kept saying.

"And no one ever will," I said when there was a tiny breathing space between her words. "Not the way he wants. Because he doesn't believe he’s lovable. Can’t you see how hard he’s working to create a self-fulfilling prophecy?"


She hung up on me.

I grabbed a piece paper and wrote the poem, No One Will Ever Love Him.

I also stopped taking her phone calls. That call was the moment when I realized that if I ever wanted to revive my writing career, I had to remove the things that were keeping me from success. 

And number one was toxic relationships.

The hours I spent listening to the talkaholic were hours I could have been spending on my writing. For writers, time really is money, and she was stealing from me. And I had allowed it.


Also, being talked at every day by someone who has no respect for your work, your opinions, or your time can poison every aspect of your life. 

I realized her daily calls left me feeling diminished and emotionally battered. I'd been sinking into depression, losing hope and confidence in myself. 

This was because I was getting a daily dose of her poisonous message: "your words and ideas are worthless. Nothing you say or do has any value. You are only a listening device."

I had allowed myself to be the prey of an emotional vampire—because I was afraid of hurting her feelings. 

But she had no compunction about hurting mine. In fact, I'm sure it never occurred to her that I had feelings. 

So I turned all the energy I had been using to empathize with her and listen to her problems into my writing and my blog. Within a month of cutting her off, my blog stats exploded and I got three offers from publishers. and one from an agent. 


A year later I had two best sellers, making thousands of sales a week. 

Just recently, I went back and looked at my journals from that time. I was amazed to see how long I spent writing about how that talkaholic "friend" made me feel depressed and exhausted. It was as if I had been deliberately poisoning myself. 

But finally, on that day she told me the story of the dog, I realized what had been happening. I was as guilty of staying in an abusive relationship as she was. I was doing exactly what I wanted to tell her not to do. Not only had she not been listening to me, I had not been listening to me. I was voluntarily ingesting the poison. 

I'm sure the talkaholic found a new host to feed her need for an audience, and never missed me at all. 

And my reward was a healthier, more fulfilling life. Poison-free. And a poem.



NO ONE WILL EVER LOVE HIM


by Anne R. Allen


No one will ever love him the way his mother did
between her first and second drink,
while they waited for Daddy to come home,
when Daddy still came home
sometimes.

She’d love him with puppy-promises and bicycle-dreams—
a silver-blue one with tassels on the handlebars; a dog named Shep,
and going out for ice cream, maybe, after dinner,
and those trips they'd take into the Bronx, to the zoo
someday.

They only got to the zoo that one time
After Daddy left, and she tried to sneak him in
on a kid’s ticket even though he was a big, fat thirteen-year-old by then.
They were escorted off the property by men in uniforms, after she made
a scene.

He never did get the bike—or the puppy.
Although he dog-sat for the neighbors’ Rottweiler once.
He locked it in the cellar and sat in the silver-blue Barcalounger,
eating Rocky Road, and watching reruns of
Scooby Doo.


What about you? Have you ever had a poisonous relationship that held you back from your goals? What did you do about it? Have you ever turned a toxic relationship into a story or poem? Have you ever been exploited because you're a "good listener"?

For my Poisoning People for Fun and Profit Series, click here.

Book of the Month


WHY GRANDMA BOUGHT THAT CAR: stories and verses. 


A collection of my previously published stories and poems. 

Portraits of rebellious women at various stages of their lives. From aging Betty Jo, who feels so invisible she contemplates robbing a bank, to neglected 10-year-old Maude, who turns to a fantasy Elvis for the love she's denied by her patrician family, to a bloodthirsty teen version of Madam Defarge, these women—young and old—are all rebelling against the stereotypes and traditional roles that hold them back.

Which is, of course, why Grandma bought that car…


Sample Reviews:

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" I expected funny stories in this book, and certainly the humor is here. I mean, a "head 'em up, move 'em out, Rawhide bra"? Love it! What I didn't expect was the poignant depth and truth depicted in many of the characters. Good stuff."....Linda the Writer

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also at ScribdNookiTunes, and Inktera

Compose Literary Journal is open to submissions. They publish two issues a year, one in the spring and one in the fall. For more information check their Submissions Guidelines.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Poisoning People for Fun and Profit: Part 25—Yew



The Yew tree (Taxus baccata) is a conifer with bright red berries. It's native to Europe but was used as a shrub in a lot in landscaping in the neighborhood of suburban Connecticut where I grew up in spite of the fact it's highly poisonous.
                  
