Friday, October 19, 2018

Poison, Pt 3 - Flora & Fauna


If you are joining the show late, our first installment on poisoning explained some of the medical jargon you will encounter here. Part two covered various types of poison and their effects. In this, our third and final round on poisoning, we are going looking at flora and fauna. Now, there's a ton of poisonous plants and animals out there. Books have been written on them. I couldn't cover them all but here's a few. 

Poisonous Plants
Again, there's a ton of poisonous plants out there. This is just a small taste. (Don't taste these plants!)

Belladonna - Also know as deadly nightshade, belladonna impacts the nervous system causing dry
Belladonna
mouth, enlarged pupils, blurred vision, fever, tachycardia, inability to urinate, sweating, hallucinations, spasms, seizures and coma. Both the berries and leaves are poisonous. It is purported that as few as two berries can kill a child and ten to twenty can kill an adult.

Castor Bean - see ricin

Oleander
Oleander - I looked through dozens of sites including the CDC and couldn't find an exact time on how quickly oleander affects the body. However, I often saw that medical attention must be expedient and includes gastric lavage. All parts of the oleander plant are poisonous even the smoke resulting from its burning. Symptoms of oleander poisoning are sweating, vomiting, bloody diarrhea, unconsciousness, respiratory paralysis, and, finally, death.

Rosary Pea - Abrin is the poison in the rosary pea. Exposure can be the result of inhalation, ingestion
Rosary Pea
or contact with the skin or eyes. Death from abrin poisoning could occur thirty-six to seventy-two hours after exposure.
    Symptoms of inhalation include respiratory distress, fever, cough, nausea, heavy sweating and pulmonary edema. The build up of fluid in the lungs could cause cyanosis. Finally, low blood pressure and respiratory failure could occur.
   Symptoms of ingestion are vomiting, bloody diarrhea (is there a grosser two word phrase? mercy!), severe dehydration and low blood pressure. Other possible symptoms may include hallucinations, seizures, and blood in the urine. Within several days, failure of the liver, spleen, and kidneys may occur.


Water hemlock
Water Hemlock - Water hemlock is dangerous to ingest or even apply to the skin. All parts of the plant are considered dangerous and can cause death in under twenty minutes. It is said that Socrates was sentenced to death by means of drinking hemlock. Symptoms of water hemlock poisoning are drooling, nausea, vomiting, difficulty breathing, sweating, dizziness, abdominal pain, weakness, delirium, diarrhea, convulsions, heart problems, kidney failure and coma.

Poisonous Snakes

   Y'all, snakes are weapons. If the setting of your manuscript is rural or an area known for snakes, make use of them! Here are a few of the most poisonous snakes and the effects of their venom. Treatment of all bites by poisonous snakes should include professional medical care. One should never put ice on a bite or apply a tourniquet to a bitten limb. Also, an incision should not be made to the wound as it could cause further injury. And, I might as well say it: don't try to suck out the venom! I mean, really?
   Here's a video on snake bites that just makes me happy.  I don't know why they called an ambulance. The awesomeness and raw confidence of that second guy should have been enough to make the snake venom leave the body out of respect!

     There's a ton of poisonous snakes out there. I couldn't possibly cover them all. I chose three biggies. I know I have readers from all over the world. Feel free to tell me what snake is an issue where you live. It will help other writers out on what snake is found where and how much of a problem it is. Oh, by the way, if you've heard baby snakes are more deadly because they can't control their venom, that is incorrect. They are less venomous according to this guy whom I believe because he has an Australian accent and is playing with a dangerous snake WHILE filming!!!!

 



Coral Snakes - The venom of the coral snake is one of most poisonous snake venoms in the world, second only to the black mamba. And, there is very little antivenin available to combat the effects of their bite. In fact, as of May 2017, the only producer of antivenin had stopped its production.
   The good news is that not many people die of coral snake bites. The fangs of the snake just aren't terribly efficient at piercing skin and don't stand a chance against a decent pair of leather shoes. The bad new is that inefficiency isn't the same as inability.
   If your character is bitten by a coral snake that character is in for some trouble and probably won't have a clue. Symptoms of a coral snake bite don't manifest for at least twelve to eighteen hours after the strike. Symptoms include muscle weakness, slurred speech, difficulty swallowing, difficulty breathing, inability to move eyelids (who knew that was a thing!), blurred vision, decreased oxygen levels, paralysis and respiratory arrest.
 
