Wednesday, December 2, 2015

How Long Can Some Survive Without Adrenal Glands?

Jessica asks:

In my story idea one of the things my serial killer does is remove her victim's adrenal glands(she has illegal organ harvesters do this), then put him in an underground maze and see how far he manages to make it out of the maze before he collapses and dies. This character dies.

What I wanted to know was:

1. Is this idea realistic? Would he actually survive long enough to try and find his way out of a maze, or would he just collapse there and then?

2. If not, could I make it realistic somehow, for example, by having the killer give him some steroid hormones before dropping him in the maze, but then no more?

3. What would actual removal, as opposed to, say, Addison's disease, do to him? Like how severe would the effects be - would be just be a little bit weak and then deteriorate, or would he be really sick right away?

4. Something she does to another victim is render them completely deaf. How easily could she do this?

Jordyn Says:

The adrenal glands sit on top of your kidneys and release cortisol and epinephrine. You do have some of these hormones circulating at all times that will probably last somewhere between 2-4 hours. As to how long your character could last probably depends on how long and how much energy they would have to expend in the maze.

For instance, a five minutes stroll and he's out then he's probably alive at the end. However, if it's a long arduous maze and he's being chased by a serial killer, the victim will burn through their hormone reserves much faster and would be more likely to succumb to death more quickly.
Giving steroids could lengthen the amount of time they could live for. Patients with Addison's disease, where the adrenal glands aren't working properly, generally take supplemental steroids twice a day.
I would imagine the effects of immediate removal of the adrenal glands would cause the patient to be sick right away. In Addison's disease, the symptoms develop slowly over time because there is still some amount of these hormones being released. In surgical removal, there's no further release from the glands, just what the patient has remaining in their blood stream. And remember, surgery in and of itself, is a stressor to the body which would likely use up some of these hormones as well. I would do some reading on Addisonian crisis to get a clear picture of how soon and how sick the patient/victim would be.

It is easy to render someone deaf by puncturing the tympanic membrane and removing one of the ossicles (or one of three bones in your middle ear.) 
Hope this help. Your book idea sounds very intriguing!

And shout out to Liz for helping me with this question. 

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