The Symptoms of the Botulism Poisoning

As we continue our account of the Great Olive Poisoning as told by William H. Morgan, Dr. Roach of Alliance and Col. Morgan put their heads together and realize that the symptoms experienced were linked to the dinner party. Dr. John Phillips, Chief of Internal Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic was summoned to come to Alliance and check on the ill. Col. Charles Weybrecht loses his final battle.

Monday August 25th

Mother received a telephone call early that morning from Ann Sharer’s nurse informing her that both John and Kit Sharer were very ill, but didn’t know what the trouble was. Mother hurried to the Sharer home to find them ill indeed. Their speech, swallowing and breathing were becoming impaired. Dr. John Roach had been there and suspected fungus poisoning. Nurses were secured and Mother came home for lunch. When Dad heard the news he was thunderstruck. If the diagnosis was correct, and there was no reason at that time to believe otherwise, Dad felt that he was responsible, and must have made a mistake in his identification of the edible mushrooms and puffballs. He indeed spent a very bad afternoon at the office. Mother returned to the Sharer’s home. The condition of both patients gradually worsened.

Sometime late in the afternoon Dad received a call at the office from his friend Ben Weybrecht informing him that that Ben’s brother Charlie was very ill and that his doctor, whom I believe was Charles Hoover thought that Col. Weybrecht had suffered a cerebral hemorrhage. Dad was naturally distressed but at that time there seemed no connection between the Sharers’ illness and that of Colonel Weybrecht.

About dinnertime my parents got the word that Helen Gahris was also very ill, and that her doctor thought that she had contracted some sort of ptomaine poisoning. The truth hit Dad immediately. He reasoned that the illnesses were all the same, and that whatever caused it would have to go back to the previous Saturday night when the victims were all at the same dinner party.

He immediately called Dr. Roach, told him of his conclusion, and suggested that he contact the other doctors involved. Dr. Roach called back shortly with the word that the doctors had conferred and agreed that all of the victims had been poisoned, but did not know what kind of poison it was. They felt that the fore most authority in this area was Dr. John Phillips, Chief of Internal Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic.

Dr. Phillips was reached about 9:00 P.M. Upon hearing the symptoms, he said that he was almost sure that the problem was an outbreak of botulism. He had never seen a case of it but had recently read an article. He was extremely interested and said that he would leave by car for Alliance immediately.

Dr. Phillips arrived in Alliance about midnight and went first to Col. Weybrecht’s home. The patient was in critical condition, and examination confirmed Dr. Phillips’s telephone diagnosis. Col. Weybrecht was unable to speak, but was able to write on a pad, “What are my chances?” The doctor reassured him, but Charlie replied on the pad, “50-50”.

Dr. Phillips planned to drive then to Sebring, but a telephone call brought the sad news that Helen Gahris had died. The doctor next went to the Sharer home, and his diagnosis was further confirmed. Unfortunately, no effective treatment was known. Dr. Phillips then returned to Cleveland. Col. Weybrecht died about 4:00 A.M. Tuesday morning.

Tomorrow: Other Members of the Dinner Party are Contacted

Part 8