As told to Phil Carpenter by Timm Boege
I had a very big surprise this past Saturday. As I as coming upstairs from my shop, I saw a strange truck pull into the driveway. A man, somewhat familiar, walked up to me and said, "Remember early September?"
"Oh, my god, you came by after eating Amanita phalloides!", I exclaimed.
"Yes, and one of the things I recall vividly is that you said I might need a new liver. Well, I've got one!"
I asked him if he'd mind if I got his full story since I did not get any details at the time of the incident. It is always really difficult for me to grill people about their names and the circumstances of how they managed to poison themselves on deadly Amanitas, especially when it is clear that they are really, really sick. He did tell me in September that he'd let me know how things came out with his experience. It turned out to be an incredibly horrific story.
When he (Timm) and his wife showed up at my house on 9 September 2006, it was clear that he was in bad shape. They had examples of the mushrooms and even though it was long before any rain had fallen and the examples were small and quite pale in color, it was clear that they were death caps. I was somewhat puzzled because they had their copy of "Mushrooms Demystified" along but had deduced that the spore print they had taken was pink and not white [an effect of the damp paper that they used, not the true color of the spores].
At that time, I told them to delay no longer and go immediately to the closest hospital, in this case Watsonville. Saturday, I found out that it was only AFTER he had eaten them that he checked the reference.
At that time, I told them to delay no longer and go immediately to the closest hospital, in this case Watsonville. Saturday, I found out that it was only AFTER he had eaten them that he checked the reference. He said he went by memory back to a nice tasting mushroom he'd picked 15 years previously that he thought the current Amanitas looked like.
He said that he spent a delirious 30 hours at the hospital in Watsonville where he was on IVs for dehydration and lots of oral charcoal. He was then transported up to the medical center at UCSF where he spent another awful 3-4 days before he had his liver transplant. He recalled being in absolute misery and pain and felt sure that he would die. He even dictated a will to his family. After the liver transplant, major complications set in with predominantly kidney problems. He said he spent 3 full weeks after the surgery in incredible pain with only IV feedings and heavy medication the full time. During that time he said he could not eat anything and he could barely function.
He says he still has tightness in his stomach muscles, numbness at the point of the incision and a lot of numbness in his right arm, an remnant of either the IV or some other issue with the hospital stay. He said that his body is just now starting to produce red blood cells again. As a consequence his energy level is extremely low. The good news is that his liver is in great shape although he is still on anti-rejection meds, something he said may go on the rest of his life.
He related that the major impact of the meal he ate, besides a very painful near-death experience has been the cost. The medication cost at this point is running him $1500 per month. The stay at the hospital in Watsonville was over $150,000, the ambulance ride up to San Francisco was $34,000 and the total to date is over $800,000! And the clincher: NO INSURANCE!
What amazed me was Timm appeared to be a very happy man. He joked around a lot and seemed to be in excellent spirits. He told his story as if it were some kind of pleasant book he read or something. I didn't ask how he was possibly going to pay for his expenses and he didn't volunteer. At least he is still alive but what a story!!!
Note: Phil Carpenter is a longtime member of the Fungus Federation of Santa Cruz.
Another harrowing tale of the ingestion of an Eastern Destroying Angel (Amanita bisporigera) by a young man who also survived to tell the story can be found on the Cornell Mushroom Blog. To read this report, click here.
Both of these individuals ate mushrooms without first taking the time to identify them. In the Santa Cruz case, the victim thought that "they looked like something that he had eaten and enjoyed years before," and didn't attempt an identification until he was already feeling ill. The Cornell victim mistook undeveloped Amanita bisporigera, the Eastern "Destroying Angel" for Coprinus comatus, the "Shaggy Mane." He also admitted to a certain youthful feeling of invincibility. As he discovered, the wishful thinking of youth is no protection aganist deadly amanitas.
Needless to say, it is imperative that you not eat wild mushrooms unless you can positively identify every mushroom in hand. Long experience in your local area, the use of reliable, regional field guides and verification of your ID by a more experienced local mushroom hunter or local mushroom society goes a long way towards preventing tragedies of this sort. When it comes to a potentially life-threatening mushroom meal, no “kinda/shoulda/sorta/maybes” are allowed.