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The second sudden death in a matter of days in the Saint-Méran household in The Count of Monte Cristo, is initially misdiagnosed as tetanus. But the characteristic arching of the back, spasms and intense pain are more likely to be strychnine or brucine poisoning. In this chapter we will look at why some poisonings are mistaken for disease, and at how something as deadly as strychnine was once thought to have medical uses. In several twists in the plot, one of the characters survives a strychnine poisoning by apparently becoming immune to it and fakes her own death (like Juliet) by taking a powerful narcotic. Building up tolerance to strychnine with small amounts might seem like a plausible idea if you suspect you are a target, but we will learn that the opposite is true, and with every little dose, the body becomes more sensitive to its effects. We also see a cunning doctor carrying out an early type of forensic chemistry test at the murder scene to reveal the presence of a poison.

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