New Brunswick

Rum to the rescue: A hunter's close encounter with death and how alcohol saved his life

There’s nothing wrong with enjoying nature’s bounty, just make sure you know what you’re eating before you put it in your mouth.

Sometimes salvation arrives in surprisingly contradictory forms

One New Brunswick hunter is lucky to be alive after eating death cap mushrooms...a whole pan of them. (Gord Ellis/CBC)

There's nothing wrong with enjoying nature's bounty, just make sure you know what you're eating before you put it in your mouth.

This is a lesson Al MacDougall, a hunter from Keswick Ridge, knows all too well.

While preparing for a moose hunt in central New Brunswick in 2016, MacDougall stumbled upon a feast of mushrooms and thought nothing of picking them to make his supper.

"I'd eaten mushrooms, I'd eaten around the house and so on before and had good luck with them," said MacDougall.

What MacDougall didn't know was those mushrooms were death cap mushrooms which, unsurprisingly if you know what they're called, are deadly.

MacDougall estimated he picked enough to fill a 10-inch frying pan.

His hunting buddies didn't want any part of the foraged fungi.

So, MacDougall ate almost all of the mushrooms, washing it down with a good measure of rum.

"I got sick about 1 a.m.," said MacDougall.

Strangely enough, MacDougall didn't think the copious amount of wild mushrooms had anything to do with his illness, but he had a good reason.

"My wife had the flu and I [thought] that's what I was having," said MacDougall.

A truncated hunt

MacDougall was still determined to hunt for moose, but eventually recognized he should probably seek medical attention. (CBC)

The hunters wanted to be in the woods for 5 a.m. to begin their hunt.

MacDougall knew there was no way he was going to be able to make it on his ATV, so they took his friend's truck instead.

"I was going from both ends," said MacDougall.

Eventually MacDougall decided he ought to go to the hospital.

"I just felt so terrible," said MacDougall.

When MacDougall arrived at the clinic in Doaktown, doctors noticed his blood sugar was dangerously low and thought the mushrooms may be to blame.

MacDougall was rushed to the Dr. Everett Chalmers Regional Hospital in Fredericton, where he was quickly treated by three doctors who had consulted with poison control and even a professor whose field of study was mushrooms.

A liver specialist said depending on how bad the damage was, MacDougall would need a liver transplant.

But MacDougall decided he didn't want to go through with it.

"At my age, I've either done all the good things or all the damage I can do … there's no point taking a liver away from some young person," said MacDougall.

A strange antidote

It's not often that the words rum, good and liver are used in a sentence without the word not. But exceptions can be made.

Luckily, a transplant wasn't necessary.

Because of the good work of the doctors, MacDougall was able to pull through, but the doctors had some unexpected help.

"[The liver specialist] told me, 'I've never told anyone this before, but drinking liquor saved your life,'" said MacDougall.

The specialist told MacDougall that because his liver was working so hard to process the rum he drank the night before, it wasn't processing the mushrooms.

After all MacDougall's gone through, he has a different relationship with wild mushrooms.

"I walk by them now."

With files from Information Morning Fredericton