Yew berries aren't poisonous, but the rest of the plant is.

I don't remember anybody warning me that the shrubs were poisonous. Luckily the flesh of the plump red berries is not.

But almost every other part of the plant is deadly. 



Yew Poisoning


Yews can be either male or female. The male tree is highly allergenic in all its parts, and the pollen is rated a 10 on the Ogren Plant Allergy Scale of 1-10. But the female tree does not produce pollen and actually produces anti-allergens. But both genders contain poisons.


Even though the berries are harmless, the seeds inside them are highly toxic—as well as the dried needles and bark and most other parts of the plant. They all contain taxin, a complex of alkaloids which is rapidly absorbed by the body. They also have ephedrine, a cyanogenic glycoside (taxiphyllin) and a volatile oil.

If people or animals eat the berries and swallow them whole, they may be perfectly fine, but anyone who chews the seed can ingest a lethal dose with as few as three berries. 


Most parts of the plant retain their toxicity even long after the tree itself is dead.

When animals or humans are poisoned there may be no symptoms and death may follow within a few hours. When symptoms do occur, they include trembling, staggering, coldness, weak pulse and collapse.


Longevity


Yew trees can live for five hundred years or more. Ten yews in Britain are said to be as much as 1000 years old. One, the Fortingall Yew in Scotland, may be from 2000 to 5000 years old. 


In 2015, scientists discovered The Fortingall Yew is changing its gender from male to female after all these millennia. Who knew that trees could be trans? 

The Fortingall Yew in Scotland

But measuring their exact age of a yew is problematic, because the boughs often become hollow as they age, which makes ring counts impossible. 


Usefulness


Yew wood is classified as a "soft" wood, but is harder than other softwoods and is very elastic, so it has many uses.

Yew was highly prized for making longbows.

Yew was so highly prized as material for longbows in the middle ages that yews became an endangered species, and Richard III ordered that every ship bringing goods into England had to supply ten bowstaves for every ton of cargo.

Medieval luthiers also considered yew the wood of choice for lutes and other stringed instruments.

I can't find any mention of medieval luthiers or bow makers protecting themselves from the wood, but modern wood turners are warned to take precautions. Woodworkers have been hospitalized after inhaling dust from yew wood.

People are also advised not to make cutting boards or other food serving utensils out of yew. I couldn't find any documented cases of death by yew wood cutting board, but it could be an interesting plot point in a mystery novel.



Mythology and History


The yew is interwoven with the history of early Europe and is surrounded by rich mythology. The tree was sacred to many cultures.

One of the world's oldest surviving wooden artifacts is a yew spear head, found in 1911 at Clacton-on-Sea, in the UK. It's estimated to be 450,000 years old.
Yews are often found in churchyards


Julius Caesar tells of the chief of the Celtic tribe Eburones who poisoned himself with yew rather than submit to Rome.

The yew was sacred to the pre-Christian Celts, and reverence for them has survived in England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Normandy and Wales, where yews are often found in churchyards. Their longevity and deadly nature probably contributed to their myth as trees of power and magic.

In traditional Germanic paganism, Yggdrasill—the tree of life—may have been a yew tree rather than the ash as more recent tradition would have it. Most scholars now think the tree was most likely a yew. This comes from a confusion of the words for yew and ash in Old Norse. Yggdrasill is described as "evergreen" but the European ash is deciduous.

Also, the yew releases a mildly toxic gas (taxine) on hot days that can cause hallucinations.



This might relate to the story of the Germanic god Odin, who had a revelation (the wisdom of the runes) after hanging from a branch of Yggdrasill for nine days. This myth is thought to be related to the Tarot card The Hanged Man, which shows a serene man hanging upside down from the branch of a tree. 


Medicinal Uses


Like many poisons, the yew has always been prized for its healing as well as deadly
The Pacific Yew
properties. Even in modern times.


