Author Question: Death by Food Allergy

Sally asks:

My villain is going to kill his wife. She has a severe peanut allergy. My initial plan was for him to put peanut oil in a salad dressing, one that needs to be shaken to combine the oil and other ingredients. He also damages her epi pen. He does this right before he leaves town for business in order to give himself an alibi.

Using Epi Pen

He’s a professional athlete so news of his wife’s death will make media outlets like ESPN. I want initial news reports to say that it doesn’t seem to be foul play, even though it is.

Does that work?

Jordyn Says:

The cause of death would be anaphylaxis. That’s how the person would die. Basically, an allergy causes a huge histamine release that can lead to cardiovascular collapse– difficulty breathing, low blood pressure, increased heart rate (tachycardia.) The reaction can get to the point where it can lead to death.

This is what your character would die from. So– the ME would be able to determine that the patient had an anaphylactic reaction. How easy it would be to pinpoint the exact cause of the reaction may be harder.

My follow-up question to Sally was: What’s to prevent the character from calling 911?

Death by allergic reaction does take a while. There is not set amount of time and my guess is it could be fairly expedient– perhaps 30 minutes for a person who is highly sensitive.

This is where the setting would come into play. In a city– the EMS response time should be 2-6 minutes. However, in the country where there may be only volunteer response, it feasibly could take 30 or more minutes.

The photo from this piece comes from a great article about whether or not to use epi pens.

Some free nursing advice for you here today– if you are a parent or adult and the thought comes to your mind– “Hmm– should I use the epi-pen?” Then yes, you should. Don’t wait. Don’t question it. Give it and either call 911 or go straight to the ER.

The issue with anaphylaxis is that it can spiral to a point where we cannot reverse the reaction and you may die. However, I’ve not yet seen a person die from giving themselves a single epi injection when perhaps they didn’t need it.

We’d rather monitor you alive for several hours than tell your family you’ll no longer be with them. 

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Sally Bradley has worked for two publishers, writing sales and marketing materials, sorting through the slush pile, and proofreading and editing fiction. She has a BA in English and a love for perfecting novels, whether it’s her work or the work of others. A judge in fiction contests, Sally is a member of ACFW, The Christian PEN, and the Christian Editor Network. She runs Bradley Writing and Editing Services from her home outside Kansas City. A mother of three, Sally is married to a pastor who moonlights as a small-town cop.

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