Dr. Lentz placed his hand on my arm in a comforting way. “Ellie, listen to me. I know this has to be difficult for you but you have to be strong and you have to see exactly what’s going on with your foot. Can you do that for me?”
I shut my eyes until I got control of my panic, then opened them and nodded.
“Good. What you have is extremely rare and ultra extremely rare to see in the United States.” Pointing to the photo, he continued, “The condition is known as “Santolechae Muscaria”, named after Carlos Santo, the doctor who discovered and identified it in the 1920’s. Its origins are from deep within the Amazon Jungle and to date, there have only been six reported cases. More than likely, there have been others but they were never reported, either because of lack of communication or the victims died before they could get out of the jungle and get help.”
“You’re scaring me.”
He looked at me very compassionately. “Forgive me, but I assure you I am not telling you this to scare you, but you need to understand this as best as possible. You need a moment or you want me to continue?”
I glanced at the clock.
“Don’t worry about the time; I’ve cancelled all appointments so I could go over this with you.”
While I was beginning to grasp the gravity of my situation, I was also moved by his caring enough to devote the day to attending me. I took a deep breath. “Go on,” I said with a timid smile.
He returned my smile and flipped the photo to a text written page with hand-written notes scribbled on the sides, top and bottom. “Okay, first of all, I’m going to explain as best I can what this is. If it gets too much let me know and we’ll pause, but it’s extremely important that you listen and understand.” He studied my face and satisfied I was okay with what he had just said, he continued.
“This fungus has only been found in one small remote area of the Amazon and has never been known to travel outside that area on its own. The only way it can or has been known to be re-located is transported out by a carrier.
“By any chance, have you been to South America recently?”
I shook my head.
“Hmm, this is puzzling,” he said and kneaded his chin. He leaned back in his chair. “This could present a whole new problem.”
Not knowing what to say or think, I just stared at him. All of a sudden I remembered my niece having just gotten back from South America. I sat up straight.
“My niece just returned from there and I remember her saying something about the plant she had brought back having come from the jungle.”
Dr. Lentz leaned forward. “Does she still have it?”
I frowned. “No. As a matter of fact, I was the one who accidentally knocked it over and broke the plant and the pot. I felt terrible about it.”
He placed his hand on my wrist. “Did you come in contact with the soil?”
“Yeah, it was all over my foot.”
“The foot with the growth?” he pressed.
“Yes, how did you know?”
He took a deep breath. “ According to the reports and limited studies that have been done, when the adult female toad gets pregnant, she burrows into a mature toadstool, which has the ability to host the toad without dying. The toad then follows the roots and deposits its eggs. Once that’s accomplished, she returns to the main plant and dies thus feeding the toadstool. The eggs remain protected within the root. The offshoot itself grows until it finds a host plant to attach to both for an anchor and to absorb nutrients. Sometimes the eggs transfer to the new host where they remain dormant for an unspecified period of time. When the eggs do hatch, they make their way to the top and begin searching for a mate. They do this by making the noises you described. The cycle then repeats itself.”
“I know you’d like something stronger right about now, but all I can offer is water. Would you like some?” he asked and stood up.
“Yes, please,” I answered and realized my mouth had dried up like a wad of cotton.
A couple minutes later, he returned with two bottles of water and handed one to me. I practically had to force myself to drink it slowly and not give in to my urge to gulp it down. I glanced at Dr. Lentz and observed as he twisted the page this way and that as he read the notes. Noticing I was watching him, he set the paper down.
“Ready to continue?”
“So how did I get it?”
He leaned back in the chair again and folded his hands in his lap. “When you broke the pot and the plant itself, you must have released the hatched egg and it immediately bored its way into you.”
“I didn’t feel a thing though.”
“That could be because you were concentrating on cleaning up the mess and probably apologizing profusely that you didn’t notice. Also, we’re not sure about this but there’s a consensus that the toad has the ability to produce a numbing agent in its saliva so the live host doesn’t feel it entering.”
I didn’t like what I was hearing but I understood it. “That explains the toad; How about the mushroom?”
“There’s only one small article about that but it makes sense and is the only explanation we have. According to that study, when the egg is in the root of the toadstool, it feeds on the fibers and absorbs enough of the plant DNA to be able to grow another host plant. Apparently, the toad is able to store this DNA until it is absolutely necessary to release it through its urine or feces, we’re not sure which, thereby securing its own survival.”
He paused to take a drink of water. “That, unfortunately, is the easy part of this problem.”
“What do you mean?” I interrupted; wanting and not wanting to hear what he was going to say next.
“The problem lies in extracting it from your foot and—”
“Oh God, don’t tell me you can’t get rid of this thing. Please tell me you can cure me. Please,” I begged him.
Once again he softly touched my hand. “You can be cured but it’s not going to be easy.”
Chelle Munroe ©
January 29, 2014