Definitely Not Deadly, He Said
2008 Honorable Mention
(4 November 2007, Spain) The warning stated, "Ingestion of 20 grams is potentially lethal," but a visitor to the Mycological Conference in the village of Badajoz disagreed with the official assessment of Amanita Phalloides, commonly known as the death cap mushroom.
45-year-old Jose Manuel knew mushrooms. He had spent the past few days collecting and exhibiting mushrooms. He began arguing with conference attendees, and to prove his point, he picked up the mushroom and began chewing on half of it. Aghast onlookers begged him to spit it out, but he calmly finished chewing, swallowed, and went on to consume the remaining half of the poisonous basidiomycete fungus.
Jose Manuel, clearly under the influence of alcohol, insisted that the next few hours would prove who was right and who was wrong. Indeed they did. An ambulance was summoned and, despite heated opposition, a friend finally convinced the amateur mycologist to get into the ambulance.
It was lucky that his friend was persuasive. Once in the hospital, Jose Manuel started to show the typical signs of Death Cap poisoning: bloating, jaundice, and continuous vomiting. He spent two days in the Intensive Care Unit before being tranferred to a standard hospital bed.
The major of the town visited the foolhardy mycologist in the hospital. Although the man was aware that his liver showed extremely high levels of transaminase, an enzyme produced when the liver has to process toxic substances, he told the mayor that he is still convinced that the mushroom is harmless. Maybe a second try will make him a worthy Darwin nominee.
SIDEBAR: A. phalloides is the most lethal toadstool of all. Mushrooms evolve toxins as a defense against predators. The Death Cap is the culprit behind the majority of mushroom poisoning deaths; its victims may include Roman Emperor Claudius and Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI. Many of its biologically active agents have been isolated. The principal toxin is alpha-amanitin, which damages the liver and kidneys, often fatally. No antidote is known for the toxin, nor for the stupidity of this "mycological expert."