The appalling pursuit of power and revenge through chemical weapons that harm or kill our fellow humans.
In my lifetime, we have had so many natural disasters that have caused devastation around this world. One of the most recent examples, Hurricane Maria, still appears in the news due to the destruction the disaster exacted on Puerto Rico, and the suffering that still impacts its citizens almost one year later. While we have yet to find a way to prevent natural disasters, at least we sometimes can predict them in sufficient time to perhaps blunt some of the damage.
Unfortunately, we seem to have no success preventing, controlling or blunting the misery and destruction that is exacted upon the inhabitants of this world by their fellow human beings. I am talking about those people who have engaged in the manufacture of chemical weapons that bring on terrible diseases and death. For example, these horrific weapons are used by dictators in countries like Syria to defeat and dominate their citizens. Another recent example is the alleged use by dictators seeking revenge on those they consider to be traitors.
You are probably wondering how a post on chemical weapons has any connection to a blog on heart failure. It is because in March 2018, my iPhone was overwhelmed with media reports about an attack on a former Russian spy and his daughter in Salisbury, England. I still remember when the first article on the nerve agent attack popped up in my iPhone news feed. It said that the victims were unconscious, and that the nerve agent known as Novichok had apparently brought on heart failure.
There are a number of factors that could have caused my dilated cardiomyopathy, which in turn led to my heart failure. But I do not ever remember seeing on any medical website the fact that a nerve agent attack could cause heart failure. But yes, as I have now learned from these awful incidents in Britain, heart failure can indeed be caused by nerve agents, a man-made instrument of disease and death.
So how did Novichok come to exist? According to an article on the Newsweek website, nerve agents in general have a long history. In the 1930s, unbeknownst to Allied intelligence forces, German scientists discovered the first generation of nerve agents while searching for new pesticides.
According to the federal EPA website, pesticides are used to control various pests and disease carriers, such as mosquitoes, ticks, rats and mice. Pesticides are used in agriculture to control weeds, insect infestation and diseases. But I take it that the pesticides discovered by the German scientists were designed to get rid of what they considered to be “pests” of the human variety.
In 1945, strange ammunition shells from Germany apparently shocked scientists at the Porton Down facility in the United Kingdom. The lab had originally been started to test chemical weapons during the First World War, Ulf Schmidt told Newsweek. Schmidt is a professor of modern history at the University of Kent and the author of Secret Science: A Century of Poison Warfare and Human Experiments,.
Porton Down was familiar with mustard gas and phosgene, chemical weapons that have been used in war since World War I. But the facility had not previously encountered sarin, tabun and soman, chemical weapons that were apparently the first generation of nerve agents. These new chemical weapons inhibit an enzyme called acetylcholinesterase, causing nerve communications to fail and muscles to contract. Victims would convulse and ultimately die—dramatically and rapidly—as heart failure and asphyxiation set in, Schmidt explained. The Newsweek article also indicated that Novichok was in the third generation of nerve agents developed in the 70s and 80s by the Soviet Union.
So how does Novichok exact its damage? According to the website www.independenceco.uk, Novichok works like all nerve agents, by overriding neurotransmitters in the body and shutting down the way it normally works. By forcing muscles to contract and attack the nervous system, important parts of the body start to shut down. This means that soon after someone comes into contact with a nerve agent, the heart and diaphragm will shut down and as indicated in the previous paragraphs, death can result either through heart failure or suffocation.
So how much Novichok is needed to wreak death and havoc on one’s victim? Again, according to the website www.independenceco.uk, nerve agents are "possibly some of the most dangerous things that human have ever made, after the atom bomb. Just a drop of them is enough to entirely shut down a body.” And according to the Seattle Times, experts say just a few milligrams of the odorless liquid — the weight of a snowflake — is enough to kill a person within minutes. Finding it is the problem. So what is the old saying – every snowflake is different? Maybe, but I doubt that any snowflake is as destructive as a nerve agent.
