Man mistakenly drinks pesticide instead of medicine. I'm lucky to be alive.
ONE’S clear and the other’s brown. But in his slightly tipsy state and confusion, the retiree mistook one for the other, and ended up nearly paying for it with his life. Mr Maric Joseph Antonine Lune had drunk liquid pesticide (clear) instead of a traditional medicine he used for arthritis (brown). The poison gave him lung and heart failure. Thankfully, he survived. Said Mr Lune, 61: “My medicine was bitter, but the liquid I took tasted like oil and peppermint. “Still, I hantam (guessed in Malay) because I was in pain.” The incident happened on March 18 at his daughter’s four-room flat in Yishun, where he lives. Mr Lune, who was formerly a security guard, had returned home after drinking two bottles of beer. He was feeling slightly tipsy. The room was pitch dark, but he did not turn on the lights because he was in pain from his arthritis. So he tried to “feel” for the medicine bottle instead – the first time he did so, he claimed. Both the pesticide – which he used to kill insects in potted plants – and medicine were stored in 250ml bottles of similar size and shape.
Both were also placed on his bedstand next to his bed, so that he could reach for them easily, he said. On the same bedstand were also various ointments, oils and herbs. Mr Lune said he would normally drink half a bottle of his medicine for arthritis, which he bought from Malaysia, whenever he felt pain in his left leg. The traditional medicine alleviated his pain and helped him to sleep, he claimed. He had also bought the pesticide, which was in its original bottle, from Malaysia. He used it to kill insects on the plants outside the flat. Mistaking the pesticide for his medicine, Mr Lune said he downed three quarters of its contents without realising he had drunk the wrong thing. He then tried to go to bed, but said he felt nauseous 30 minutes later.
He rushed to the toilet and vomited, but collapsed on his way back, hitting furniture and suffering cuts on his face, arms and legs. “My legs felt like jelly, and gave way. I tried standing, but they had no energy.” He tried to support himself by holding on to furniture several times. Each time, his arms were too weak. “It felt like there was something pulling me down, pulling me back.” With much effort, he crawled into the bed. He cried: “Please help me! Please call a doctor!” Fortunately, his daughter, Ms Mary Lune, 32, heard him. Ms Lune said: “He sounded hoarse and desperate.” She ran to his room and found him in a pool of vomit. The blood from his wounds had made a small puddle on the floor. The furniture was also in disarray. Some of it had toppled onto the floor when Mr Lune tried to pull himself up. Ms Lune: “I was so scared. I thought he might die.”
She called an ambulance and he was taken first to the Khoo Teck Puat Hospital (KTPH), then to Alexandra Hospital (AH) in the wee hours of the morning. Mr Lune said: “My whole body was in pain. The last thing I remembered was being carried away. The next thing I knew, it was a few days later. “If my daughter hadn’t been at home, I wouldn’t be talking to you now.” Ms Lune said her father was put into intensive care at AH and given medication. But the next day, his lungs and heart failed, she added. According to her, at one point, his doctor called her and asked her to “be prepared for the worst”. Thankfully, her father’s condition improved. Ms Lune said her father suffered from “organophosphate poisoning”. (See report below.) He was discharged a week later, and his daughter took him home.
She also quit her job as a front-desk agent so she could take care of him round the clock. Ms Lune has a younger brother, 26, who lives with them in the flat. He works as a bouncer. Mr Lune, whose wife died from leukaemia in 2007, said he is not depressed or suicidal. He said: “If I wanted to die, I’d have jumped from a flat. Who’d drink pesticide? “And why would I want to die? My finances are sound and my children love and support me.” After the incident, Ms Lune gave her father’s room a complete scrub down. She also threw away the bedstand. His medication for blood pressure, diabetes and cholesterol levels are now arranged neatly in a sliding cabinet inside the room. She’s also given her father a new rule: Before he takes any medicine, he now has to ask for her permission first. “There is nothing he consumes or does which escapes me,” she told TNP with a smile.
What has he learnt from the episode? “See first, then drink,” he said. The former smoker and drinker has also quit both habits since the incident. “I’m lucky to be alive. Life is precious,” he said.
‘Patients can die within minutes’
ORGANOPHOSPHATE is a common component in pesticide. “These chemicals kill insects by inhibiting their nerves and muscles, which control respiration,” said Dr Jim Teo Yeow Kwan, a respiratory and intensive care unit physician at Mount Alvernia Hospital.
If consumed by people, they can lead to nausea, headache, anxiety, restlessness and mental confusion within half an hour. These symptoms can also be followed by slow heart rate, vomiting, abdominal cramps, excessive cold sweat, increased production of saliva, muscle twitches, lung failure or coma.
“These situations are very urgent. Patients can go into a seizure, coma or die within minutes.” Patients whose lungs fail as a result of such poisoning are usually put on mechanical ventilation and given intensive care. They are given drugs to reverse the action of the organophosphate.
Dr Teo said the poisons can be cleared from the body within one to two days, but may sometimes take longer. He added that many people die of such poisoning in agricultural countries, like India and China, where pesticides are available readily.