It is an interesting fact, that if poisons are taken at first in minute quantities, the amount can he gradually increased, until at length, after years, the system becomes so far accustomed to them, that they may be taken in enormous doses without producing their peculiar poisonous effects, although not without injurious results. During a certain period, in Grecian and Roman history, a knowledge of poisons was considered an essential feature in the education of the nobility and diplomatists, and never was poisoning reduced to such a science as then. The apparently friendly grasp of the hand might communicate through the imperceptible prick of a signet ring, a poison so quick and subtle as speedily to destroy life; and the lady reclining on her couch in her luxuriant boudoir might inhale in the rich perfume of flowers a poison which would infuse through the system a dreamy languor, but gradually lock up the senses in the-sleep of death. So skilfully were the poisons prepared that they would leave no trace of their work, save death. Death was there, but the knife of the anatomist could not reveal the cause. Thus thousands perished in every grade of society, and the souls of kings and nobles were deeply stained with murder. To the criminal condemned to die was presented the poisoned chalice. Thus poison was compelled to do alike the work of justice and of vengeance.
It is narrated of one of the kings that to guard him against the effect of poisons, they were administered to him in small quantities in infancy, and as he advanced in years he almost daily used some kind of poison. But he at length experienced reverses and wished to end his life by suicide, but the unhappy monarch found that he was proof even against the most subtle poisons. To him they would not bring death.
But our object here is not to examine these subtle poisons, but to ascertain how fatal effects may be presented, when some of the common poisons have been taken, either from accident or design.
Where poison has been taken into the stomach, we should endeavor to remove it if possible by means of vomiting or the stomach-pump. If this cannot be done, we should administer some remedy, which will destroy or neutralize the action of the poison.
Vomiting can generally be produced by drinking a large quantity of tepid water, by introducing the finger into the throat, or tickling the throat with a feather; by placing snuff or mustard mixed with salt on the tongue, or by injecting, by means of a tobacco-pipe, tobacco-smoke into the anus. In some cases Ipecac., Tartar-cm^tic, or Sulphate of Zinc may be administered.
Guided by the effect which poisons are known to produce on the system, we may arrange them into three distinct classes.
1. The Irritants, or those which corrode or inflame the parts. These may act as escharotics, destroying the parts, or as violent irritants, producing inflammation, which will speedily end in mortification or gangrene. These include the mineral, animal, and a portion of the vegetable poisons.
3. The Narcoti co-acrid, producing sometimes an irritating, and sometimes a narcotic effect.
1. The Irritants. - Iodine and Hydriodate of Potash. - Where poisonous effects are produced by either of these drugs, starch, ox wheat flour should be given mixed with water. After the poisonous effects have subsided the remaining symptoms may be removed by a few doses of Hepar-s., or Belladonna.
If nothing else is at hand, drink freely of water, which will dilate the acid, and thus destroy its corrosive, but not its irritating properties. Give immediately, if possible, carbonate of magnesia, chalk, lime-stone, old mortar, or even plaster scraped from the wall; or soap-suds, or wood-ashes mixed with water. If these are not at hand, Saleratus or Carbonate of Soda may be given. For the after treatment, consult the chapter under which the affections caused by these poisons may be found.
The action of this poison is exceedingly rapid, and no time should be lost in administering chalk or Carbonate of Magnesia. When these are not at hand, Lime, Carbonate of Soda, or Saleratus may be given.
Vomiting should be induced of possible. Soap-suds, the white of eggs or, the hydratedperoxide of iron, should be given immediately, repeating the antidote after vomiting. The latter remedy has been found to act almost as a complete antidote, when taken in time.
This form of mercury acts as a most powerful poison, and from the fact that it is frequently used in household-duties, it is very often taken by mistake. The whites of eggs should be mixed with cold water, and given every two or three minutes, so long as the matter vomited contains a white opaque material, admixed, but when the substance vomited becomes transparent, no more should be given, as it will not only be useless but may prove injurious. Where white of eggs can not be obtained, soap and water, mixed with wheat flour, should be given plentifully. Emetics should be avoided.
Poisoning from the metal generally arises from allowing the acetate of copper, better known as verdigris, to form on cooking utensils. The white of eggs, or sugar, should be given, and vomiting induced. Carbonate of Soda should be administered without delay.
Poisoning by lead is very common both from lead paint, and the use of water which has been in contact for some length of time with lead pipe. Cases of sickness are constantly occurring in this city, which might be traced to drinking water which had been for some time in contact with lead pipe, which is now so extensively used in the connection with the croton-water. Where the smell of paint is very strong in a house, water should be kept standing in some part of the room. The decidedly poisonous effects which we wish to antidote, are generally obtained by taking, through mistake sugar of lead. Vomiting should be induced immediately, and diluted Sulphuric-acid given. If this is not at hand give Epsom-salts or Glauber-salts.
Give common salt, in water, afterward mucilaginous drinks.
Poisonous effects are sometimes produced by Antimonial Wine, or Tartar-emetic. A decoction of Nut-galls, Oak-hark, Strong Coffee, or Green Tea should be given.
Sour food allowed to remain for some time in tin-vessels, may occasion poisoning. Give the white of eggs, sugar, or milk.
Nitre. Saltpetre. - Produce vomiting by tepid water, afterwards give copious draughts of mucilaginous drinks, such as gum-water, flaxseed-tea, etc.
Spanish flies. The best antidotes, to be used both inwardly, and applied externally, are white of eggs, and tepid, slimy substances.
Clams and muscles, as well as some other kinds of fish are sometimes poisonous. Encourage vomiting, and give charcoal, with sugar and water, or strong coffee without milk.
Animal matter rendered poisonous by putrefaction or disease. Give diluted vinegar or lemon-juio, and afterwards, if necessary, strong black coffee without milk, or strong black tea.
2. Narcotics. - Prussic-acid. - This is often obtained from peach leaves and peach pits. Is is an exceedingly powerful poison,' and very rapid in its action. At first the patient may be permitted to smell a little Sal Ammoniac, or a few drops may be administered in water, or he may smell Camphor or Vinegar. As soon as strong coffee can be prepared, give it freely.
This drug in its various forms, either in the gum, in laudanum or morphine, is frequently resorted to for the purpose of committing suicide, and Laudanum is often administered in mistake for paragoric
Vomiting should be produced as speedily as possible, and for this purpose as much Tartar Emetic as can be placed on a five cent piece should be dissolved in a tumbler half-full of tepid water, and one-third of it given once in ten minutes, if the first has not operated; giving in the interval copious draughts of tepid water, or tepid sugar and water. Often, however, it is impossible to produce vomiting, and in these cases a stomach-pump should be used. After some of the poison has been evacuated from the stomach, strong coffee, vinegar, or lemon-juice should be given. Usually the patient has a strong desire to sleep; this should be prevented, for if he sleep, he may soon sleep in death. - He should be kept in motion, walked about in the open air, and cold water dashed on his face and head.