Lest you think me mad(der):
I recently mentioned that I am convinced that it is possible for an otherwise healthy person to die of strong negative emotion, to die of anguish.  I’m sure some regard this as arrant superstition, nor have I seen it happen.  However there are stories.

One story was a personal anecdote by a friend, another doctor.  He had been working in southern Africa.  A young woman in the village had wandered off a bit by herself, which was against tribal rules.  They called in a witch doctor.  He blew some dust in her face, and she was dead in a few hours.  My first reaction was that of course there was a poison in the dust.  Ricin can be extracted from the castor oil plant by simple means, and the plant does grow in eastern Africa.  And maybe the witch doctor knew something I don’t, so that story is ambiguous. 

The second story was in an autobiographical book by a woman living in Australia.  The tradition there held that a person could be killed if somebody undertook the ritual of “pointing the bone” at him or “singing” him, either one.  In the course of a story a man was indeed sung.  It took him two or three days to die.

A third story was given us at Harvard Medical School.  Some doctors restrained a prisoner on a table top, turned on a faucet below him so that he could hear it dripping and told him they were bleeding him to death.  He died in minutes to hours, his blood pressure simply drifting downward.  This of course was before rules about informed consent for experiments. 

The fourth story I shall not recount – it was too easy and I cannot take the responsibility – but it also involves the slow and alarming fall in blood pressure. 

That is my opinion for what it is worth.  I do not attach a great deal of importance to it because you shouldn’t be making people miserable anyway.

There have been 113 visitors over the past month.

Home page.