Saturday, April 18, 2015

Letter P: The Choose Your Poison #AtoZChallenge

    As we find prosperity displayed in the most beauteous and pleasing manner, so do we often find the engines of that affluence grinding away savagely in parts of the city now relegated to the masses required to operate those engines. Among those belching factories, within the human warrens of dank alleys and reeking cobblestones, one finds a brew of every human element, from the destitute and despairing to the drunkenly ebullient, from the optimistic family man to the insouciant youth.
    On the evening in question, two gentlemen dipped their elegant, yet obviously sporting toes, into the quagmire of one of these industrial sinks. Having imbibed a quantity of spirits, they had set out on their journey not unlike their fathers pursuing strange game in the heart of the Dark Continent.
     Burgess, the elder of the two, was having some difficulty walking; not because of the detritis underfoot, as one might surmise, but rather in an effort to avoid contact with the hordes of begrimed and odoriferous workers now streaming from the factories as their 14 hour day came to an end. Harold, the younger, was also exhibiting a handicap; as a budding artist, he wished to stop, examine and eventually paint the faces of the working class. Yet it was proving difficult, as most of the passersby moved at a rapid pace and had their faces shielded by caps, or wrapped in collars and mufflers to keep out the chilly, dank breeze which swept down the blackened brick canyons.
     "I shan't be able to get any sketches done at this rate," Harold grumbled to his brother.
     Burgess had already regretted yielding to Harold's absurd request, and was about to suggest curtailing the evening's enterprise when he spotted a slim figure, one loose copper curl bouncing invitingly, as she darted into an alley.
     "Quick. A neat little thing just turned the corner. A shilling ought to buy you a pose."
     The two young men forged ahead and ducked down the aforementioned passage, then nearly fell over the object of their pursuit. She was bending down to examine a long tear in the hem of her dress. Equally startled, she backed away, pulling a woolen scarf tighter about her face.  Large hazel eyes framed by thick lashes reminded Harold of a young doe he'd shot just last week. He was instantly smitten.
     "Oh, that I could capture your look just now! I wish to draw you, if you will only stand just so a minute!"
     Harold was already fumbling in his pocket but the woman - not much more than a child, really - was shaking her head furiously.
     "Come now. Here's something for you." Burgess fished out a coin and held it out upon his pale, fleshy palm.  The toe of his boot tap-tap-tapped on the cobblestone. "He only wants to draw you, goose. Surely you don't think we'd want anything else from the likes of you."
     Still she cowered, back to the sooty wall, barely visible in the dying evening's light.
     "Never mind. I won't be able to see properly to draw in a few minutes. We'll hail a cab and I'll stand you to a pint at the Ten Bells. Likely there will be a visage or two in there worth depicting."
     But Burgess, maddened by the girl's seeming contrariety and lack of approbation, reached out and wrenched away the cloth which stood between her countenance and his brother's gaze.
     "Heh  da eh," she said defiantly. Her answer "then draw me", however perfectly framed in her mind, ceased to be recognizable upon reaching her mouth; for that particular part of her had not existed in its original state for quite some time. Half of her lower jaw, in fact, was either seething with pus from abscesses or had been eaten away entirely. The mishapen remains glowed greenish-white in the calignosity of the city's dusk.
     Harold fainted.
     Burgess, for the first time in his life, was quite unsure what to do.
     The match girl took her time adjusting the cloth which hid her wreckage, held her hand out for the promised payment, then delicately stepped over the dandy splayed upon the ground and joined the tide of humanity flowing through the streets toward their individual refuges for the night.

Photo source here
Today's poison is white/yellow phosphorus, used by the match industry during the 19th century. Exposure to white (seems to be used interchangeably with yellow) phosphorus caused a condition which came to be known as "phossy (fossy) jaw". It began with toothaches, swelling/bleeding of the gums, and jaw pain; then progressed to abscesses, necrosis, brain damage and death. The only treatment was surgical removal of the affected tissue and bone. "Phossy jaw" among workers contributed to the London Match Girl Strike of 1888, along with long hours and terrible working conditions, but because using a safer alternate to white phosphorus was more expensive, manufacturers continued to use it until it was prohibited in 1906.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Letter O: The Choose Your Poison #AtoZChallenge

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

          He had thought that money would smooth everything over. That marriage was essentially a business contract between a man and a woman, each bound to provide certain things and accept certain things.
          But even the most lucrative, the most exciting businesses tended to turn stale after several decades. An infusion of fresh ideas, new blood was called for. People were let go. Sacrifices were made. And one had to be discrete lest the public image suffer.
          Richard hummed under his breath as he drew his knife. Uncapping the honeycombs, he dumped them into the hand cranked honey extractor. Soon the glistening contents would ooze out;  he would filter it, pour it into the glass jars, and present them to his bedridden wife. She would slather it on her morning toast, stir it into her tea, and smile at him through her confusion. Then the pain would begin again. And one day, her heart would stop.
          Hundreds of bees hummed busily on their trips to and fro, between the oleander flowers and the hives that he'd built and placed below them. 

