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I'm reading a completely nonfiction book called In the Heart of the Sea, and in it, the characters are lost at sea without food and they are starving. They cast lots to see which crew member will be eaten, and it lands on one of them. He asks for the night to resign himself to his fate, and the other members accept. However, by midnight, he'd become deaf and by morning he was delirious. Why would this happen? It wasn't starvation-induced because they'd used up the very last of their rations that night in a large meal. So why did the threat of death induce deafness and deliriousness?

Edit: And it was 100% true: not only was the book nonfiction, there are accounts from the surviving crew members of the event.

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  • $\begingroup$ Maybe because the author wanted it to? I think it will be difficult/impossible to get a biological explanation for every event in a work of fiction, and psychosomatic reactions aren't all that well understood (and can be a matter of some debate). $\endgroup$
    – Bryan Krause
    Apr 28 '17 at 22:10
  • $\begingroup$ @BryanKrause: No- it was completely nonfiction, but even speculation would help. $\endgroup$
    – 米凯乐
    Apr 28 '17 at 22:54
  • $\begingroup$ Ah I see - could be psychosomatic, could also be that he ingested seawater, maybe trying to kill himself so his crewmates wouldn't have to do so: dehydration could cause both of those symptoms. Could also be that the emotional stresses interacted with dehydration he was already experiencing, or the anxiety caused nausea/vomiting/diarrhea. It's also possible the accounts from the surviving crewmembers were not entirely accurate. $\endgroup$
    – Bryan Krause
    Apr 28 '17 at 23:04
  • $\begingroup$ Also depending on what food they were eating and their metabolic state, that large meal could have contributed as well. I edited the title to something more appropriate in case others think this can be saved, but I still think it's too speculative a question to be on-topic for biology.SE. $\endgroup$
    – Bryan Krause
    Apr 28 '17 at 23:06
  • $\begingroup$ sounds more like dehydration, eating will only exacerbate that especially a protein heavy meal. digesting protein uses more water than digesting anything else. a sudden switch from carbohydrate rich biscuits to solid proteins would require much more water, so if they are rationing water someone with marginal dehydration could be pushed over the edge unless they take more water rations as well. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Apr 29 '17 at 1:04
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He probably had hypernatremia: salt toxicity from drinking seawater. That definitely can cause delirium. It was harder to nail down that hypernatremia could cause deafness specifically but I found that for pigs.

http://www.merckvetmanual.com/toxicology/salt-toxicity/overview-of-salt-toxicity

Affected pigs may be blind, deaf, and oblivious to their surroundings; they will not eat, drink, or respond to external stimuli.

It would be easy to think a person was deaf if he were altered / delirious / encephalopathic. His brain does not process what he hears and so he is oblivious - like these pigs.

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