Tech UPTechnologyGloria Ramírez, the toxic woman

Gloria Ramírez, the toxic woman

It was 8:15 p.m. on February 19, 1994 when a 31-year-old woman , dressed in shorts and a T-shirt, arrived at the emergency room at Riverside General Hospital in California . His condition seemed very serious, and although he was conscious, he responded with stammering answers to the doctors’ questions. She was breathing very fast with short exhalations and her heart was beating rapidly: she was in an advanced stage of cervical cancer that had been diagnosed six weeks earlier.

Medical staff followed standard protocol and injected her with a series of fast-acting drugs: Valium, Versed and Ativan to sedate her, and agents like lidocaine and Bretylium to stifle her heartbeat. Meanwhile, a nurse pumped air into his lungs through a manual ventilation unit, a soccer-ball-sized rubber bladder connected to a plastic mask that fits over a patient’s nose and mouth. But the woman did not react. They ripped his shirt off and put electrodes on him; the heart had to be defibrillated. At that moment some members of the medical staff thought they saw an oily sheen on his skin, and noticed a smell like garlic that they thought was coming from his mouth.

While a nurse inserted a catheter to draw blood needed for analysis , then he thought he noticed a strange smell. He told a colleague, who sniffed the syringe and the arm area to try to smell something; he thought it was because of the chemotherapy, because sometimes the blood smells bad because of the medication . But no, it smelled like ammonia . Passing the vial of blood to a resident physician, she saw some manila-colored particles floating in it and showed it to the doctor in charge of the emergency room. Something was not right and it had nothing to do with the patient’s heart.

Then everything went haywire.

One of the nurses began to stumble , and luckily they were able to catch her before she collapsed. The resident doctor left the emergency room, sat down on the nurses’ table and before she could say anything, she fell to the floor . Another nurse started having trouble breathing and one more passed out ; when he woke up he could not control his arms or his legs. A doctor yelled, “Close the doors, don’t let anyone come near!” just at the moment when a colleague of hers also collapsed. A few minutes later another nine toilets began to say that they felt dizzy. Something strange was happening and it was ordered to evacuate all the sick out to the hospital parking lot.

Meanwhile, the little team that was left standing tried to save the woman’s life. At ten minutes to nine, after 45 minutes of cardiopulmonary resuscitation, he was certified dead from kidney failure related to his cancer. The woman’s name was Gloria Ramirez. Among the health personnel, 23 of the 37 who were in the emergency room that night presented at least one symptom and 5 had to be hospitalized. The most serious was the resident doctor, Julie Gorchynski, who spent two weeks in intensive care , where in addition to apnea she suffered from hepatitis, pancreatitis and avascular necrosis, which appears when bone tissue does not receive enough blood. In his case it attacked his knees and he had to use crutches for several months.

At 11 p.m., a HazMat team in protective suits arrived at the hospital, searching everywhere for some kind of toxic gas: none were found. That was bad news for the forensic team. A hard job awaited him as everything pointed to Gloria having been responsible, but they had no idea why.

Thus, one of the most extensive investigations in forensic history was triggered: up to ten investigation teams were on the ground. One of these was the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory Forensic Science Center, which the Riverside Coroner’s Office formally asked for help on March 25. The plan was simple: analyze everything.

His conclusion was that Gloria had been rubbing her body with dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO) gel , a substance that is obtained as a byproduct when wood is processed to make cellulose pulp and that at that time was used as a home remedy for pain – those who They say that it has a certain smell of garlic. When supplied with oxygen, it combined with the DMSO that had been absorbed by his body and became dimethylsulfone, and then dimethylsulfate, a powerful toxic agent. So why didn’t Gloria die, if it was in her blood? Because at the temperature of the human body, dimethyl sulfate is not stable and disappears. When drawing blood, with the temperature that was in emergencies (around 18 degrees), the decomposition of dimethyl sulfate was stopped, part of it vaporized and poisoned the doctors. It is known that although dimethyl sulfate boils at 188ºC, it can reach a lethal concentration in air by evaporation at as low as 20ºC.

Now, this sequence of events -which was the official position of the Riverside Coroner’s Office-, has its problems : it is not very clear, since it has not been possible to demonstrate experimentally , each of the proposed reactions; Symptoms from inhalation of dimethyl sulfate usually appear after 6 to 24 hours, and some scientists have pointed out that there is no correspondence between the symptoms of health personnel and those of industrial workers who have been accidentally exposed to dimethyl sulfate. For example, at first it acts like tear gas, and no one from the hospital said they started crying. Finally, Gloria’s family has always denied that their daughter had used DMSO.

Despite its weaknesses, the DMSO theory is the best explanation we have for what happened. And Gloria Ramírez, the toxic woman, was buried on April 20, 1994, two and a half months after her death, in Riverside’s Olivewood Memorial Park.

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