"Oleander poisoning occurs when someone sucks nectar from the flowers or chews leaves from the oleander or yellow oleander plant. Poisoning can also happen if you eat honey made by bees that used the oleander plant for nectar." NY health guides

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Letter N: The Choose Your Poison #AtoZChallenge

     "Here, chew some gum." She rummaged around her in purse and handed him a piece.
     Martin made a face.
     "It'll settle your stomach. Remember how I used to give the kids gum when their tummies were upset?"
     He took it and began to chew, making a wet smacking sound. The nails of her right hand dug into her palm. She'd grown to hate everything about him these days. Once he'd been a fairly well-dressed, neatly groomed man. But now that he'd quit working his belly had bulged, his teeth had grown downright mossy, and he showered every third day - if she was lucky.
     "Hey, this ain't bad." He belched loudly, a noxious cloud of sour Chinese food wafting over her.
     "Here, spit that out and have a fresh piece. Your lunch doesn't seem to agree with you."
     He rolled down the window and spat. "Hope that ain't hangin' on the side of the car," he grunted, taking another piece of gum.

     His nausea grew worse that evening; she continued to ply him with gum, insisting that it would help, even as he progressed to intermittent vomiting. By midnight he was "sweating like a racehorse", by morning he was convulsing, and by lunch he was gone.
     "That dang Chinese food," she replied, when their son tearfully asked what had happened. But she couldn't remember what town they'd stopped in to have that fateful meal.
     She lit a cigarette.
     "Ma, I thought you stopped smoking."
     "Surely you can understand how rotten this is for me. Making the arrangements, and all." Even dead, he was a pain in her ass. 
     She got up and dumped the overflowing ashtray into the garbage, covering the empty cartons of nicotine gum.

*Children and pets are most at risk for nicotine poisoning. A full pack of cigarettes contains enough nicotine to kill an adult if the cigarettes were eaten rather than smoked. 

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Letter M: The Choose Your Poison #AtoZChallenge

    Vivien Honeybone bites her thumb at the clodpoles and shrews sauntering through the Faire. Her discerning eye can distinguish between the true and the false. That wanton's corset is poorly constructed; her own is of silk, with boning from Greenberg & Hammer, N.Y.  That strutting cock carries a harquebus but his footgear is of some unknown material from the future. The Time Travelers are here, and Vivien sips her posset in anticipation.
     "Good day, mistress. Might I ask from whence you hail?"
     "Scranton. What's that face stuff you have for sale?"
     Vivien sighs. The Travelers speak with such harsh intonations, nevermind the abominable language.
     "Come here! Let me bewray thou." Choosing a delicate jar which she has painted herself, she carefully lifts the lid to show the contents.
     "Tis a very dear unguent. T'will make a maiden's skin as fine as porcelain."
     "My daughter is into this re-enactment thing. I thought maybe I'd get her some makeup.  Is this the white crap the women have smeared all over their faces in the movies? Like the queen with the big collar?"
     Torn between slapping the lumpish, idle-headed maggot-pie and completing the sale, the paragon of Elizabethan virtue smiles and extolls once again the wondrous effects of her homemade cosmetic.
     "Thy daughter will be enchanted. Red cheeks without blush, smooth skin beyond compare, why..."
     Suddenly overcome, Vivien gropes her way to a stool and sits down. Perhaps her corset stays could stand a loosening. Fainting fits among the women are, of course, a hallmark of the age; the tingling in her hands and feet, however, are a new phenomenon. Perhaps it is related to her advanced age of thirty.
     The Traveler squints at her. "Reckon it's the heat that's gotcha. Wearin' all that stuff." He looks down at his exposed (and very hairy) legs and feet. "Thank God we don't wear that stuff anymore."
     Vivien believes that if the goatish customer bleats "stuff" one more time that she will vomit.
     "Begone, fool." She attempts to wave him away, but her arm flaps wildly and she must capture it with the other.
     "I'll take two. Gotta say, you're really into this whole thing. I hope my Kaitlin does half as good as you do. I know she'll love this cream. Maybe it'll do something for her pimples." He withdraws two bills and lays them on the table. "Dost thou...ummmm... need a visit to the medical tent? My wife could come over here and watch your stuff. We're honest folk."
     There it is. "Stuff!" she shrieks. "Stuff! Thou shouldst be stuffed and mounted and placed by the great hearth for all to gaze upon! Or yet thy hideous head placed upon a wall! Stuff!"
     The Traveler peers at her with a flicker of uncertainty; then, taking his jars, backs away into the crowd, muttering all the while. "Mad as a hatter. Some of these people go a little too far."
     Vivien is horrified at her own loss of control.  She sips a little more of her posset, then begins to pack up her things and load them onto her pony, George. It's a two hour ride back to her stone cottage, the one that she and John had built together so long ago. As teenagers. As inhabitants of the Future themselves.
     She arrives home feeling somewhat better for the fresh air, although traversing the hard-packed dirt filled with shimmering metallic horseless carriages has been a trial. Closeted in her beloved sanctuary, surrounded by the sconces, tapestries and furnishings which had been carefully collected - or handmade - over the years, she smooths out a piece of parchment and begins to collect the ingredients for her Medieval Magic skin cream. Quicksilver, alum, lye...

