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ScottyMcGeester's avatar

How can I make this medical mystery as realistic as possible in my story?

Asked by ScottyMcGeester (1523points) September 1st, 2014

Setting is a college in a small American town in New Jersey.

I’m writing this juvenile mystery series where the main character utilizes the labs in his school to solve mysteries.

In this first mystery, a student is found passed out. Everyone thinks it’s alcohol poisoning but the main character is the only one who witnesses the guy foam at the mouth and coughed up blood. In reality, he was poisoned but survived (he also drank a lot at a party and the pepretator took advantage of that to mask the fact that he was poisoned). I may alter this in any way as I decide what poison to use and learn more about poisons.

The paramedics take the victim away and then later he’s in a coma. But I’m split as to whether or not to put the victim in a coma.

How can I make this so that the doctors CAN’T figure out the victim was poisoned despite doing blood tests while the victim is in a coma? If the doctors would find a way no matter what, then I probably won’t put the victim in a coma and everyone, including him, thinks he just drank too much.

(any suggestions on what poison to use is also appreciated)

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11 Answers

gailcalled's avatar

Howdunit:The Book of Poisons for starters.

Google “Any untraceable poisons” also.

Toxicology tests vary depending on whether the victim is alive or dead, and if dead, how dead.


I have two deadly poisons growing in my perennial garden, one hightly favored by the Medici. There are also the wild mushrooms that spring up after rain showers.

SadieMartinPaul's avatar

Great idea for a plot!

Comas are a great dramatic device for novels, movies, and TV shows. In real life, comas usually precede death, and patients seldom regain consciousness. (Induced comas, of course, are very different, and they’re done to save people’s lives.)

Yes, I know that you’re writing fiction, not dealing with reality, so you get some dramatic license. Still, though, at least for me, a coma always seems like an easy-cheesy, soap-opera convention. It’s all very convenient – she’s been comatose for 5 years; she suddenly wakes up and starts talking; she names and identifies the man who’d attacked her all those years earlier!

Thus, I wouldn’t put a victim into a coma.

ragingloli's avatar

You should start by consulting a doctor or biochemist.

longgone's avatar

The coma in and if itself spells “unrealistic” to me. I feel it’s been overused in TV and books. So, if it were up to me, I’d lose the coma. Apart from that, I very much like the plot!

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

How about some sort of Date Rape drug? According to this site, if too much is used, it can put a person in a coma. According to this site, the drugs leave the body fairly quickly. Two types are listed that are legal in the US. The reasons for their use (anesthetic; to treat narcolepsy) provide a number of ways on how the culprit got their hands on them in the first place.

Since this type of drug is almost always affiliated with a female unknowingly ingesting it, having a male victim might be less suspicious.

El_Cadejo's avatar

Polonium-210 (though I don’t see how a college student would get their hands on that)

Ricin (unfortunately quite cliche at this point, especially after BrBa)

Botulinum may work, extremely toxic in low doses and you can possibly work it so that the victim is someone obsessed with their looks. Perhaps this victim recently got botox so by poisoning them with that, it would make it look as if the cosmetic surgeons accidentally overdosed them.

Thinking about what I said about the botox, instead of going for a rare/untraceable poison, it may be more realistic if you find a toxin that is currently in pharmaceuticals and then go from there, make it look like the victim took to much of their medicine or something.

Belladonna contains scopolamine (used to treat motion sickness) and hyoscyamine (used to treat ” gastrointestinal disorders including spasms, peptic ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome, diverticulitis, pancreatitis, colic and cystitis.”)

ScottyMcGeester's avatar

Yeah after some careful considering I will remove the coma.

The story is outlined like this:

The main character, Jon, finds a kid convulsing outside his dorm in the lounge. He coughs up blood and foams. He calls 911 and the kid is taken away. Jon finds that the student had just eaten hummus from the fridge. He doesn’t think much of it until he finds out later that the student turned out to be okay and the doctors didn’t do anything and discharged him – believing that he was simply very intoxicated. Being the only one who saw the victim throw up blood and convulse violently, Jon gets suspicious. Things get more suspicious when the hummus goes missing.

Things get complicated when Jon also finds out that the victim has an on-and-off flirtation with his crush. He figures he’d get on her good side by uncovering the mystery of what seems to be someone wanting to poison this guy. Since Jon is a chem student, he and his lab partner use their lab equipment in their free time to figure things out. This would be the basis of the series and maybe I’d call it something like “Night at the Lab”.

I initially thought about putting the victim in a coma as a stronger motivation for Jon to impress his crush. But that’s too dramatic, so I let the guy simply be discharged under assumption of alcohol poisoning, since he had so much in his system after partying. Also, it would add more thrills as Jon hones in on the suspect and realizes they might try to poison the guy again.

So. . .ultimately now, I need to think of a poison that one could survive from (if barely) and gives some kind of convulsions. I may edit the violent symptoms depending on the poison. So now, in other words, I’m throwing out all the coma ideas. Thanks for all the inputs so far.

longgone's avatar

Sounds good. For further inspiration, you might consider watching some House. :)

El_Cadejo's avatar

@longgone I thought @ScottyMcGeester was trying to write a good story, not a cliched one about guessing every possible alignment before magically coming upon the true cause.

longgone's avatar

^ Oooh…you don’t want to get into this argument with me ;)

El_Cadejo's avatar

Shoulda been ailment. Bloody auto-correct.

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