Gloria Ramirez: The strange death of the “Toxic Woman”

Medical mysteries are undoubtedly some of the most fascinating. As a whole, we have come so far with medical advancements and understanding of the human body and disease, that a true, unsolvable conundrum is rare. So when one pops up that is not only mysterious but also dangerous to those just in the general area of the patient, it’s no surprise that it becomes an infamous case. 

One of the most well-known cases like this is the case of Gloria Ramirez, the Toxic Woman. Gloria entered Riverside General Hospital looking for treatment, but her rapid decline and how her presence affected the medical staff still puzzle experts today. 

The Death of Gloria Ramirez

Gloria Ramirez’s name is synonymous with the incident that happened on the last day of her life, but on February 19th, 1994, 31-year-old Gloria was just a woman looking for help. 

It was 8:15 PM when Gloria was brought to Riverside General Hospital in Riverside, California, via ambulance. She was experiencing an array of symptoms, including an irregular heartbeat and difficulty breathing. Over the past several days, she had also experienced nausea and vomiting, and by the time she arrived at the hospital, she was in clear distress. 

None of these symptoms are uncommon, but there was something else that Gloria was suffering from that changed these run-of-the-mill symptoms into an emergency: Gloria had terminal cervical cancer, and by all indications, Gloria Ramirez was dying. 

In the ambulance, they administered aid to her. She was placed on a monitor, oxygen was administered, and they started her on an IV. 

It was approximately 7:50 PM when the ambulance arrived at the hospital, and there, her condition continued to degrade. With her erratic heartbeat, there was no other choice than to defibrillate the woman, but it was when her shirt was removed that the toxic woman incident really began. 

The Toxic Woman Incident 

Once Gloria’s shirt was removed, ER staff noted that her body seemed to be covered in some sort of oily sheen. They also reported a fruity, garlic-like scent emanating from Gloria’s mouth, but neither of those oddities concerned the hospital staff. 

A nurse named Susan Kane was the first to draw Gloria’s blood. Since Gloria was on chemotherapy for her end-stage cervical cancer, there was the expectation that her blood would smell off because of the powerful drugs. Instead, Kane noticed an ammonia smell.

Perplexed, she passed the vial to a doctor in the room, who confirmed Kane’s opinion–the blood really did smell strongly of ammonia. 

Doctor Julie Gorchynski, also noted that there were odd, manila-colored particles floating in the blood sample. Even with all those things combined, though, the hospital staff was concerned with saving Gloria’s life. Everything else would have to wait. 

Except–it couldn’t. First, Nurse Kane swiftly fainted and was removed from the room. Next, Gorchynski was affected, suffering from a rapid onset of nausea that had her leaving the room as well and going to the nurse’s desk to recover. But before she could reach her destination, she also fainted and was struggling to breathe. When she came to, Gorchynski reported she couldn’t move her arms or legs.

Shocked by the sudden illness, the staff ordered the ER evacuated, worried about possible contamination affecting the other patients. Some staff remained still trying to save Gloria, but it was no use–only 40 minutes after arriving at Riverside, Gloria passed away. Gloria Ramirez’s cause of death was kidney failure and urinary blockage resulting from her terminal cervical cancer.

By the time Gloria had died, five Riverside workers had to be hospitalized. One of them remained in intensive care for two weeks. 

The Aftermath: What Happened to Gloria Ramirez and the Riverside Hospital Staff?

After Gloria’s passing, a special recovery team, dressed in hazmat suits, arrived at Riverside to take Gloria’s body. The team searched the hospital for other explanations, like gas leaks, but nothing was discovered. It looked like Gloria was the cause of the illness. 

Gloria was placed in a sealed aluminum casket for safety, and it would be an entire week until another team, also dressed in hazmat suits, performed her autopsy. It gave them no more answers than they started with.

So, why was Gloria Ramirez toxic? 

Potential Causes of the Toxic Lady Incident 

Mass hysteria: The first likely cause of the incident was deemed to be mass hysteria, a mental illness that causes symptoms to spread amongst a group of people even if there is no infectious agent involved. 

The California Health and Human Services Agency determined that mass hysteria had overtaken the hospital staff, and that is still the official reason behind the incident, even if the staff vehemently denies it to this day.

Methamphetamine manufacturing: The most controversial explanation for why Gloria Ramirez was toxic is the theory that somewhere in the hospital, methamphetamine was being illegally produced. 

This theory suggests that the chemicals used in the manufacturing process may have been smuggled in through IV bags, and one of them inadvertently connected to Gloria, the smell of the raw chemicals then making the staff sick. 

This explanation is all but debunked, but it’s interesting enough to deserve a mention. 

Dimethyl Sulfate: Our last explanation has been called the DMSO theory. It’s complicated and would require a lot of very specific variables to occur at the same time, but what’s more important is that this theory actually works. 

The Livermore National Laboratory, which found a chemical called dimethyl sulfone in Gloria’s blood, proposed the DMSO theory. They suggest that the following occurred to cause the toxic lady incident:

  • Gloria Ramirez uses DMSO, a solvent and folk remedy for cancer pain. 
  • Due to her urinary blockage, the DMSO builds up in her bloodstream. 
  • Oxygen given by the paramedics in the ambulance converts the DMSO (dimethyl sulfoxide) to DMSO2 (dimethyl sulfone).
  • When her blood is drawn, the DMSO2 crystalizes in the blood.
  • The shock of the defibrillator converts the DSMO2 to the dangerous DMSO4 (dimethyl sulfate) gas. 
  • DMSO4 affects the hospital staff and causes sickness.

Gloria Ramirez: The Woman 

What happened to Gloria Ramirez, and what her body did to the staff of Riverside Hospital, has fascinated people for years. But here’s the thing…

Gloria Ramirez was a 31-year-old wife and mother, who died of cervical cancer. By all accounts, she was a fun, joyful woman. What she wasn’t, was toxic. Gloria Ramirez’s body might have caused an incident of toxicity at the hospital, but she was so much more than that. 

To everyone who loved her, she was just Gloria. 


“A possible chemical explanation for the events associated with the death of Gloria Ramirez at Riverside General Hospital”

“The Truth About The Mysterious Toxic Lady”

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