1. Quicksilver is mercury, today's featured poison. It was used in both medicinal preparations and cosmetics through the centuries. One of the symptoms of mercury poisoning is desquamation or peeling of the skin, hence it's use as a sort of 'chemical face peel'. Another is reddening of the cheeks. It also causes neurological damage.
2. A recipe for a face preparation from the time period. 
  "take pure silver and quicksilver and, when they are ground in the mortar, one adds ceruse and burnt rock alum, and then for a day they are ground together again and afterwards moistened with mastic until all is liquid; then all is boiled in rain water and, the boiling done, one casts some sublimate upon the mortar; this is done three times and the water cast on the fourth time is kept together with the body of the lye..."

-Raffaella of Master Alexander Piccolomini, or A Dialogue of the Faire Perfectioning of Ladies: A Work Very Necessarie and Profitable For All Gentlewomen or Other. 16th century manuscript, John Nevinson translation, Glasgow 1968.

3. The main risk from mercury poisoning today comes from eating fish and shellfish, as mercury (an industrial by-product) concentrates in sediments and is taken up by microorganisms and marine organisms, which are then consumed by larger species.

4. Drugs containing mercury such as Blue Mass  and Calomel were popular until the connection was finally made between mercury and diseases (actually toxin syndromes) such as "Pink Disease".

5. When I was growing up in the sixties, we still used fever thermometers of glass and mercury. I actually bit one; fortunately, I bit the glass part and the bulb containing the liquid mercury remained intact. I also had the sense to not swallow - I patiently waited for Mom to pluck out the thermometer, at which point she screamed and I spat the whole mess out in her hand.

6. You might remember skin antiseptics called merthiolate and mercurochrome, in use until at least the 1970s. They stung like hell, dyed the skin red for days and...contained mercury.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Letter L : The Choose Your Poison #AtoZChallenge

Relics found from the Franklin Expedition. Illustrated London News 1854
      In 1845 Captain John Franklin set out from England with two ships, the HMS Terror and the HMS Erebus, and 128 men in search of the last leg of the famed Northwest Passage.  The ships became icebound in Victoria Strait and the crew perished. Various search and rescue missions set out from England in search of the missing expedition. In 1850 several British and American ships converged off the east coast of Beechey Island, and the first relics from the lost expedition were recovered, as well as the graves of some crewmen.  Eight years later doctor and explorer John Rae, who was in the region on a different mission, spoke with Inuit who told stories about a group of shipwrecked white men who starved to death; there were also tales of cannibalism.
     Searches continued and over the decades various clues turned up including notes left in a cairn on 11 June 1847 saying that Erebus and Terror had been trapped in pack ice for over a year; the men finally abandoned the ships on 22 April 1847. Twenty-four officers and crew had died by this time, including Captain Franklin.
     In 1981 an examination of crew remains from Beechey Island revealed that they probably died of pneumonia and/or tuberculosis. Other bodies found on King William Island showed cut marks on bones consistent with cannibalism. The entire expedition probably perished as a combined result of exposure, starvation, and disease. But poisoning may have hastened their deaths.
     The poison?  Lead from the tins of food with which the ships had been provisioned. High levels of lead were also found when analyzing the bodies. This theory is bolstered by a recent analysis of a soup can left by a rescue crew in 1854. The lead levels in the can were "off the charts". (Discover Magazine quoting The Times Colonist).
     Lead poisoning can cause cramps, joint pain, severe anemia, mental confusion, memory loss, kidney dysfunction, and death. If the lost crew were subsisting primarily on their tinned provisions, and if most or all of the cans had the same extremely high levels of lead found in the analyzed can (which is highly likely), then it's entirely possible that lead poisoning alone may have doomed a portion of the crew.

