He was the creator of one of the most famous literary icons in history: Sherlock Holmes. But this author almost died doing a risky investigation. What was the poison that almost killed Conan Doyle? Find out here.
Arthur Conan Doyle grew up in an Irish Catholic family full of illustrators and cartoonists. He studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh. There he attended the classes of Professor Joseph Bell (1837-1911). So who was this gentleman? He was the great-grandson of Benjamin Bell, considered the first Scottish surgeon.
The poison that almost killed Conan Doyle could have left us without his brilliant work.
Professor Bell was a singular man, endowed with enormous energy. He had a great capacity for deduction, which gave him an analytical personality. It is said that he exhorted his students to observe each patient in great detail. This would allow a better clinical diagnosis.
He would give theatrical and brilliant demonstrations in the surgical amphitheater of the Edinburgh hospital. Thus Doyle began the sketch of what would become his most famous character. Bell collaborated on several occasions with Scotland Yard. Among them, in the famous case of Jack the Ripper. He is currently considered one of the forerunners of forensic medicine.
Conan Doyle later studied ophthalmology. He practiced this specialty in a select district of London. But he soon redirected his professional career towards literature.
Years earlier, in 1879, he had published his first medical article. He did so in the prestigious British Medical Journal. There he reported on the toxic effects of a poisonous plant named Gelsemium elegans. It was known as Devil’s foot root, which produces an alkaloid called gelsemina.
Effects of poison
He told how he had experienced the poisonous effects of the plant in his own flesh. He administered daily increasing doses of gelsemium tincture. He suffered persistent diarrhea, severe headache and major depression. He discontinued the experiment in fear of death.
Gelsemine attacks the central nervous system. It can cause convulsions, paralysis of the respiratory muscles and death by asphyxiation. The poison that almost killed Conan Doyle could have left us without his vast and magnificent work. The author used that experience for one of his most famous stories: “The Devil’s Foot”.