Does anyone remember watching the hit 1990s Snick show, ‘Are You Afraid of the Dark?’ And at the beginning of every episode, they would introduce their spooky story and say, “submitted for the approval of the Midnight Society…”? Well, we’re kind of having one of those moments right now because today we’re going to tell you about the curious emergency room visit and death of Gloria Ramirez, otherwise known as The Toxic Lady. Let’s get started.
Gloria Ramirez was just a happy woman living with her husband and two kids in Riverside, California until one February night in 1994. Gloria was rushed to the hospital because she was experiencing a rapid heart rate and plummeting blood pressure, she could hardly breathe, and although she was still able to communicate with those around her, she was speaking in nothing but incoherent sentences. At the time, Gloria was only 31 years old, but she also had late-stage cervical cancer which was thought to be the reason for her current medical condition.
Upon entering the emergency room, doctors and nurses started on Gloria right away by injecting her with drugs to get her vital signs back to normal, but nothing was working. When the nurses removed her shirt to apply the defibrillator electrodes they noticed her skin was covered in an oily sheen, and they noticed the unique aroma of fruit and garlic coming from her mouth. When the nurses went to take a blood sample, they also noticed her blood smelled strongly of ammonia and there were manila-colored particles floating in her blood. Everyone agreed something wasn’t right, and before the staff had time even to discuss what was going on, one nurse passed out, one developed breathing problems, and another nurse not only passed out but woke up to find she could no longer use her arms or legs. A total of six people attempted to work on Gloria that night, all of which reported experiencing strange symptoms. Gloria eventually died that night, but that wasn’t the end of the odd events.
A special team in hazmat suits had to come in to handle the body and search the ER for any signs of poison or foreign substance that could have led to the bizarre symptoms experienced by staff. Nothing was found and the body was put in a special aluminum casket. An autopsy was performed a week later in a special room, again, while everyone was wearing hazmat suits as a precaution. By now, the newspapers had caught wind of Gloria’s death and she was dubbed the Toxic Lady because no one could get near her without experiencing a medical problem, but the cause of death had yet to be determined.
Four autopsies later and a team concluded that there were traces of Tylenol, lidocaine, codeine, and Tigan in her system; with Tigan being an anti-nausea medication that breaks down amines, this could explain the ammonia smell. But more importantly, the toxicology report showed large amounts of dimethyl sulfone in her blood and tissues. Now while this occurs naturally in our bodies, Gloria had three times the amount in her system even six weeks after her death. On April 12, 1994 county officials publicly announced that Gloria ultimately died of heart and kidney failure associated with her late-stage cervical cancer. Her body wasn’t released for another 2 months for the funeral service for fear that the levels of toxicity would cause people to faint.
But why was everyone around Gloria passing out? After several investigations officials blamed mass hysteria. But that didn’t sit right with staff and they urged the deputy to take a closer look and open yet another investigation, and here is what was found:
“Ramirez covered her skin from head to toe in DMSO, or dimethyl sulfone, as a possible way to cure her late-stage cervical cancer. Medical science labeled DMSO a toxic substance in 1965. The reasons for Ramirez’s use of a toxic substance on her skin goes back to when DMSO was all the rage as a cure-all. Research in the early 1960s led doctors to believe that DMSO could relieve pain and reduce anxiety. Athletes would even rub DMSO cream on their skin to try to relieve aches in muscles. Then a study in mice showed DMSO could ruin your eyesight. The fad of DMSO stopped, for the most part. DMSO gained an underground following as a cure-all for many types of ailments. By the late 1970s, the only way to get this substance was as a degreaser in hardware stores. The DMSO found in degreasers was 99 percent pure as opposed to a less-concentrated form that was in muscle creams in the 1960s.” (source)
When DMSO is exposed to oxygen it creates dimethyl sulfate (not sulfone). As a gas, these vapors can destroy the cells in people’s eyes, lungs, and mouth. When ingested it can cause convulsions, paralysis, and delirium. The night Gloria came into the emergency room, staff experienced an array of 20 symptoms, 19 of which match those that have experienced exposure to dimethyl sulfate vapors. DMSO cream would also explain the sheen on Gloria’s skin and the smell protruding from her mouth. Most likely Gloria tried to relieve pain caused by her cancer by rubbing this cream all over her body. Her family denied her ever using the cream.
And that is where our story ends. Now you know all about the mysterious and tragic death of Gloria Ramirez AKA the Toxic Lady.