*The well-preserved wreck of HMS Erebus was finally found in 2014, in about 40 feet of water near King William Island, about 1,200 miles  northwest of Toronto.

Letter K: The Choose Your Poison #AtoZChallenge

     A mysterious disease is ravaging areas of Sri Lanka.  It has doctors, researchers and even the World Health Organization stumped. The AP reports from Konketiyawa that in one village up to 10 people a month die from CKD-UE (chronic kidney disease, unknown etiology).
     Unlike kidney failure due to diabetes, hypertension or rampant drug abuse, this fairly recent condition has no known cause; and while those lucky enugh to live close to a dialysis center may hang on for a few years, many die within months.  While the outbreak in Sri Lanka was recently featured in several newspapers, the ailment has also struck farmers in Nicaragua and El Salvador, as well as in Egypt and India  The cause could be some new bacterial invader yet to be identified; some researchers postulate that it is an effect of multiple bouts of severe dehydration suffered by these denizens of arid regions.
     But this particular condition has appeared within the last 20-25 years, and is found predominantly in rural areas and among farming families. Therefore many believe that the causative agent, in all probability, is an environmental poison or toxin, especially since Sri Lanka is a heavy user of fertilizer and agrochemicals. I've come across two mentions of the weed killer glyphosate (brand name: Roundup), although no conclusions have been drawn and Monsanto, the manufacturer of Roundup, has been dismissive.
     We are surrounded by poisons every day.  Many are manmade, and serve a purpose which we believe to be beneficial; and yet, even if they are used to feed the starving or rid us of vermin, we can never lose sight of the fact that they are, and always will be, poison. We bathe the land and ourselves with them at our own peril.

*I couldn't find a specific poison beginning with k so I went with kidney disease possibly caused by poison.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Letter J: The Choose Your Poison #AtoZChallenge

Jake liquor, Jake liquor, what in the world you tryin' to
Everybody in the city messed up on account of drinkin'

I drank so much Jake, it settled all in my head
I've drank so much Jake, until it settled all in my head
I rushed for my lovin', my baby turned her back to me

That's the doggoned diseases, ever heard since I been
You have numbness in front of your body, you can't
carry any lovin' on

Aunt Jane she come a-runnin', tellin' everybody in the
Aunt Jane, she come runnin' and screamin', tellin'
everybody in the neighborhood
That man of mine got the limber trouble, and his lovin'
can't do me any good

The doctor told me to tell you somethin', for your own
cravin' on this Jake
If you don't quit drinkin' that poison Jake you're
drinkin', it's gon' leave you with the limber leg -ISHMON BRACEY - "Jake Liquor Blues"

     During Prohibition, alcoholic drinks of any sort were banned in the US. Ways people tried to get around the ban included marketing products as medicinal or "patent" medicines or adding adulterants to foil government testing of the product.
     One such medicine was Jamaica Ginger known by the slang name "Jake". Jamaica Ginger itself was not poisonous; however, it had an ethanol content of about 80%. The government mandated that more ginger be added, which made the drink extremely bitter and difficult to drink in any quantity. A pair of bootleggers, Harry Gross and Max Reisman, added a chemical plasticizer which allowed their "Jake" to both pass government tests and remain palatable.
     In March 1930, cases of a strange paralysis began to appear which stumped doctors. The most recognizable symptom was loss of muscle control in the legs and feet.  Many victims developed a distinctive gait, a sort of high-knee, heel-toe walk which became known as "Jake Leg" or the "Jake Walk". The numbers climbed rapidly: 600 men in Johnson City, TN, almost 700 in Topeka, Kansas.
     The medical community might have been puzzled, but the answer was there in the form of music. In March 1930 several blues musicians recorded songs featuring "Jake". Ishmon Bracey's "Jake Liquor Blues" demonstrates a clear knowledge that Jamaica Ginger was, in fact, responsible for the paralysis.
     Eventually the paralysis was traced to the adulterated batches of Jamaica Ginger, but by then an estimated 20,000 to 50,000 victims had been permanently affected.