Corn and Coral Snakes
Coral snakes look a lot like corn snakes. The latter, however, is harmless. There's a rhyme that helps you identify the poisonous from the harmless and refers to the snake's coloration. "Red on black won't hurt Jack. Red on yellow will kill a fellow!"

Death Adder - Despite being known as Australia's top ambush predatory, the death adder is actually a "sit and wait" kind of predator. If you leave it alone, it will return the favor. (I only know that by reading, not experience.)
   Legend has it that Cleopatra used a death adder to kill herself. If that's true, she sure chose a nasty
Death Adder
way to go. Death adder venom can cause a loss of voluntary muscle control which can result in respiratory failure. Other symptoms of death adder envenomation include abdominal pain, headache, drowsiness and inability to control eye movement.

Rattlesnake (eastern and western diamondback, Mohave, timber) - Rattlesnake venom kills by causing cells of the body to hemorrhage and also by suppressing the nervous system.  
 
Western Diamondback
 The effects of a rattlesnake bite begin quickly, within seconds of being bitten. Medical help should be reached within thirty minutes of being struck. If left untreated, effects of the venom will increase within a period of two to three days and result in organ failure and death. Symptoms of a rattlesnake bite include sweating, numbness in the face or limbs, lightheadedness, excessive salivation, weakness, nausea, vomiting, blurred vision and difficulty breathing.

Well, that's it for our series on poison. What's the next round about? Well, that's up to you. Let me hear from you on "the Twitter" @carlahoch #fightwrite

Until the next round at FightWrite.net, get blood on your pages!



Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Poison, Pt 2 - Common Poisons

In our last round at FightWrite.net, we looked at medical jargon associated with the effects of common poisons, venoms and toxins, which aren't the same thing. If you didn't know that, hop on over to that post and poke around.

I'm going to just touch on a few common poisons. For a longer list, buy my book Fight Write: Writing Battles, Brawls and Bouts. It will be out June 11 but is available for pre-sale. In it I cover some good ole' standby poisons, a few newbies, some poisonous plants, venomous snakes and the most recent poisoning statistics from the National Capital Poison Center. The book doesn't have a cover yet, just so you know. Don't think the cover is the words No Image Available! Also, the title may change. BUT, the good stuff on the inside won't be touched!

Anthrax - Anthrax is not a poison. Did you know that? It is actually an infection caused by the bacteria bacillus anthracis. So, when you hear on the news that a package was delivered containing a white powder identified as anthrax, that's not exactly correct. The powder will cause anthrax. It is not itself anthrax.
   
Bacillus anthracis sets up camp in the lymph nodes of the body. The toxin it creates causes hemorrhaging, edema, a drop in blood pressure and ultimately death.  
  The bacteria which causes anthrax can be delivered via an odorless mist, powder, liquid or paste. It can invade the body through the skin, lungs, injection or ingestion. Symptoms generally appear within a week of exposure. Once symptoms present, death can occur within three days.
  Symptoms of Anthrax:
  Cutaneous exposure - Exposure to the skin results in blisters or itchy bumps. Swelling can occur as well as an ulcer with a black center. It can be pretty gross.
  Inhalation - Once inhaled, the anthrax bacteria can cause fever, chills, confusion, dizziness, cough, nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, headache, sweats, exhaustion, and body aches.
  Ingestion - Ingested, anthrax causes fever and chills, swelling of neck or glands in the neck, sore throat, hoarseness, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, headache, stomach pain, fainting and abdominal swelling.
  Injection - Very similar to cutaneous exposure.
 Managed quickly, anthrax can be treated with antibiotics and antitoxin.

Arsenic - Arsenic is odorless, tasteless and gray, white or
silver in color. Symptoms of exposure by inhalation or ingestion can begin in as little as thirty minutes after exposure. Such symptoms include headache, drowsiness, confusion, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abnormal heart rhythm, muscle cramps, paresthesia in fingers and toes. Death by arsenic poisoning often includes seizures and shock which lead to coma.

