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Category Archives: Poisons & Drugs

Snake Handling and Jesus: What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

Mark 16:17-18 (King James Version):

17: And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues;

18: They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.

Many snake handlers refer to this, and other, Biblical quotes to justify the taking up of snakes. Rattlesnakes and copperheads seem to be the creatures of choice and these deadly serpents are an integral part of their church services. As is ranting non-sense syllables—-the speaking in tongues part. Not to mention that they typically avoid medical help when such help is needed. Sometimes taking strychnine in the belief that this will add another layer of protection against the venom. After all . . . any deadly thing . . . shall not hurt them . . .

Don’t think that snake handling is a thing of the past or is relegated to the backwoods of the South. Though most still thrive in Appalachia, there are over a hundred such churches and they stretch from coast to coast.

What could possibly go wrong?

Well, actually, a lot. Snake handlers have died from bites, when a visit to the ER could have saved them. But religion is a powerful motivator and often over-rides common sense.

For example:

Jamie Coots, the pastor of the Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus Name in Middlesboro, Ky: http://abcnews.go.com/US/snake-handling-pentecostal-pastor-dies-snake-bite/story?id=22551754

Punkin Brown: http://www.hiddenmysteries.org/religion/pentecostal/snakeskill-fool.shtml

And one Glen Summerford, pastor of the Church of Jesus with Signs Following, attempted to murder his wife with a rattlesnake. The story in chronicled in the wonderful American Book Award winning and National Book Award nominated book SALVATION ON SAND MOUNTAIN by Dennis Covington.

Glen Summerford: https://www.newoxfordreview.org/reviews.jsp?did=1095-hartman

My third Samantha Cody thriller ORIGINAL SIN deals with such preachers. Sam visits her old friend Tennessee CV Surgeon Lucy Wagner and both find themselves entangled with the patriarch of a snake-handling church. And everything goes wrong.

 

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ORIGINAL SIN:

Dr. Lucy Wagner was on top of her game. The only cardiac surgeon on staff, a new pediatric cardiac unit dedicated to her, and an impeccable reputation not only put her at the apex of the local medical pyramid but also garnered a few powerful enemies. Such is the nature of jealousy and greed. Turf wars can get ugly. Still all was good until the day old John Scully, the spiritual founder and leader of a local snake-handling church, died on her operating table. Fainting spells, nightmarish dreams, and patient after patient succumbing to some violent psychosis followed, putting her career, and her life, in jeopardy. Aided by long time friend and ex-boxer, ex-cop Samantha Cody, Lucy must reach deeply into her family’s past and into her own soul to find the strength to confront old and very powerful forces she never knew existed.

More Info on ORIGINAL SIN: http://www.dplylemd.com/DPLyleMD/Books-SCody.html

 

Visine and Munchausen Syndrome By Proxy

visine-1

 

Visine is a useful medication. I use it all the time. When the Santa Ana’s blow in SoCal and the temperature rises, the humidity falls, and eyes dry out, Visine works very well. When used properly it is very safe and effective—-but, if used improperly, it can be a deadly poison.

Actually, anything can be deadly. The difference between a drug and a poison is simply a matter of dose. What can cure, can harm; what can harm, can kill. It’s really that simple.

The active, and dangerous, ingredient in Visine is tetrahydrozoline hydrochloride. If ingested in sufficient amounts, it can cause an elevation in blood pressure, a drop in heart rate, a reduction in body temperature, nausea, vomiting, shortness of breath, blurred vision, seizures, coma, and death, to name a few effects.

The case of Samantha Elizabeth Unger underlines this danger. Seems she poisoned her two children by adding the medication to their juice. And may have done so multiple times—-which could indicate that this is a case of Munchausen Syndrome By Proxy—a psychiatric disorder in which parents harm children in order to garner attention and sympathy. Odd, but not rare.

Recently on Crime and Science Radio, Jan Burke and I interviewed Beatrice Yorker, the Dean of the College of Health and Human Services at California State University, Los Angeles and a renowned expert in Munchausen Syndrome By Proxy. Take a listen and check out some of the links for more info on the fascinating topic.