Thursday, April 9, 2015

Letter I: The Choose Your Poison #AtoZChallenge #FridayFlash

   Breathe deep the gathering gloom...
  Jesse lay spread eagle, drifting on the warm seas, his raft velutinous and undulating.  Velutinous. Vellll...ooooo...tin...usss... the word was ECHOING echo echo the raft spun into a maelstrom, the sky above bellowing in time with his breathing. Warm, deliciously warm, somehow he had been transported from frigid Michigan to the balmy tropics of...where? He felt his own grin materialize, stretching wider, wider, until his entire face split and he felt his skin beginning to slip, oozing like snot around his ears and into his hair.
     The genial sun above exploded into a white-hot supernova and his body caught fire.  Rolling from the raft into the water, he instead found himself writhing on the newly installed beige Berber carpet. The fall had caused his stomach to contract violently in fear; he vomited, repeatedly, unable to lift his head to avoid the sour contents.
     His grandmother had last seen him a few hours ago on an auditorium stage, accepting his award for Honor Roll student. Now she was screaming into the phone while attempting to lift his head and wipe his face with her sweater. His nostrils filled with the lavender scent of her clothes and he helplessly spewed again.
     The police arrived first, one officer carrying an automated defibrillator. Standard practice these days, especially when a call comes in for an unconscious teenager. He touched Jesse's scorching forehead, then felt for a pulse. The second officer snapped on a glove and picked up the can lying next to the boy.
     "They're gonna have to build a new wing on the hospital if this keeps up. Third one in a week."

Intoxicative Inhalants have been used throughout history for both religious and recreational use. Both nitrous oxide and ether (primarily used as anesthetics) were used as recreational drugs during the 1800s. This story focuses on abuse of household and industrial chemicals, called sniffing, huffing or bagging. Popular inhalants include volatile chemicals used in paints and thinners, butane, glues and cements, and aerosol electronics cleaners ( "canned air" or "duster").  They produce effects ranging from a general "high" feeling similar to an alcohol buzz, to euphoria and hallucinations.

Dangerous and often lethal side effects include heart arrhythmia, spikes in body temperature to over 106F, aspiration/asphyxiation from inhaling vomit, and hypoxia (lack of oxygen). Sudden cardiac arrest can occur with the first "huff" or after years of use.

Thousands of people die each year by accidental poisoning. Sadly, thousands more poison themselves deliberately - in search of a high.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Letter H: The Choose Your Poison #AtoZChallenge

Punch cartoon
     In the 1850s, adulteration of foodstuffs was more common than not.  The term daft was used to describe cheap (and often dangerous) ingredients used to stretch or outright replace more costly items. Common examples included plaster of Paris, powdered lime, clay, chalk and sawdust.
     One of the most notorious incidents of poisoning by the use of daft was unknowingly perpetrated in 1858 by a sweetshop owner in Bradford, England by the name of William Hardaker, known as Humbug Billy.  Humbugs were peppermint lozenges made of peppermint oil, sugar, and gum.  Hardaker purchased his supply of them from Joseph Neal. Neal, in turn, purchased supplies of daft from a druggist named Hodgson. (Sugar was prohibitively expensive in those days, and often cut with white powders from various sources.)
     In October 1858 Neal sent someone to collect his supply of daft from the druggist. By mistake, the pharmacy sold the man 12 pounds of arsenic trioxide. Neal's sweetmaker concocted forty pounds of lozenges with the arsenic and sold them to Hardaker, who in turn began to sell the candy the same evening.
     The first two juvenile deaths were chalked up to cholera, also a common occurrence during that time period. But as deaths and illness began to pile up, the cause was eventually traced to the peppermints sold by Hardaker.  In all, approximately 20 people died and over 200 were sickened.
     Everyone involved were charged with manslaughter; the charges against Goddard the sweetmaker and Neal were withdrawn, and Hardaker was later acquitted.
     The scandal (known as the Bradford Sweet Poisoning) was instrumental in drafting and passing the 1860 Adulteration of Food and Drink Bill dictating how, and which, ingredients could be used, mixed and combined.  The UK Pharmacy Act of 1868 introduced tighter regulations regarding the handling and selling of certain poisons and medicines by druggists.

*This post is an example of something I call "shoehorning".  I've already used arsenic in the A post. And I'd done something for B (this would have fit there under Bradford). D was done as well (daft). But I really wanted to share this story. So I ditched the original idea of H is for Hemlock and substituted H is for Hardaker and "humbug" instead.

