Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Marvelous mushrooms

Today's visit from Dr. Charles Grossman, M.D., brought us a small trove of documents from the Interagency Welfare Committee; a patent application and confirmation of issuance of patent number 3,742,946 (Apparatus for the in vivo treatment of blood containing harmful components resulting from chronic uremia and other conditions); records of a US-China People's Friendship Association annual meeting chaired by Grossman; and a couple of driver's licenses from New Haven (1943 and 1944), among other materials--but the thing that immediately caught my eye was a mushroom.

Galerina venenata Smith has the venerable distinction of having been discovered as the result of an accidental poisoning. On a January evening in 1953, local Portland artists Sally Haley and Michele Russo harvested some mushrooms from their front lawn to mix into an omelette. The mushrooms were not, as they believed, a harmless Amanita species but rather a highly toxic variety of Galerina. Lucky for them, their neighbor was one Charles M. Grossman, M.D.

Interviewing the patients in hospital, Grossman took notes as Mike and Sally scribbled illustrations of the culprit. A later drawing by Sally (above) shows the dangerous fungus in all its deceptive loveliness. The Oregon Mycological Society was unable to positively identify the specimen, so they mailed it off to A.H. Smith, a Galerina specialist. Grossman named the subspecies in Smith's honor in his 1954 paper "Mushroom poisoning: a review of the literature and report of two cases caused by a previously undescribed species" (co-authored with B. Malbin, Ann Internal Med 40:249-259).

In addition to the sketches and some correspondence, we also received today a typescript of a talk on the cases given by Grossman at the 1954 meeting of the Western Section of the American Federation for Clinical Research.

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