In the 1960s, the bark of the Pacific yew (Taxus brevifolia) was discovered to contain anti-cancer agents. Environmentalists feared the tree would become endangered by medicinal harvesting until a synthetic version, taxol, was invented in the early 1990s.

What about you? Did you know the yew is deadly poison? Have you ever read a mystery where yew is used as a murder weapon? 


Here's a list of all the posts in the poison series



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Friday, January 27, 2017

Poisoning People for Fun and Profit: Deadly Daffodils



Those pretty golden daffodils and their cousins, paperwhites, jonquils, and all the other members of the narcissus family are as dangerous as they are attractive.

Sort of like human narcissists.

 
Echo and Narcissus by John Waterhouse
All parts of the narcissus are poisonous to humans—also to lot of animals, and even other flowers.

The symptoms are usually fairly minor allergic reactions like runny nose, itchy eyes, breathing difficulties, rash and hives, but in concentrated doses they can cause a numbness of the whole nervous system and eventually, paralysis of the heart. 

Because of the numbing effect, the ancients used narcissi as an anesthetic for wounded soldiers, but since dosage was unpredictable, Socrates was said to have called them, 'Chaplet of the infernal Gods'. You might feel better, but your heart could stop. Other cultures even believed they could cure baldness or serve as an aphrodisiac. (Maybe for people with zombie sex fantasies? 
Sounds like a really bad idea.)

Jonquils

The flowers contain some nasty alkaloids including masonin and homolycorin. These, together with calcium oxalate crystals cause nasty sores. People in the flower-growing and fragrance industries have to be very careful when dealing with them.

Florists can develop a kind of dermatitis they call "daffodil itch" from contact with the sap in the daffodil stems (which contain a concentration of calcium oxalate.) Doctors usually recommend a steroid cream or ointment for temporary relief, but suggest florists wear gloves to keep from re-infecting themselves.

But the most dangerous part of the plant isn't the flowers, but the bulbs. When eaten, the bulbs can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain as well as severe irritation of the mouth.

They are not good for livestock, either. In the Netherlands during the Second World War, starving cattle were fed daffodil bulbs and fatally poisoned.

Mostly people don't die of daffodil poisoning, but they do suffer severe symptoms. Daffodil poisoning generally happens when people eat the bulbs by mistake, thinking they were onions. Unfortunately, they're fast acting and you don't need to eat a lot of them to do severe damage. 

Narcissus
The UK website The Poison Garden has dozens of stories of people poisoned by daffodils after mistaking the bulbs for onions, occasionally on purpose.

Like the student who was so terrified he'd fail and exam that he ate a daffodil bulb so he'd get sick during the exam and was able to re-take the exam when he was better prepared.

And there's the story of the daughter in law who was pleased to find a bag of onions her mum-in-law had left, so she cooked them into a family meal. It wasn't until after dinner she listened to her voice mail where her mother in law asked if she'd planted the "daffs" yet, that she realized she felt a little queasy and maybe they should all
 make a visit to the hospital.
Paperwhites

In 2009 an elementary school in the UK used onions grown in the school's own vegetable garden to make soup in a class project. Unfortunately, a daffodil bulb got mixed in and most of the children got sick. Twelve children taken to hospital and others were treated at the school but they were all well enough to go home later the same day. But that was only one bulb.

I couldn't find any contemporary stories of people who died from eating daffodils. Mostly they just suffered a lot of unpleasant symptoms. There have been reports of dogs dying from ingesting daffodil bulbs, although this is rare.

But if you wanted to kill off somebody who was already frail, a daffodil or two in the stew might do the trick.


Here's a list of all the posts in the poison series



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Suddenly-homeless American manners expert Camilla Randall becomes a 21st century Maid Marian—living rough near the real Sherwood Forest with a band of outlaw English erotica publishers—led by a charming, self-styled Robin Hood who unfortunately may intend to kill her.

When Camilla is invited to publish a book of her columns with UK publisher Peter Sherwood, she lands in a gritty criminal world—far from the Merrie Olde England she envisions. The staff are ex-cons and the erotica is kinky. Hungry and penniless, she camps in a Wendy House built from pallets of porn while battling an epic flood, a mendacious American Renfaire wench, and the mysterious killer who may be Peter himself.

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