Letter G: The Choose Your Poison #AtoZChallenge

     The living slept with the dead, and the half-dead roamed on the landscape, dressed in rags and with some green about the mouth from the grass they plucked to eat.  So calloused were the men who collected bodies that they sat on the coffins enjoying a smoke between them.  There were those who walked miles, morning and eve, with barely a mouthful of bread; and men who dropped dead on the job like the ancient cart horses in their traces.
     Lovely, floury white potatoes were what they had lived on;  and when those began to rot in the ground, the people began to die.
     Most shared what little they had, all of them starving in dribs and drabs together.  But there were some who hoarded in secret, and "played the poor mouth" whilst gobbling up their stores in the darkness.  Bloody greedy bogtrotters he called them.  There were families where the Da had gotten work in England and sent a mite home for the family.  He could smell roasting meat on the wind sometimes, trickling from those few chimneys, and his mouth would fairly drip.
     A family like that there was, and the boys were plump and healthy and turned up their noses at the raggedy troops from the shanties. Till they began to retch and run to the privy by turns, the oldest falling down in a foaming fit right in the middle of the street.  Like mad dogs, they were.  Twas the doctor who found the sack of green potatoes, fleshy but sprouted, stowed away in a corner cupboard.  Had they offered to share, they might have been told by Maggie or even Mean Old Bridey that you don't eat green potatoes on account of them being poison.
     Better to die softly and honestly of the hunger, then.
     This was one of the stories my grandfather told me, peace be upon his soul, of the Great Famine in the old country. 

Today's bit of fiction features Green Potato Poisoning.  Never eat potatoes that are spoiled or have green skin. Never eat the sprouts (you can remove those and safely eat the potato if the skin is not green). The nerve toxin solanine is produced in the green part of the potato (leaves, stem, sprouts, green parts of skin) and can cause vomiting, diarrhea, convulsions, hallucinations, circulatory collapse and even death.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Letter F: The Choose Your Poison #AtoZChallenge

 "PET-MIPS-anim" by Jens Maus ( - Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

   Fluorine is a pale yellow gas with an irritating odor. It is shipped as a cryogenic (frozen) liquid. It is toxic when breathed in or absorbed through the skin, and is also irritating to eyes and mucus membranes. Elemental fluorine is highly toxic to all living organisms. Hydrofluoric acid, the water solution of hydrogen fluoride, is a liquid contact poison. Even though it is classified as a "weak" acid, it is far more dangerous than the better-known nitric, hydrochloric and sulfuric acids because it penetrates tissue much more quickly.

    For you writers, here are some interesting twists. Symptoms of exposure to hydrofluoric acid may not be immediately evident; the delay can take anywhere from 8 to 24 hours, and the burns may not be painful since the acid damages nerves.

    Plenty of time for a villain to make a getaway.

    Like some other poisons, fluorine has a life-saving use in the medical field. Fluorine-18, an isotope of fluorine, is often found in radioactive tracers for Positron Emission Tomography (PET scan). The most common tracer is fluorodeoxyglucose which, after IV injection, is absorbed by glucose-loving tissues such as the brain and most malignant tumors. (See very cool PET scan image above.)
     It has a half-life of about 109.771 (which is about 20 minutes). So after your scan you won't stay radioactive forever. Or am I the only one who worries about these things?

Here There Be "Dragon Of the Stars" Plus Join the Scavenger Hunt! #BookBoost

Today's big news: 
                     SCAVENGER HUNT!  Where is Mini-Alex? Look at the picture at the end of this post. Guess the location of Mini-Alex in the picture. Then comment below and visit the other participants to win an autographed copy of the new book Dragon of the Stars, tons of bookmarks & postcards, or a $20.00 iTunes gift card. 
Visit Alex for a list of the participants. (Open through April 11 – winner announced April 13 at Alex’s blog.)

Available today!
Dragon of the Stars By Alex J. Cavanaugh
Science Fiction – Space Opera/Adventure/Military
Print ISBN 9781939844064 EBook ISBN 9781939844057

The ship of legends…
The future is set for Lt. Commander Aden Pendar, poised to secure his own command and marriage to the queen’s daughter. But when the Alliance declares war on their world, Aden finds his plans in disarray and is told he won’t make captain. One chance remains–the Dragon. Lost many years prior, the legendary ship’s unique weapon is Hyrath’s only hope. Can Aden find the Dragon, save his people, and prove he’s capable of commanding his own ship? 


Alex J Cavanaugh is a sci-fi writer whose works include the Amazon Best Sellers CassaStar, CassaFire, and CassaStorm. Alex is also a blogger who posts about music, books and films; founder of the Insecure Writers Support Group; a longtime host of the annual A to Z Challenge; and a tireless promoter and supporter of his fellow bloggers. Alex (AKA Ninja Captain Alex) has a side-kick, Mini-Alex, the subject of our scavenger hunt.

