Thursday, April 29, 2010


Lunatics keep re-discovering digoxin:
William Withering ... moved in 1762 to Edinburgh, Scotland, to study medicine, and qualified MD in 1766 after submitting a thesis entitled ‘De Angina Gangraenosa’ (Malignant Putrid Sore Throat). Withering moved back to England in 1767, and established a private practice in Stafford, and also worked as a physician at the Stafford Infirmary. Unexpectedly, in 1775, he was invited to go to Birmingham to join the staff of the General Hospital there, where he was to work for the next seventeen years.

During his time at Birmingham Withering published his major work on the foxglove (Digitalis) - "An account of the Foxglove and some of its Medical Uses" (Withering 1785)...

... Withering was encouraged by his membership of the Lunar Society of Birmingham, which met once every month on the Monday nearest to the full moon (hence ‘Lunar’), so that the members would have the benefit of some light on their homeward journeys (in the days of highwaymen and footpads). Withering and his fellow members of the Lunar Society (the ‘lunatics’) epitomized the 18th century learned society in the English Enlightenment, which followed hard on the heels of developments in Scotland (Schofield 1985).

But lunatics come in all varieties:
One evening, in the early summer of 2008, a Colorado sheriff’s deputy named Jonathan Allen came home to find that his wife had made him a “special” dinner. Waiting on the table was his favorite spicy spaghetti dish and a big leafy bowl of salad.

As he told investigators later, the salad was surprisingly bitter. But his wife told him it was a “spring mix” and he assumed it contained another of those trendy herbs that people use to liven up their greens. At least, he thought that way until he ended up in the hospital suffering from severe stomach cramps and a wildly speeding heart.

After his stomach was pumped and the contents analyzed, that bitter herb turned out to be leaves from a familiar and beautiful ornamental shrub. Allen survived but he did not return to his home in the suburban Denver town of Golden. And just this week, 42-year-old Lisa Leigh Allen, pleaded guilty to felony assault on charges of drugging a victim with what The Denver Post, called a “lethal plant.” ... the plant in this case was the common foxglove which is, indeed, poisonous but also figures as a long time source of some important heart medications.
So if it's the Monday nearest the full moon remember to check your salad. After all, ...

... there's a lunatic born every minute.


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