Cyanide - Cyanide comes in several forms. It its colorless, gaseous state it is known as hydrogen cyanide or cyanogen chloride. Its crystalline form is known as sodium cyanide or potassium cyanide. It is sometimes described as having a bitter almond smell which is not always detectable. The taste also have been described as acrid and burns the tongue.
  Cyanide makes the body unable to utilize oxygen. And, a little goes a long way. A person who weights 160lbs (73kg) who ingests .5 grams of potassium cyanide has a 90% mortality rate. That is about 1/3 tsp. Symptoms of cyanide poisoning include weakness, confusion, extreme lethargy, shortness of breath, headache, dizziness, vomiting, abdominal pain, seizures and coma. It is a completely agonizing way to die. Cyanide poisoning can be treated with a cyanide antidote kit.

Fentanyl - Fentanyl is a opioid analgesic that is almost one hundred times stronger than morphine and ten times stronger than heroine. Yes, really. A thirty milligram dose of heroine has the same effect as a three milligram dose of fentanyl. Both of those doses are high enough to kill an adult. The more you read about this drug, the scarier it is. 
   Symptoms of overdose include pinpoint pupils, muscle weakness, dizziness, confusion, extreme sleepiness, loss of consciousness, dangerously slowed heart rate, cessation of breathing and cyanosis of nails and lips. Fentanyl kills by depressing the body so much that the victim ceases to breathe and suffocates.
  The drug Naloxone, also known as Narcan, is often used to treat an overdose of Fentanyl. Opiate inhibitor drugs such as this bind to opiate receptors in the body to inhibit, revers or block the effects of the opiates. The need for opiate inhibitors has become so widespread they are often carried by paramedics. 

Ricin - If you are a fan of Breaking Bad you have heard of ricin. The main character, chemist Walter White, used it twice because he said that it was difficult to detect in the body. He was right. The writers of Breaking Bad always did their homework!
  According to the CDC, there are no specific clinically validated assays for detection of ricin that can be performed by hospitals laboratories. There are no methods available for the detection of ricin in bodily fluids. Potential tests would be used more for confirmation of the presence of ricin rather than a diagnosis of it. In other words, you have to go looking for it specifically. It is identified in an autopsy through DNA amplification or antibodies essay.
  Ricin works by invading cells and inhibiting them from creating the protein they need to survive. Depending on the type and level of exposure, death can occur within three days. Ricin can be inhaled or inhaled. It will not absorb in the skin. However, if on the skin it can be transferred to the eyes or mouth.
    Symptoms of ricin inhalation include difficulty breathing, fever, cough, nausea, tightness in chest, sweating, pulmonary edema, cyanosis, low blood pressure and, finally, respiratory distress.
   Ingestion of ricin can cause vomiting and diarrhea both of which would likely be bloody. (Mercy!) Blood could also be in the urine and seizure and organ failure could occur.

Ok, one more. This post is getting too long!

Strychnine - Strychnine is a favored poison in classic literature. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie and H. G. Wells all utilized it in their work. Norman Bates also used it to kill his mother in the move Psycho. If you've not seen that movie, sorry to spoil it for you.  
   Death by strychnine is dramatic and as the first symptoms
manifest, the victim is conscious and aware that something is going very wrong. Symptoms can begin in as little as fifteen minutes and include agitation, fear, restlessness, painful muscle spasms, uncontrollable arching of neck and back, rigid arms and legs, tightness in jaw and difficulty breathing. Death by strychnine is generally due to brain damage, respiratory failure or cardiac arrest.

In our last round, Poison, Pt 1, we looked at the best poisoning scene ever in The Princess Bride. First, sorry to say, but iocane poison ain't a thing. And, as well, building up an immunity to a poison ain't a thing either. Just ask one of my favorite nerds, Kyle Hill.



In our next round, we will look at a few poisonous plants and venomous critters. Until then, get blood on your pages!






Thursday, September 6, 2018

Poison, Pt 1, Medical Jargon


In the post, How Women Kill, we saw that women are sixtimes more likely than a man to kill with poison, not Poison, the 80s hair band featured here. I had to post that pic. How could I not? Look at them! They're like something aliens would keep as pets! Aaah, the 80s.