Where Is Mini-Alex? Your guess is as good as mine! Comment below for a chance to win!

*Looking for today's A to Z Challenge post on poisons? It will appear later this afternoon. C'mon back!

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Letter E : The Choose Your Poison #AtoZChallenge

 Waste sign.jpg
     "Daddy" she sobbed, brokenly.
     "Shhhh.  It's okay, Michelle.  He's at peace." Laura stroked her sister's hair. "You've taken such good care of him. You hated him for so many years, but you came through in the end.  I can't believe that you sacrificed so much to take care of him these last few years. I guess I was really wrong about you."
     The room was eerily quiet, now that the machines had been silenced.  Laura leaned over the hospital bed and bent to impart one last kiss on her father's forehead. She hesitated at the last moment, puzzled. In death, his mouth had slowly fallen open and his tongue - with a decidedly neon green tinge - was visible.
     "Michelle, what's with his mouth?  I've never..."
     The on-call doctor bustled into the room, still talking loudly to someone in the hallway, so Laura heard her say only  "....and he asked me to get him a lime slushy."
     "The chaplain will be here in a few minutes.  We'll give you all of the time you need to make arrangements.  I'm very sorry for your loss."  The doctor flipped through a chart.  "Convulsions and acute renal failure.  Not entirely unexpected, given his age and his history of diabetes, alcoholism and heart trouble. Although things did happen rather rapidly.  We'll need to know what to uhhh...what arrangements have been made for the body."
     Michelle sniffled loudly. "Cremation.  He told me yesterday he wanted to be cremated."
     "I want an autopsy." Laura yanked her coat from the back of a chair and flung it on.  She turned to the doctor.  "And I want every test ever known to man done on him."
     Another wet outburst erupted her from sister.  "They're not going to cut him up. It's horrible. Disgusting. He wouldn't want that."
     Laura studied her sister coldly.  "He wouldn't have wanted to have poison poured down his throat either. I know exactly what you've done. I remember what happened to our dog Pluto. And Daddy hated lime flavored anything."

     Today's poison is ethylene glycol,  a colorless, odorless, sweet-tasting chemical found in many household products, including antifreeze (which is often green, yellow or orange in color).  Antifreeze poses a significant risk to pets and children because of its sweetness.  Most cases of  ethylene glycol poisoning are accidental;  however, it has also been used as both a murder weapon and a means of suicide. There have also been documented cases of death resulting from someone knowingly or unknowingly drinking it as a substitute for alcohol (ethanol).

Recent Case: Texas doctor Ana Maria Gonzalez-Angulo gets 10 yrs in poisoning


Friday, April 3, 2015

Letter D: The Choose Your Poison #AtoZChallenge

     His father fought in the second World War, was captured by German soldiers and imprisoned in a series of concentration camps including Auschwitz-Birkenau.  He was a presidential candidate, a popular political force, a former prime minister. The campaign was bitterly contested, but he had built an excellent rapport with many of his countrymen, taking the time to shake hands and meet face-to-face with them.   And then he became ill.
     He was flown to a special clinic and treated at first for pancreatitis, bloating, jaundice, and a viral infection.  But it was the appearance of pockmarks all over his face that gave a British toxicologist a clue as to the man's condition.  He declared that the facial disfigurement had all the hallmarks of chloracne, which results from a particular type of poison.
File:Viktor Yuschenko.jpg

     Have you guessed our mystery man's name?  It's Viktor Yushchenko, former President of Ukraine, and today's featured poison is dioxin.
     Yushchenko survived, but it has never been proven how, or even whether, he was poisoned. A Dutch toxicologist claimed that he found dioxin levels 6000 times normal in his blood. Another doctor said it was 1000 times the average level. A third doctor opined that there was no evidence of dioxin poisoning other than the chloracne, and later claimed that he was forced to resign and had also been threatened by Yushchenko's cohorts.
     For years afterward there were  claims of falsified information, skewed lab results, bribery, and other forms of good-old-fashioned thuggery. Blood tests by Ukrainian doctors in November 2005 were mysteriously destroyed.
     Yushchenko believes he was deliberately poisoned during a dinner in 2004; at least one of the men that he thinks crucial to the investigation is in Russia and refuses to be extradited.  Others have blamed it on the dinner, all right, but claim that it was the sushi, not the company which made Yushchenko so ill. It all reads like a long, convoluted spy novel.
     Fortunately, he survived the episode although he may suffer from the effects all of his life. I last saw Yushchenko on television during the recent political upheaval, when Yushchenko urged his country to choose integration with Europe over ties with Russia. His face looked far less disfigured than it had 10 years prior.