 

 

Snake Venom For Treating Seizures? On Second Thought

rattlesnake

 

In the dark ages of medicine, meaning anything before 50 to 100 years ago, those afflicted with epilepsy were treated, how shall we say, less than compassionately. They were often thought to be infected by some evil miasma, or possessed by a lurking devil or witch or warlock, or were afflicted with some contagious process. They were isolated from society, feared and shunned by all, and often subjected to horrific treatments – everything from freezing water to cutting holes in the skull to let out the evil spirits (trepanning).

 

trepan

 

This is not an uncommon reaction when people are faced with things that they don’t understand. And 100 years ago the medical profession actually understood very little.

A case in point would be Philadelphia physician Dr. Ralph Spangler who suggested that rattlesnake venom, which interestingly he had been using to treat tuberculosis (go figure), might be useful in treating epilepsy. He published an article about a Texas man who had been bitten by a rattlesnake and subsequently the epileptic seizures that had plagued him suddenly ceased. In this empirical observation of a single case he jumped to the profound conclusion that snake venom cures seizures. Thankfully cooler heads prevailed and other physicians pointed out that snake venom not only didn’t, and couldn’t, help epilepsy but rather frequently caused allergic reactions as well as hemolytic destruction of the blood. Not pretty.

The history of medicine is replete with such examples.

 

Crime and Science Radio: Deadly Doctors, Killer Nurses and other Medical Miscreants

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Join Jan Burke and I for a lively interview with Bea Yorker. We will delve into the very odd and not all that rare Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome as well as healthcare professionals who commit serial murders.

 

BIO: Beatrice Crofts Yorker is the Dean of the College of Health and Human Services at California State University, Los Angeles where CSULA’s forensic science program is located. She is renowned for her own research into Munchausen By Proxy, her landmark study of medical serial killers, and her publications on other topics that bring law, psychology, medicine, and ethics together.

 

LISTEN: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/suspensemagazine/2014/03/09/crime-and-science-radio-with-special-guest-bea-yorker

 

LINKS:

Medicine Net: Munchausen Syndrome: http://www.medicinenet.com/munchausen_syndrome/article.htm

Munchausen Syndrome, Cleveland Clinic: http://my.clevelandclinic.org/disorders/factitious_disorders/hic_munchausen_syndrome.aspx

Munchausen By Proxy: Cleveland Clinic: http://my.clevelandclinic.org/disorders/factitious_disorders/hic_munchausen_syndrome_by_proxy.aspx

Kid’s Health: Munchausen By Proxy Syndrome: http://kidshealth.org/parent/general/sick/munchausen.html

Medicine Net: Munchausen By Proxy: http://www.medicinenet.com/munchausen_syndrome_by_proxy/article.htm

Angels of Death: The Doctors: Crime Library: http://www.crimelibrary.com/serial_killers/weird/doctors/index_1.html

Angels of Death: The Female Nurses: Crime Library: http://www.crimelibrary.com/notorious_murders/angels/female_nurses/index.html

Angels of Death: The Male Nurses: Crime Library: http://www.crimelibrary.com/notorious_murders/angels/male_nurses/index.html

Serial Murder By Healthcare Professionals by BC Yorker, et al: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17199622

Serial Murder By Healthcare Professionals by BC Yorker, et al: As PDF File: http://www.chem.sc.edu/analytical/chem107/tox/chem107_toxarticle.pdf

Psychology Today: The Medical Murder Club: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-human-equation/201206/the-medical-murder-club

 

 

Nip, Tuck, Jump: An Anesthetic Death?

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Beverly Hills is famous for plastic surgery. And famous plastic surgeons. Like Dr. Brian Novak, one the surgeons to the stars. But recently, things didn’t go so well with one of his patients. Like something from the TV series Nip/Tuck, where odd happenings were common, the recent suicide of a 53 year old woman was bizarre and unexpected. Seems she and undergone a face lift, after which she recuperated at the North Camden Drive clinic. At some point she became agitated, confused, ripped off her gown, and now naked climbed to the 10th floor roof where she threatened to jump. Ultimately she did, despite the efforts of a crisis negotiation team.

