The doctors at Hammersmith Hospital couldn't understand what was causing this reaction to the child.
Agatha Christie has been one of the best-selling authors in history. She has written more than 80 books and sold billions of copies but have you ever imagined that her books might have saved someone's life? Yes, that is true. In June 1977, a 19-month-old was flown from Qatar to London and was suffering from a condition that no one was able to identify. The doctors at Hammersmith Hospital had tried testing the child for various conditions but still, they couldn't understand why her blood pressure was falling. The child was in a semi-conscious condition. Slowly, her health was declining further, she was having difficulty in breathing and was losing hair.
That's when a nurse who was reading Agatha Christie's book "Pale Horse" came into the picture. Marsha Maitland was attending to this child and reading a book in which a child was suffering from thallium poisoning. "The hair falls out" was a line from Christie's book that struck Maitland. She questioned if the child she was looking after, was having thallium poisoning.
The next day when the doctor came to meet the child, Maitland told him her theory and also mentioned that the child's symptoms matched the ones in the book. Victor Dubowitz, professor of pediatrics at the Royal Postgraduate Medical School, said that they were "in a state where almost any suggestions were welcome," as reported by The Washington Post. However, thallium was very rare in Britain so the hospital lacked any testing equipment for it. So, the professor asked Scotland Yard to find a medical laboratory that could do a thallium poisoning test. The Yard also got him in contact with a thallium expert, who was an inmate at the Wormwood Scrubs Jail, he had detailed notes on the effects of thallium poisoning.
Once the test results came back, they realized that the child had 10 times more than the permitted amount of the chemical. The doctors came to know that thallium was being used in the child's home to poison cockroaches and rodents. They began the treatment and within three weeks, the child showed "remarkable" improvement. She was discharged four months later. "When we last saw her she had made a good deal of progress and was sitting up and taking notice again," said Dubowitz. After which, she left for Qatar with her parents.
Talking about Agatha Christie, Lucy Worsley, a historian, broadcaster, and the author has written a biography about Christie's life, "A Very Elusive Woman." It is said that it looks at what it meant to be a female author in the 20th century. Worsley told ABC News, "In the early parts of her career, in the 1920s, [Christie] would make surprisingly confident statements about her ambition, what she wanted to achieve, how the fact that she liked being a working woman, a working mother even."
However, things changed once she went missing, Worsley said, "She actually said in 1926 'When I disappeared, it was a really distressing incident of mental illness. I was experiencing suicidal thoughts. All I wanted to do was to get away from my cheating husband, the pressure of my life, and to form a new identity for myself.'"
She said that Christie's interest in mysteries increased after she started training as a pharmacist assistant. "The war itself, I feel was kind of a macro reason that she became a detective novelist. But when she moved from the wards at the hospital into a new job in the hospital dispensary … this was the tipping point," Worsley said. Worsley added that the dispensary included a lot of work mixing medicines and that's where she got knowledge about poisons.