23 January 2010


Mrs Grumble is thinking of cooking chilli con carne for supper tonight but she hasn't got any red kidney beans. Which reminds Dr Grumble of an incident many years ago when the hospital where he was working was severely incapacitated as a result of an incident concerning, yes, red kidney beans. Dr Grumble's readers are very knowledgeable so some of you may guess what is coming. One or two of you may even have been involved in the incident.

The story goes like this. When Dr Grumble was quite a junior doctor working in a hospital on the South Coast a pharmaceutical representative offered to treat the whole of the junior doctors' mess to dinner. In those days most of us were on call most of the time so going out was difficult. One of the girls offered to cook chilli con carne so we could eat in the mess. The rep would pay for the ingredients. Dr Grumble can remember now the large cauldron the young house physician used as she cooked for what turned out to be the bulk of the junior doctors in the hospital. The dish turned out to be excellent. A good evening was had by all and the rep had an opportunity to peddle his wares.

Phytohaemaglutinin - the cause of the trouble.

It was then the trouble started. Within hours of the first mouthful of the chilli con carne each and every junior doctor who had partaken of the meal was struck down with severe vomiting followed by diarrhoea. At first we were perplexed. Then it dawned on us. The red kidney beans had not come from a tin but were dried. Red kidney beans are notorious. Unless you prepare them properly they will poison you just as they poisoned us. The hospital ground to a halt. Somehow we struggled to look after the sickest patients between trips to the loo. Nobody died. Neither patients nor doctors. Not that the doctors were really at risk. It was just that they felt like death. And nobody had a plane to catch. The worst time to be struck with severe vomiting followed by diarrhoea is if you are about to go on a long journey. And it was while we were all thinking that things could have been worse that it dawned on us that the drug rep who had set off just before we were all struck down had come all the way from Cardiff. We never saw him again.


david said...

This problem was well-publicised in the press several years ago. The problem occurred when dried kidney beans were prepared in electric "slow cookers" and were not heated to a high enough temperature to destroy the toxin. My advice for Mrs Grumble would be to use canned beans which have been pre-cooked.

Sam said...

Are you still there Dr G? :-(

Dr Grumble said...

Still here, Sam. Mrs Grumble went for the tinned ones.

Methuselah said...

Memories - I remember as a child a kidney bean salad being served at a neighbour's barbecue. The entire group were struck down just as you describe. Although IIRC the neighbour worked for the Inland Revenue so not such a big blow to the general public.

I think it must have been the summer of 1980 (Steve Davis won the snooker..?) but even to this day the memory makes me lairy of even tinned kidney beans which I wash far too thoroughly for someone based on a desert continent then overcook to a mush.

Dr Aust said...

Hmmm... Obviously the doctor doing the cooking had made the basic mistake of not checking the pulses.

Sam said...

"Still here, Sam."

Relieved you are Dr G! .. which now begs the question; why do doctors always, always take about such things at the dinner table thinking it is OK?! Talking about vomiting and diahorrea at dinner is appetising and is OK, is it?

Sam said...

:-) did I put this a bit harshly?! Unintentional I assure you Dr G .. not personal either, I was running out and wrote it wile being hurried by one of the kids.

It is just that my kids, and their friends and other docs I know always talk about this disease or that while eating! It doesn't affect them as much as, say, me, which is understandable but they seem to think others won't mind either

Excuse me :-)

Dr Grumble said...

Over sandwiches I recently listened to an illustrated talk on the management of bomb victims. You do get inured to these things though physicians like Dr Grumble do still wince a bit.

I still vividly remember going down to A&E as a young physician and going into the wrong cubicle. I was expecting to see a patient who had had a heart attack and instead I was met with a man holding up both his hands with the fingers dangling from them by a few strands of skin. He had sawn them off in an accident with a circular saw. The thing I remember most was that he was smiling. If you go to A&E to see an accident victim you know what to expect. If you meet one on the street unexpectedly it is a bit of a shock even if you are fairly used to these things.

Sam said...

This is why medicine is so different to other professions. Because it attracts people who not only are compassionate, caring and genuine by nature but are prepared to let their patients take over their life to a large extent. Good people like yourself.

One of my uncles who is a doctor says that he used to go to the morgue with a sandwich @@ .. and the kids say they do that somtimes as an appetite suppressor for me, since I put on some weight after I stopped smoking, but they did it before too so it must be occupational. I am sure nurses feel the same easy way too - time I trained myself since I am surrounded by docs, but I won't go anywhere near a morgue, let alone with a sandwich! :-)