Amedical whodunit in our Spring issue drew several letters—including one relating a similarly scary poisoning episode, but with a similarly happy ending.
Requiescat in comoedia
I enjoy receiving Dartmouth Medicine, as it revives many wonderful memories of my years in Hanover, both as a child (I was born at MHMH) and as an adult working in the DHMC Development Office.
The article "Wild Greens" in the Spring issue was of special interest. My father, Robert "Bob" Rand, Hanover's funeral director and, in 1966, the owner of the town's only ambulance service, was the driver on that hair-raising ride to and from the Lake Mitchell Trout Club. He recounted that story many times and often said how fortunate those diners were to have survived their "special" luncheon delicacy.
Dad often asked Jack Wright (the Rand family physician) or Dumps MacCarty if they had any exotic greens they were willing to share. Many such jokes passed among the three over the years. Dad now rests in Hanover's Pine Knoll Cemetery, but knowing his sense of humor, I'm sure he would have a few more choice comments to share with the MacCartys and Wrights!
Dot Rand Jeffrey
I loved the nod to Berton Roueche in "Wild Greens," the story about the Indian pokeweed poisoning in your Spring issue.
When I was a pharmacology graduate student at Dartmouth, I very much enjoyed a journal club in the same vein run by Dr. Roger Smith, one of the authors of your article, so this story brought back good memories about those gatherings.
Thanks for a great article about a very interesting event! I do wonder, though—did the esteemed cook ever try her hand at exotic local greens again?
Kyle MacLea, Ph.D. '03
I was out of town when the "pokeweed poisoning" occurred at Dartmouth, but I recall that my colleague Dean Seibert arranged for the peripheral blood leukocytes of those poisoned to be placed into culture.
It was known that true pokeweed extract, when added to short-term leukocyte cultures under the right conditions, causes mitosis in the B-cell subpopulation of lymphocytes. This action had been discovered at Rhode Island Hospital by Patricia Farnes and Barbara Barker, following their astute observation that lymphocytes underwent mitosis in the blood smear of a child who had ingested the berries of Phytolacca americana, known as "pokeweed."
Of course, the agent in the Dartmouth poisoning was not Phytolacca americana, so the cultures that Dean Seibert prepared failed to make new DNA or to mitose.
But the excitement that the 1966 event generated was sufficient to cause me to remember the proper name for the plant with the mitotic activity for all these many years.
O. Ross McIntyre, M.D. DMS '55
False hellebore strikes again
I greatly enjoyed Roger Smith's article "Wild Greens" in your Spring issue. I had the pleasure six years ago of taking a course he taught in the Institute for Lifelong Education at Dartmouth (ILEAD). Had I known then that he was interested in accidental poisoning with Indian poke, also known as false hellebore, I would have immediately sent him an account of my own experience.
In the spring of 2004, I had a discussion with John Williams—a forester, birder, and naturalist and now my husband—about whether or not skunk cabbage grew on my land in Rumney, N.H. At the time, I didn't know that he was always right about the identification of wild plants. I maintained that I had seen skunk cabbage growing in my meadows, and he maintained that it was false hellebore.
One pleasant day I took a walk with a friend and picked what I was sure was a fresh, young skunk cabbage. We brought it into the kitchen and cut it open, but it did not smell like skunk cabbage so we threw most of it out, leaving the stem on the cutting board for some reason. The next day, I made myself an egg-salad sandwich; seeing the stem, and mistaking it for the green of spring onion, which I often saved after using the bulb, I chopped it up finely and added it to the egg.
About two hours later, I began to vomit. Then I had diarrhea. I realized I must have eaten false hellebore. I looked it up in Edible Plants of New England, which said that the alkaloids are concentrated in the roots and lower stem. Still, I didn't really worry until I began to feel a tingling in my fingertips. I then changed into easy clothes, unlocked the door, phoned 911, and lay down to wait on the couch in the living room. I threw up one more time, a watery mess on the stone hearth.
When the ambulance came from Plymouth to take me to the local hospital, Speare Memorial (I live only 35 miles from DHMC, but Speare is even closer), I asked them to please notify John Williams. He and I arrived at the hospital simultaneo usly. I saw him through the glass entryway as they were carrying me