Friday, March 30, 2012

Freaky (Factual) Tale Friday: The Toxic Lady


(photo @ realfoodfreaks)



Riverside, California

On February 19, 1994 at approximately 8:15 PM, Gloria Ramirez was admitted to the emergency room of Riverside General Hospital due to her suffering from the effects of advanced cervical cancer.  She was having extreme difficulty breathing and her blood pressure was dropping to dangerous levels.  

While it wasn't uncommon for the staff at Riverside to see elderly patients with these types of symptoms, Ramirez was only 31.  She was also awake and aware of the hospital staff around her, but only able to respond to questions with quick, nonsensical mutterings.

The staff attempted to inject Ramirez when a variety of drugs to help control her breathing and heartbeat, but to no avail.  They then decided to defibrillate her heart, which required the the removal her shirt.  At this point, the hospital staff noticed a few very odd things about their patient:

1. Ms. Ramirez's skin had an oily sheen that covered her entire body.
2. When nurse Susan Kane drew blood from Ms. Ramirez, she noticed an ammonia-like smell coming from the vacutainer blood collection tube.
3. Ms. Ramirez's breath had an intense garlic odor to it.

                                                                   hopkinsmedicine
"...so the attending physician can now kindly shut up about the pasta I had for lunch."


Julie Gorchynski, a medical resident, looked at the tube and noticed that the blood had small, manila colored particles floating in it.  She took a whiff of the tube, also noticed a strong ammonia-like smell...and then blacked out and went into convulsions.  Sarah Kane, the nurse who had originally drawn the blood, felt nauseated, swayed slightly, and collapsed to the floor.  A third woman in the room, respiratory therapist Maureen Welch, also passed out.

The ER ordered the entire area to be evacuated while a skeleton crew stayed behind to stabilize Ramirez.  Unfortunately, they were unable to save her.  Gloria Ramirez was pronounced dead 8:50 PM that evening due to kidney failure related to her cancer.

In the meantime, 23 of the 37 staff members working at the ER that evening became incredibly ill, with 5 requiring hospitalization.  Sarah Kane, who had been moved outside to the ER parking lot during the evacuation, flailed her arms and legs wildly.  Sally Balderas, an unaffected nurse from the initial incident, went back inside the hospital to help the staff move Ramirez's body to an isolated room.  Once inside, she began to dry heave and felt like her skin was on fire.

After a thorough investigation by scientists from California's Department of Health and Human Service's was completed, they claimed that the cause of so many people getting sick at once was simply due to mass hysteria.  In other words, it was all in their heads.  




We have already covered the lame excuse for unexplained illnesses that is mass hysteria (and before anyone gets mad, yes I know it's real, but it also often +gets used as a convenient excuse when no answer is to be found).  But this one must have been a particularly nasty case of psychological illness.  It sent Julie Gorchynski (the one who went into convulsions) to the hospital for two weeks with pancreatitus.  She also developed a severe case of avascular necrosis of the knee; in other words, her knee bones have been completely destroyed, leaving her unable to stand for more than a few minutes.

Finally, Gorchynski and the others that had developed physical symptoms due to their "hysteria" were able to get an independent investigation done by Livermore National Lab.  Their theory was that Ramirez had been self medicating with Dimethly sulfoxide (or DMSO), a slightly controversial remedy for chronic pain that reportedly also gives users a case of extreme garlic breath.  Due to a urinary blockage found in Ms. Ramirez, the DMSO would have built up a huge deposit in her system.  Combined with the oxygen administered at the hospital, this would have created DMSO2, which can crystallize at room temperature (hence the particles in the blood).

Afterwards, the electrical shock from the defibrillators could have changed the DMSO2 into DMSO4, an extremely poisonous gas that would have caused many of the symptoms experienced by the hospital staff that night.  


                                                     about.com
So just slap one of these babies on any of the millions of people 
that have used or been prescribed DMSO and let's call it a day!


So case closed, right?  Not exactly.

For starters, it is still considered very unlikely that DMSO4 could be created within the human body.  Many chemists have said that it is outright impossible.  Also, many of the symptoms caused by DMSO4 (like tearing up/crying) were not observed in any of the affected staff at all.  

There's also the pesky fact that according to her family, Ramirez (who was studying to be a nurse) never used DMSO.  And even if she did, the highly suspect and unlikely chain of events that could cause DMSO4 to develop in the human body has never been seen again since the incident with Ramirez.

We may never know what exactly happened on that evening in 1994.  It may have been a one time freak occurrence, an unexplained phenomenon, or the DMSO theory may in face be correct.   But there is one thing we can be sure of:  

Don't get too hysterical about anything, or you may destroy your skeletal bone density.


I hate myself for joining the latest meme fad, but on this issue, Wonka gets me.