But, I digress. As often as poison is used to incapacitate folks in literature and real life, I thought we should discuss it a bit. We will look at some of the most common poisons, toxins and venoms and what they do to the human body. For the purposes of this post, I will sum them all up with the word, "poison."

Before we jump too deep here, let's look at a few medical terms that are often encountered when examining and writing about the symptoms and treatment of poisoning.  I ran into these words during my research and you might as well. Remember, using technical terms in your work can take your reader out of the story. Be sure that you show the definition of whatever medical jargon you use. Don't kill your reader with "jargon-monoxide" poisoning. :) I didn't make that phrase up. I wish I had!

Ok, here we go:

Toxins vs Poisons vs Venoms - We sometimes use these words interchangeably but they are not the same. A toxin is a biologically produced chemical that produces an immune response in the body. Both poisons and venoms can be toxic but poisons and venoms differ from each other. Poison is secreted by animals such as poison frogs. A venom is injected by an animal. The site WideOpenPets.com describes it best: if you bite it and you die, it's poison. If it bites you and you die, it's venom.

Antibody - An antibody is a blood protein produced in response to a foreign or toxic substance in the body.

Antitoxin - An antibody used to counteract the effects of a toxin/poison.

Antivenin - Fist of all, did you know it's "antivenin" and not "antivenom?" The latter is actually two words: anti venom. Antivenin is a blood serum containing antibodies that counteract the poison/toxin delivered by animal life such as spiders, scorpions and snakes.

Arthralgia - Pain in the joints is arthralgia.

Blood poisoning - This is not actually poisoning. Don't confuse it with such. Septicemia aka blood poisoning occurs when bacterial infection from elsewhere in the body enters the blood stream. You can't poison a character and give them blood poisoning.

Bradycardia - A slow heart beat is bradycardia. If it happens a bunch of times it is bradybunchcardia. ;)  

Charcoal - When poison is ingested, the protocol of care may be putting activated charcoal in the stomach. The charcoal absorbs liquid contents of the stomach.

Cutaneous - Cutaneous relates to the skin.

Cyanosis - Like the color cyan, cyanosis refers to a bluish color in the skin. It is a result of low oxygen levels in the blood.

Diplopia - Diplopia is blurred vision not a type of dinosaur, which is totally what I thought it was. So help me, I saw one in Jurassic Park!

Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation - This is a condition in which small clots of blood form in the bloodstream. I don't know about y'all, but the word "clot" just grosses me out.

Emetic - Something that makes you vomit is an emetic. On that note, nauseated is a verb. Nauseas is an adjective. For example, the thought of watching Mama Mia nauseates me. (Sorry, it's true.) If I watch it, I am sure to become nauseas. (For the record, I love ABBA.)

Encephalopathy - A disease in which a function of the brain is compromised by an agent or condition like a viral infection or toxin.

Gastric Lavage - Pumping out the contents of the stomach is knowns as gastric lavage. Sounds like a fancy treatment at a holistic spa. But if one is offered to you, do not add it to your spa experience!

Heart Arrhythmia - Any irregularity in heart beat is considered arrhythmia. Symptoms include fluttering in the chest, racing heartbeat, slow heartbeat, shortness of breath, chest pain, dizziness, lightheadedness, perspiration, faintness or fainting.

Hypotension - Low blood pressure is hypotension.

Hypertension - High blood pressure is hypertension.

Intubation - Insertion of a tube in the body to aid in breathing is intubation.

Metabolic Acidosis / Acidemia - When the body becomes too acidic, acidemia occurs. Symptoms include confusion, headache, sleepiness, loss of consciousness, coma, shortness of breath, coughing, muscular weakness, seizures, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting. 

Myalgia - This is a fancy word for muscle pain. It also sounds like something a doctor would say while swearing. "Oh yeah? Well, you can kiss myalgia!"

Myoclonus - Spasmodic and jerky contractions of muscle groups are known as myoclonus.

