Death by cucumber

death by cucumbersIn 1763 a doctor from Malling in Kent, identifying himself only as ‘W.P.’, reported this strange case in The Medical Museum.  His patient had died, apparently from eating a vast number of cucumbers: 

It may be necessary to observe, that this unhappy woman had all the symptoms of a bilious cholic, to the most extreme degree, from the time of her being first attacked to the time of her death, which was three days after her eating the cucumbers.

cucumberIn a few hours after she expired, I opened the body, and found the stomach dilated and swelled to the size of a child’s head, but of a more oblong form, and resembling in figure and tension a large bladder filled with wind: the external or membranous coat of the stomach appeared florid and inflamed; and upon making an incision through that and the subjacent coats, a most amazing quantity of sliced Cucumbers, porraceous matter…

‘Porraceous’, a decidedly niche word, means ‘resembling leeks’.

…and vesicles filled with air, issued out at the opening.

Much of the upper gut was inflamed, and the small intestine was ‘so much inflated, as to render it impossible for anything to pass through it’.

The colon, cæcum, and rectum were not so much inflamed as the lesser intestines; but, what was very extraordinary, the lower part of the latter was mortified for several inches: the lungs, particularly some part of the left lobe, appeared as if they had been boiled, with several livid spots dispersed over them. The liver, spleen, and uterus were the only viscera which preserved their natural complexion. The pancreas, pleura, and mediastinum were inflamed; a very large quantity of water was found in the pericardium: the kidnies were inflamed, and the vesica [bladder] was in a very flaccid state, without containing any urine. The patient, I was informed, had had frequent motions to urine for some time before her death, but was never capable of making a drop. 

These observations suggest that an excess of cucumber was not the only ailment from which the woman was suffering. In particular, the ‘water’ found in the pericardium (the sac around the heart) is a serious finding with all sorts of possible causes. If enough fluid had gathered it might have caused the heart to stop beating entirely.

It seems that this is a unique case: although the recent literature contains reports of cucumber-poisoning by bacteria and chemicals, there is no record of anybody else dying from a surfeit of cucumbers.

2 thoughts on “Death by cucumber”

  1. oh yes there is a record of someone else dying of a surfeit of cucumbers; Prince Jeremi Korybut Wisniowiecki of the Polish-Lithuanian Rzeczpospolita who died in August 1652 three days after eating a very large quantity of cucumbers. It was blamed on cholera and also some whispers of poison, but he fell ill and the details are, I am afraid, sparse, but I am much struck by the similarity.

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