Science

The Mystery Of The "Toxic Woman" Who Made Everyone Around Her Sick

Since her death in 1994, Gloria Ramirez has inspired episodes of hit TV shows like The X-Files, Grey's Anatomy and Law and Order, and has become an urban legend in her own right.

The season three episode "Wishin' and Hopin'" of 'Grey's Anatomy' was inspired by Gloria Ramirez.Blumhouse

While Ramirez was a mild-mannered housewife and elementary school volunteer from Riverside, California, the mother-of-two's mysterious death has puzzled scientists and investigators for years. Even today, experts can only guess what caused the "toxic woman" to make everyone around her fall ill.

Ramirez was suffering from the late stages of cervical cancer when she was brought in to the emergency room of Riverside General Hospital. Struggling to breathe and suffering from heart failure, Ramirez was given oxygen and her heart was shocked using a defibrillator.

Around this time the ER staff noticed something strange was happening. Ramirez's body was very oily, and was giving off a smell like fruit or garlic. A nurse drew blood from Ramirez's arm, and staff noticed yellow-orange particles floating in the tube. A doctor also said the sample smelled like ammonia.

Then, hospital staff started to fall ill. The nurse who drew Ramirez's blood passed out, and others became so nauseous they had to leave the room. The ER was eventually evacuated, and only a small crew stayed inside to treat Ramirez. In total 23 hospital workers fell ill, and five had to be hospitalized.

Footage of the evacuated emergency room.CasperNews / YouTube

Ramirez died from kidney failure just 45 minutes after arriving in the ER, but her mystery didn't end there...

California's Department of Health and Human Services tasked a pair of scientists with investigating Ramirez's death.

The coroner's office built this special sealed room to investigate Ramirez's body.CasperNews / YouTube

They interviewed dozens of hospital workers and found they all shared the same story: the people working within two feet of Ramirez suffered the worst symptoms, including nausea and fainting. Workers who handled Ramirez's IV lines or blood samples were also badly affected.

In the end, the scientists ruled that the hospital workers suffered from mass hysteria - that they panicked and fainted over nothing. But medical resident Julie Gorchynski had her own theory. Gorchynski treated Ramirez, and became sick after handling the woman's blood samples.

Her doctors put forward their own explanation of Ramirez's strange condition: that Ramirez's body was filled with dimethyl sulfoxide, an industrial de-greaser. Ramirez might have used the chemical to treat her pain, but if Ramirez's kidneys were failing, it might have built up inside her body.

The treatments to revive Ramirez, like giving her oxygen and shocking her heart, may have created toxic crystals of the chemical, or caused her body to release poison gas by a chemical reaction. Ramirez's body could not be studied, so her case remains a medical mystery to this day.

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