Opioid - Because opioid use / abuse is more prevalent, and I will be including fentanyl in another post, I wanted to explain exactly what an opioid does. An opioid is analgesic (pain reliever) that binds one or more opioid receptors in the brain. They block pain, slow breathing, calm the person in pain and act as an anti-depressant. The body produces a natural type of opiate on its own. However, it does not produce enough to combat chronic pain. Nor does it produce an amount that causes addiction. Prescription opiates are incredibly addictive. You brain actually learns to want synthetic opiates.

Paresthesia - This is a tingling, pin and needles sensation caused by damage to peripheral nerves. It's kind of like the feeling you get when your hand or foot falls asleep.

Pulmonary Edema - Fluid in the lungs in pulmonary edema.

Syncope - A temporary loss of consciousness caused by a sudden fall in blood pressure is syncope. It is also a word that sounds like "sink of pee," which reminds me of the time one of my very young children peed in the bathroom sink as an April Fool's joke. And, they did so in May. Their thinking was that it was an even bigger April Fool's joke since it happened long after you'd expect it. 

Tachycardia - A racing heart beat is tachycardia.

Toxicology - The branch of science concerned with the nature, detection and effects of poison.

Toxicology Report - Issued in forensic toxicology testing, the toxicology report states what sort of toxin as well as the amount of it was found in a body post mortem.

In our next post, we will look as a few poisons and their effects on the body. Now, I leave you will one of the best poisoning scenes ever. In Poison, Pt 2, we'll look a little closer at this scene and the dreadful iocane powder. Until the next round at FightWrite.net, get blood on your pages! Oh, also, NEVER GO AGAINST A SICILIAN WHEN DEATH IS ON THE LINE! Or dessert. My best friend is a Sicilian. Trust me on the dessert thing.




Thursday, August 16, 2018

The Jo Staff

I recently had the pleasure of teaching at the Realm Makers
writer's conference. When not teaching I had one-on-one mentor appointments with writers who were working out fight scenes. We looked at disarms, blocked movement, played with weaponry and just plain ole' brain stormed. In brainstorming, writers asked for weapons suggestions. A weapon that I suggested several times is one of my new favorites: the jo staff.

One of my mentor appointments.
 I'm teaching
a disarm. That's a Nerf gun, btw.
Settle down.
This summer I began studying the Japanese martial art aikido. I absolutely love it. In fact, I will do a whole post on it at some point. For now, just know that aikido utilizes several weapons. One of those weapons is a short staff known as a "jo." When I first saw the jos on the wall of the gym, I thought maybe they were bo staffs for kids. Nope. They are wooden staffs that, ideally, reach the top of the chest. They are unassuming, fast and deadly weapons. A well wielded jo staff can defend against hand to hand contact, as well as blades of varying lengths. As well, they serve a myriad of purposes and maintain distance from an assailant.
My daughter learning to use a jo. :)

A jo fits every size character because the size of the jo is determined by the size of the wielder. It blends seamlessly into a medieval or rural setting as a walking stick or farm tool. And, in an urban setting, if your character has poles within reach such as the handles of a mop or broom, a floor lamp or shower bar, they could easily have a hearty weapon in hand. Take a look around you right now and consider what could be used like a jo. I see balusters of a stair case. (That's the round spindle thingys.) Were one loose, it could be kicked out and wielded like a jo. It would be a bit short, but the wielding would be the same.

How does one wield a jo staff? Quite easily. Seriously, if I can learn to use a jo staff, anybody can. The most tedious bit is learning to hold it firm enough to block a strike but not so firm that your arms and shoulders are stiff. Once you get that down, you just learn a couple katas. A kata is a choreographed fight sequence. Katas help you learn techniques and understand how different movements work together. For a jo staff, your character can't do a straight out jab then an immediate over head strike. There has to be a transition between the two because the jab extends the staff to its length and the strike comes from above the wielders head. Something has to connect those movements and a good connector is a block of some sort. In the time it takes your character to transition between moves, their assailant can strike so having a block between moves is pretty smart.

Here is my sensei, Renato Freire, from Haru Dojo doing kata 13. The kata consists of thirteen moves. It's pretty easy to see which moves are strikes and which are blocks. That will help you in your writing because you will see how important a defensive transition is. Movement 10 is a sweep. It targets the ankles and aims to take the assailant off their feet. Pretty cool huh?