 

BH Clinic

 

How and why did this happen? I would suspect her tragic behavior had to do with drugs. Not those kind. The medical kind. Anesthetics and pain meds, drugs that work on the brain, the former to induce deep sleep and the latter to reduce the perception of pain. But these drugs can also cause confusion, disorientation, and bizarre behavior. Even delusions and hallucinations. These reactions can be part of the drug’s effects or a reaction to withdrawal or “coming down” from the drugs’ effects. These reactions are often unpredictable and come on quickly, as seems to be the case here. Sad.

 

 

Pillow Talk: Post-Sex Confessions Can Sink Your Perfect Murder

Pillow talk can undo your perfect murder. Seems that folks like to confess, or at least tell secrets, after sex. Researchers blame it on Oxytocin—the “love hormone.” Funny, I don’t remember it being called that in med school. Regardless, it just might lower inhibitions and make folks gabby.

 

Pegye Bechler

Pegye Bechler

 

An example can be found in the famous 1997 Pegye Bechler murder here in Orange County, CA. Husband Eric apparently decided to kill his wife and make it look like a boating fatality. His story: he was on a bodyboard, Pegye towing him behind their boat, when a rogue wave knocked him off the board. When he surfaced, the boat was going in circles with no Pegye in sight. The wave had knocked her off the boat and she had drowned. Two problems: Pegye was an excellent swimmer and the water was dead calm that day.

 

Eric Bechler

Eric Bechler

 

Still, even though the police doubted Eric’s story, they had no witnesses, no body, and no real evidence. Eric walked. For a while anyway. He then got a new girlfriend, model and Baywatch actress, Tina New. Seems that one evening after a round of sex and a dose of Ecstasy, Eric confessed to Tina, saying he had killed Pegye with a dumbbell and dumped her body in Newport Bay. At first she dismissed his story but later decided to go to the police. A sting was arranged and she managed to record his confession. Eric was ultimately convicted and given a life sentence.

 

Crime and Science Radio: The Infancy of Toxicology: Interview with Deborah Blum, Author of The Poisoner’s Handbook

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DP Lyle and Deborah Blum, author of the critically acclaimed book THE POISONER’S HANDBOOK, discuss poisons, old and new, and the origins of forensic toxicology. Meet Charles Norris, New York City’s first ME, and Alexander Gettler, The Father of Forensic Toxicology, and walk with them through Jazz Age New York and the birth of forensic toxicology. Learn about poisons such as carbon monoxide, chloroform, arsenic, thallium, and many others.

LISTEN: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/suspensemagazine/2013/09/17/crime-and-science-radio–the-infancy-of-toxicology

LINKS:

Deborah Blum: http://deborahblum.com

Ethanol: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethanol

Methanol: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Methanol

Carbon Monoxide (CO): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carbon_monoxide

Arsenic: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arsenic

5 Classic Poisons and the People Who Used Them:

http://mentalfloss.com/article/23174/5-classic-poisons-and-people-who-used-them

Famous Poisonings, Real and Fictional: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_poisonings

Deadliest Poisons in History: http://io9.com/5942161/the-deadliest-poisons-in-history-and-why-people-stopped-using-them

Forensic Toxicology: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forensic_toxicology

Crime Library: Forensic Toxicology: http://www.trutv.com/library/crime/criminal_mind/forensics/toxicology/index.html

Poison and Progress: WSJ: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703699204575016971709814644.html?mod=WSJ_latestheadlines

Thallium Poisoning: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thallium_poisoning

Facts About Thallium Poisoning: http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=79810

Mathieu Joseph Bonaventure Orfila, The Original Father of Toxicology: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/visibleproofs/galleries/biographies/orfila.html

Dancing With Black Widow Spiders: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/17/science/dancing-with-black-widows.html?_r=0

 

 
 
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