A prologue and epilogue to a perilous tale
Many of the subjects of the adjacent story are no longer living, including both senior MacCartys, the Wrights, and the Kimballs. Before sharing a few other backstory tidbits, perhaps a word is in order about how Dr. MacCarty came to acquire the nickname "Dumps." As a youngster, he was a great fan of the boxer Jack Dempsey. At camp one summer, MacCarty beat up the camp bully so his friends started calling him "Little Dempsey." That got shortened to "Demps," which was eventually corrupted to "Dumps." In good humor, MacCarty answered to all variations.
Several of the principals in the saga are still quite hale, however. Dr. William "Billy" MacCarty III, DC '67 and DMS '69, now practices orthopaedics in South Boston, Va. He has three children and, as his father did before him, enjoys hunting and fishing. His Dartmouth College classmate and roommate, John Schumacher, remained in the Hanover area and owns a chain of copy shops.
Dr. Robert Gosselin, the toxicologist who was called to the ER that day, is now retired and lives in Meriden, N.H. He has evolved in retirement into a full-time artist of some local note. His work has been published many times in Dartmouth Medicine, and he has been commissioned to do portraits of many DMS faculty members. One of his portraits [in fact of Roger Smith] was featured in the "Art of Medicine" section of the Summer 2005 issue.
We—the authors of this saga, Drs. Seymour Wheelock and Roger Smith—have turned to the pen in our own retirements. When we were of an age to be considering our future careers, the New Yorker magazine began publishing a series of stories by Berton Roueche under the rubric "Annals of Medicine." Roueche described true epidemiological investigations, sagas that quickly became de rigueur reading for anyone who was interested in the health sciences. Both of us at some point read and were struck by one such saga titled "Something a Little Unusual." In it, an amateur horticulturist grafted tomato plants onto rootstock of jimsonweed, a member of the nightshade family (Datura stramonium), thus poisoning himself and his family with tomatoes too heavily laced with atropine. We offer this account from the Mary Hitchcock Hospital "annals of
medicine" as a tribute to Roueche, who died in 1994.
In addition to the sources who are quoted in the story, we drew on the recollections of Dr. Harry Bird; Dr. Leland "Pete" Hall; Dr. Sam Doyle; Dr. Robert Shoemaker; Augustus "Gus" DeMaggio, a professor emeritus of biology; Jane Graham, R.N.; and several others. None of them told a tale that was entirely consistent with anyone else's, but such is the effect of the passage of 40 years. Nevertheless, we're grateful to them all for the bits and pieces from which this incomplete—and, doubtless, erroneous in some respects— account was reconstructed. It should be noted that all the information contained here came from the quoted sources and none from the carefully protected medical records of the patients involved.
Some nagging holes remain in the story, including the names of all the ER personnel involved in the care of the victims and the identity of a mysterious family from Rochester, N.H., that was also at the lunch with a 17-year-old son. He, too, was affected by the Veratrum but was cared for by another physician and was never seen at the Hitchcock ER.
The route from Hanover to the Lake Mitchell Trout Club is not quite as tortuous as it once was, though it is no superhighway. The twistiest portion was immortalized by the well-known painter Paul Sample, a 1920 graduate of Dartmouth College and later Dartmouth's artist-in-residence—as well as a member of the Lake Mitchell Trout Club. From a vantage point partway up a hill that overlooks Beaver Meadow village and its small chapel, Sample painted one of his best-known works. Titled "Beaver Meadow," it is now in the permanent collection of Dartmouth's Hood Museum of Art—and is reproduced on page one of this article.
Finally, additional insights into the use (and
occasional misuse) of botanicals as pharmaceuticals
are contained in a addendum to
this saga. Readers who would like to obtain a hard copy may do so by contacting
Dartmouth Medicine at:
1 Medical Center Drive (HB 7070),
Lebanon, NH 03756;
Seymour E. Wheelock, M.D.
and Roger P. Smith, Ph.D.
In addition to the confusion invited by their similar common names, he two plants bear a superficial resemblance to each other, particularly as they begin to sprout in the spring. In her anticipation of a nostalgic meal, Harriet MacCarty had been betrayed by both of these coincidences.
We're grateful to our sources for the bits and pieces from which this account was reconstructed. Some nagging holes remain in the story, including the names of all the ER personnel involved and the identity of a mysterious family from Rochester, N.H., that was also at the lunch.
Both authors were members of the DMS faculty when the events
they describe here took place. Wheelock, a 1940 graduate of Dartmouth
College, returned to Hanover twice—for an internship at
Mary Hitchcock Hospital in 1944-45 and as an assistant professor
of pediatrics from 1962 to 1966. He is now a professor emeritus
of clinical pediatrics at the University
of Colorado and director emeritus of ambulatory services at Denver Children's Hospital. He has written several previous features for Dartmouth Medicine—most recently, for the Fall 2002 issue, about campus dissension in the 1770s regarding smallpox vaccination. Wheelock's capabilities encompass the visual as well as the literary arts—he also drew the illustrations on the following pages. Smith, who joined the faculty in 1960 and was chair of pharmacology and toxicology from 1975 to 1987, is now the Irene Heinz Given
Professor Emeritus. His byline has been a regular fixture in Dartmouth Medicine ever since he retired in 2000; his most recent feature, in the Winter 2003 issue, was a wry personal account of undergoing surgery, and he contributes one or more shorter pieces to every issue—see page 4 for another sample of his work.
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