I highly suggest a jo staff. Next time you are in a hardware store, get them to cut a 1.5" dowel for you about collar bone height. Practice this kata and play with the moves. Link different ones together. Not only will you have a new bag of tricks for your character but a few for yourself. And, look around your town for an aikido dojo. It's a wonderful martial art. If you are in the Houston, Texas area, please drop by Haru Dojo. I would love to have a class so large we have to take it out to the parking lot! By the way, those pants are called "hakama" pants. They obscure movement of the feet. Don't call them a samurai skirt. Folks don't appreciate that. Don't ask me how I know.

If you are a fan of the Walking Dead, you know Morgan uses a jo. You will hear it called a bo staff but it is short enough to be considered a jo. Here he is in action. Enjoy. Until the next round at FightWrite.net, get blood on your pages!


Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Psychological Warfare - Gaslighting Pt 3, Victim Response


We've been looking at how your characters can fight mentally by means of a form of mental manipulation known as gaslighting. We have defined what it is, looked at the personality of a gaslighter as well as the sort of things a gaslighter might say in your MS. In this the final part in the three part series, we are going to look at what your gaslighted character may feel or say in response to the mental manipulation.

How Gaslighted Victims Respond
As important as showing the tactics of the gaslighter is the response they elicit from the target. According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, these are ways to show that a character is being gaslighted.

* He constantly second guesses himself.
* She often asks herself if she is just being too sensitive.
* He feels confused or even crazy.
* She constantly apologizes to the gaslighter.
* He can't understand why, with so many apparently good things in his life, he isn't happier.
* She finds herself keeping information from those close to her so that she doesn't have to explain or make excuses for the gaslighter's behavior.
* He knows something in the relationship is very wrong but can't quite express, even to his own self, what it is.
* She lies to avoid put downs.
* He has trouble making simple decisions.
* She feels that she is no longer normal self. She used to be more confident, more fun and laid back.
* He feels hopeless and joyless.
* She feels as though she can't do anything right.
* He wonders if he is a good enough employee, friend, husband, parent, etc.
* She feels physically tired after interaction with the gaslighter.

How does your gaslighted character beat the gaslighter? Well, he won't. Gaslighters are brilliant. They have their victim caught in a game to which only the gaslighter knows the rules. So, you need to focus not on beating the gaslighter but rather besting them.
* First, your character has to have a clue what's happening. In their gut, the will know what is going on. But, the doubt that has been cultivated within them from the gaslighter will strangle their instincts. So, something will need to tip off the victim.
* Have the target write things down, tiny details to compare with the story of the gaslighter.
* Keep communication with the gaslighter simple. Words are lengths of rope for a gaslighter. The more you give them, the more they have with which to hang you.
* The target has to get away from the gaslighter. Period. Now, this is going to offer you more opportunity because getting away from a gaslighter really ticks them off. He or she uses the power gaslighting gives them as fuel to maintain the upper hand in social and interpersonal situations. So, in having the victim leave the gaslighter, you are going to have opportunity for plot twists and added word count! Don't roll your eyes at me about that. You know "word count" is a thing!


Gaslighting is diabolical and offers a wealth of opportunity for writers. Wow. You know you are a writer when you read about something awful and get a little pumped knowing you can use it in your work!

While I learned a great deal researching this and the response to the posts on gaslighting has been great, I gotta tell ya, I'm kinda glad I'm done with them. Every time I read up on gaslighting and wrote about it, I got majorly bummed out. Especially because I live with a gaslighter...
This is Dottie. Dottie is a gaslighter. I told her about a hundred times to get out of this box. She assured me that not only was she not in the box, but maybe I was really the one in a box. Maybe it was my guilt of being in a box that was driving me to accuse her of the same. Maybe if I took a good look at myself, I wouldn't be looking for her to make a mistake! Maybe I should just feed her because according to her, I have never fed her. Ever. She is skin and bones and dying. Maybe I'm trying to kill her and I'm accusing her of being in a box because secretly I want to put her in a pine box! 
I showed her this picture. She said that I need counseling.
And that, dear writers, is gaslighting. Thank you, you've been a great audience. Be sure to tip your waitress.

Until the next round at FightWrite.net, get blood on your pages!
(I'm not the one in the box, right?)