     If the word dioxin sounds familiar to you, then Agent Orange may be the reason. Agent Orange (named for the striped barrels it was shipped in) was an herbicide containing dioxin which was sprayed heavily over fields and forest canopy in Vietnam by the Americans during the war. In addition to thousands of American soldiers, the Red Cross estimates that up to 3 million Vietnamese have been affected by dioxin poisoning, which can also cause various cancers and birth defects.
      Dioxins are by-products and are formed as toxic side residues in the production of PCBs, metal smelting, waste incineration and chlorine bleaching of paper.  Dioxin concentrates in the body's fatty tissues and is extremely difficult to get rid of.
     In 2012 the EPA released a report which concluded after reviewing mounds of evidence collected over 21 years that there are potentially serious effects at even ultra-low levels of exposure.  Most of us have traces of dioxins in our bodies, primarily through eating fish, meat and other animal products.
     One more reason to become vegan, I suppose.

The Red Cross estimates that three million Vietnamese have been affected by Agent Orange, including 150,000 children born with severe birth defects. - See more at:
The Red Cross estimates that three million Vietnamese have been affected by Agent Orange, including 150,000 children born with severe birth defects. - See more at:
The Red Cross estimates that three million Vietnamese have been affected by Agent Orange, including 150,000 children born with severe birth defects. - See more at:

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Letter C: The Choose Your Poison #AtoZChallenge

     I was snatching a few winks, curled up in the mud, when a mad clanging jerked me awake. Up and down the trench, gongs were sounding which signaled a gas attack. Your instinct is to grab your gun first, and yet you must train yourself to pull your mask from its cloth bag and put it on before anything else. Gas is silent and quick; it seeks the low ground, slithering and rolling along and then curling down over the parapet into our midst. The first time, our outfit had been ill-prepared; men fell, choking and gasping, and the horses and mules wheezed or screamed or fell to earth kicking and convulsing. Since then we had all been issued masks, even the animals. They were awkward, and hot, and foul smelling within, but better than the horrible burning and suffocating stench of the chlorine.  The masks were no guarantee, however; sometimes they were ill-fitted, or shredded by shrapnel, or torn loose in the ebb and flow and close quarters of combat.
     Our artillery lobbed shells into No Man's Land in an attempt to disperse some of the gas. The rest were trained beyond onto enemy trenches, as a gas attack was inevitably followed by hordes of Jerries coming across to break our lines.
     The word came down that we would be going over the top; it was determined that the artillery barrage had been effective in destroying most of the enemy barricades and barbed wire, giving us a chance to overrun them rather than sit and wait.
     At the signal we scrambled up and over, our own guns barking and shrapnel bursting overhead. The gas helmet was close and restrictive, like fighting with a burlap sack over your head. We were met by a moving wall of Germans, the rising sun glinting from bayonets, muffled thumps and screams, bodies falling and replaced by still more. The enemy gas masks had huge eyeholes and cannisters jutting from the front, like monstrous anteaters. As if the common sights of war were not horrifying enough.
     Now that I am an old man, it seems as though dreams torture me more than ever. The blankets creep over my head and I awaken, clawing at my own face. My throat feels a little dry on a summer's day and I must call for someone to bring me cool clean water to drink. Sometimes I pour it over my head, which makes the children giggle. Never mind, I tell myself. At least you have lived long enough to hear these little ones.
     I turn my blind eyes to the warmth of the sun.

     *Today's fiction features the poison chlorine gas. On April 22, 1915, German forces fired over 150 tons of lethal chlorine gas at Ypres, Belgium. This was the first major gas attack by the Germans, and decimated the Allied troops.
     As chlorine enters the body (by breathing, swallowing, or skin contact) it reacts with moisture and produces acids. Acids, as you probably know, are corrosive. Most deaths are caused by pulmonary edema - essentially, your lungs fill with leaking fluid and you drown internally. Some survived but suffered permanent damage to airways, skin, mucous membranes and/or eyes.
     Protective masks and gear were initially fairly crude but effective; unfortunately, many times soldiers had only seconds to get the mask in place. In addition, any tear or damage to a mask from bayonet, shrapnel,  or wear-and-tear made them essentially useless. 
      In 1925, the Geneva Protocol of 1925 banned the use of chemical weapons in war but did not outlaw their development or stockpiling. 

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