Once one is exposed to Novichok, is there a treatment? Chemical arms expert Ralf Trapp says that "As far as we know from the literature, there is no specific antidote for Novichok". Typically, poisoning victims are kept on heart and lung machines while given the drug atropine "hoping that the body will recover" and restore normal functioning, he explained. Atropine relieves some of the symptoms by blocking acetylcholine— a chemical transmitter that controls muscle contraction.
Why do these attacks involving the nerve agent Novichok bother me so much? Well, on a personal level, know the fear and physical trauma associated with heart failure. But it is more than that. In an earlier post, I talked about using the internet to bond people across the world to defeat the powerful tyrants of chronic conditions, so we can in turn have the strength and well-being to defeat the powerful human tyrants. But what we see happening now is the human tyrants working in concert with powerful health tyrants. The result is that unsuspecting good citizens and their children are attacked with a substance that will make them disabled, meek, and easy to capture, invade or persecute. Or these substances could kill them.
And even worse, sometimes the people who are harmed may not even be the people who were the targets of the evildoer. So for example, in March 2018, the theory was that the father and daughter found unconscious on a park bench in England were targeted because the father was a former Soviet spy. But then a couple of Brits were infected in early July 2018. According to the news reports, they apparently did not know Putin, nor could they be considered Russian spies or enemies of Russia.
According to Time Magazine, British officials investigating the July instance of poisoning with the nerve agent Novichok in southwestern England said suspected the victims were not directly targeted but sickened as a consequence of the previous attack. So consider them to be innocent bystanders who were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Authorities initially thought the two had taken a contaminated batch of heroin or crack cocaine. Great – not only were they terrorized by a nerve agent, but their judgment initially was questioned because they were thought to have taken tainted drugs. Later authorities thought they had encountered and handled an object that contained Novichok. Police cordoned off a home in Amesbury, believed to be a home of one of the victims. They also cordoned off other places the pair visited, including a church, a pharmacy and a park in Salisbury near where the Skripals were found.
Unfortunately, according to the New Zealand Herald, the female victim died in hospital after suffering massive heart failure. But despite her death, the drama will continue to play out on the world stage for at least the next few months. British accusations and Russian denials will continue to fill the airwaves, with commentaries from experts on all the major public news outlets. But I think we sometimes miss the saddest commentary, which is the disrespect to the God that created this earth, and the humans he created in his image.
I remember at a church meeting a number of months ago, our minister asked us the question: "What is breaking God’s heart in our world?" There were so many thoughtful responses such as: violence, insensitivity to those less fortunate, and hatred/polarization just to name a few. But what struck me as breaking God’s heart the most are the number of people and countries, as well as former civilizations, who commit what we all consider acts of a heinous nature in the name of God. Because in my book, the God I worship does not condone one of his creatures to commit evil, greedy, cruel acts that hurt another one of his creatures.
I also need to clarify that this post is about nerve agents that can cause death by heart failure because that is the condition that currently plagues me. So it shocks me that someone could intentionally unleash a substance that can cause the suffering physical symptoms and mental distress that advanced heart failure patients must endure. But I am equally saddened by other acts of senseless violence such as random shootings that kill innocent bystanders, or for that matter, any instance where some apparently believe they have the right to take a life that was put on this earth by God.
As I was researching this blog, I think I came across a comment that there is a treaty that bans the use of chemical weapons. Of course, if a country doesn’t sign on to a treaty, or chooses to ignore the provisions, I believe that treaty basically is useless – as the recent events in England demonstrate. On the NBC News website’s opinion page, the following information appears:
These are not facts that I like to share, but I feel I must. Because I know that many of my readers practice a religious faith, I ask that you pray to your God to help us find a way to turn the tide and end not just the destruction and death from chemical weapons, but the random, sad acts of violence that seem to dominate each news cycle. Do this because I think God does answer prayers, in some form or fashion. But remember it is not just God's responsibility to end the insanity. It is our duty as his children to act as people of faith and to serve as examples of compassion, peace and tolerance.
Melanie discovered that she had heart failure in 2013. Since that time, she has been learning how to live with the condition, and how to achieve balance and personal growth.