Or, When Plants Attack.
Following working for the Yum Corporation, I worked for a time as a file clerk at a doctor's office. It was decent cash, and an easy job; I was perhaps a bit too quick at doing my duties, however, and quickly got a raise and a few other tasks were given to me to complete every day.
One of these was to fill in prescriptions with both the pharmacies and patients. So, once a week I'd make a battery of calls to let, first, the patients' pharmacy know that they still needed medicinal refills, and then I'd call the patient and tell them that their medication would be ready that week.
Given that I was also studying psychology, prior to becoming a glorified drop-out, I was also encouraged to deal with the patients that no one else in the office wanted to. Amongst these was a woman we'll call Nylette S., which is not her real name.
Nylette had been raised a deeply conservative Christian; her number one worry about the world was of the prevalence of the sins of the flesh, and whores: at one point she'd raged about seeing some teen or glamour magazine on a visit, and began screaming the word while flipping page by page through the magazine, only to be confronted with ever more images of scantily clad women. It was... Rather unreal to see, honestly. Said women weren't actually “whores,” of course.
Her profound fear of the sins of the flesh, and mental instability, had combined over the years with a rather potent form of hypochondria. And so she'd found various reasons to have most of the internal organs associated with female fertility removed over the years.
In other words, she wasn't going to have any babies. Ever. This kind've drastic alteration to the body was not without consequences, and plenty of her rages and such moments could have been due to the depression she suffered from, or due to hormonal imbalances, or both.
All of this lead to the women I worked with not wanting to deal with her. So every week, I called N.S., and often had to spend an inordinate amount of time assuring her that her medications would arrive on time. Sometimes, she'd even beg me to pray with her. Which was unnerving, as I couldn't see how I could help her.
And then N.S. became convinced that she was being possessed. By aliens. Which lived in her body and gave her visions and were ordered about by The Devil himself.
Her General Practitioner never had the heart, given her religiosity, to ship her off to a psychologist or a psychiatrist, and so most of the time that I worked there she was degenerating, psychically speaking, at an alarming rate. I felt a bit of pity for her, truth be told.
And then I discovered that she was right. She was possessed by an alien intelligence, it was giving her visions, and the massive religious paranoia about all of it was on par for what someone of her mentality would feel.
I was scanning her medications and charting refills one week when I noticed one of the medications was partially abbreviated: “Bella.”
“What's Bella?” I asked my boss.
“Oh, Belladonna!” She said.
“As in Atropa Belladonna?” I asked, again.
“I think so, yeah. It's an extract from the plant. You'd have to ask [N.S.'s GP].” She replied, taking a bite of salad that crunched a bit much.
So I high-tailed it down the office corridor to my other boss's office, where he spent most of his day hiding from the sheer number of female nurses.
“Can I ask you an odd question?” I said.
“Sure!” He responded, delighted that I was talking to him at all. He would sometimes invite me to his church and was often somewhat shocked when I declined. His tie was perpetually mis-tied, but his shoes were always perfectly polished. But I digress...
“I noticed that [N.S.] is on Belladonna... Is that from Atropa Belladonna?”
And then it all clicked together. Atropine is psychoactive, and can, in certain individuals, be a hallucinogen. One thing people tend to forget is that some psychoactive compounds that are hallucinogenic don't cause hallucinations in everyone that takes them; it's a matter of the plant's biochemistry and our own, really.
Atropine does not very readily cross the blood-brain barrier*, and is a C.N.S. Depressant. In certain circumstances, its psychoactive properties cause the waking mind to mimic the release of neurochemicals that occur during sleep, not to mention being capable of replicating the same brainwave activity at times. It doesn't necessarily knock you out, but it can.** When people encounter the psychoactive properties, they often describe it as a “waking dream,” or more rarely, “a vision.”
N.S., for reasons that the medical/pharmaceutical industry will never nail down, had made friends with Belladonna. And then she began to meet the Good Folk, who tormented her with visions of the Sabbat. Just like they did 400 goddamn years ago when certain ointments were employed.
Except that she refused to join, and felt that she was being persecuted by the devil. Furthermore, she was right; the cause of these disturbances was in her body: in her fat cells, in her blood, maybe even in her brain.
I tried to caution her G.P. On no less than four occasions that she was taking psychoactive compounds, and needed to be taken off of them given her delusions. He insisted that he'd never heard of Atropine being psychoactive before (I wasn't about to recommend that he read Montague Summers' books, or Reginald Scot, obviously; I did consider telling him to read a Stephen King short story involving Belladonna once, but decided against it). So, by the time I left, N.S. was an utter mess.
Then again, I doubt any she'd have found much comfort in knowing that she was right. If anything, it'd probably just have heightened her fears about the world around her – and naked elf boys eating tantalizing meals.
Of course, she'd insisted that the elves were aliens, but this is a case of having pop and sci-fi imagery in one's head versus folk imagery. I'm quite certain that if she'd grown up on tales of fairies rather than aliens, she'd have seen proper elves.
* Compared to at least one of the other Tropanes, anyhow. I'll get to that next entry.
**Atropa Belladonna has more alkaloids in it than just Atropine, and all of these working together can be far more soporific than it will be on its own. In the case of these plants, in and of themselves, the sum of the alkaloids is always more than the that of the parts.