110: By the Pricking of my Thumbs
By the light of the full moon and clearly in her element, Geillis Duncan reveals to Claire that she loves Dougal MacKenzie and is pregnant with his child. Maura MacKenzie, wife of the war chief has conveniently and suddenly died, leaving only Arthur Duncan in the way of these star-crossed lovers, or so it seems.
The Duke of Sandringham has arrived at Leoch to take counsel with the Laird and hopefully to be of some help to Jamie in securing a pardon from the murder charges he faces. A banquet is held in his honor and all associated with the clan enjoy the lavish feast.
The Laird of the MacKenzie offers a toast to his longtime friend and ally, His Grace, the Duke of Sandringham. Everyone drinks, the food is passed, and merriment ensues.
Arthur Duncan suddenly stands, coughing and apparently choking. His hands grasp at his throat and he collapses to the ground. Claire rushes to his side to help but quickly it becomes clear that he cannot be saved. She smells bitter almond and recognizes the scent as that of cyanide. Arthur Duncan has been poisoned.
Knowledge of the poison cyanide may date back as far as ancient Egypt, as “death by peach” has been translated from Egyptian hieroglyphics. In more modern history, cyanide was used by the Nazis in extermination camps and later ingested by the Nazi leaders themselves as they committed suicide as the Russian forces approached in 1945. The mass suicide of 912 cult members in Jonestown in 1978 was due to a cyanide-laced kool-aid type drink. Saddam Hussein included cynanide among the chemical weapons used against the Kurds in the 1980s. The still unsolved mystery of cyanide poisoning in Chicago in the 1980s in which random containers of the medication were spiked with cyanide led to the universal tamper resistant packaging we now have in over the counter medications.
Cyanide is simply a carbon atom bound to a nitrogen atom and is a very potent poison, found in many foods and manufactured items. It is found in the pits and seeds of bitter almond, cherry laurel, apricot, plum, pear, peach and apple as well as in cassava root, bamboo and soy. Some species of centipedes, millipedes, beetles, moths and butterflies synthesize and excrete cyanide for defensive purposes. When burned, wool, silk, polyurethane and plastics like cyanoacrylate (superglue) emit cynaide gas. It has even been used as an insecticide and to fumigate ships and buildings. The major source of cyanide poisoning now is smoke inhalation from residential or industrial fires in which cyanide is released as plastics and textiles burn.
Cyanide exposure can occur by inhalation, ingestion or even absorption through the skin. It then enters the blood stream and is distributed rapidly throughout the body. Cyanide irreversibly binds to and inactivates energy pathways in the cells, leaving them unable to absorb oxygen or produce energy, resulting in cell death. The cells are in effect suffocating, unable to use the plentiful oxygen available. The heart and brain are especially dependent on the body’s oxygen supply and the effects on these organs is particularly deleterious.
Within minutes, the victim of cyanide poisoning will begin to experience symptoms: Headache, anxiety and confusion will progress to seizure and coma. An initially elevated heart rate and blood pressure will progress to severely low heart rate and blood pressure, heart block and cardiac arrest. Pulmonary edema, or accumulation of fluid in the lungs will cause coughing of frothy sputum and progress to respiratory failure. Vomiting, kidney failure and liver failure occur. Death occurs in minutes, depending on the dose.
Antidotes for cyanide poisoning are available. Those patients who receive a dose of cyanide that is not immediately fatal and receive prompt medical care can be treated with medication that binds the cyanide in the blood an allows it to be eliminated via the urinary system. However, cyanide is so quickly acting that those who receive a fatal dose will almost always die before they can reach medical care and receive such an antidote.
Can’t help but flashback to Angus’ lesson for Claire in self defense with a sgian-dubh…
The episode ends on a painfully familiar note. Our Claire again sits locked up in the back of a wagon.
Indeed something wicked this way comes!