Unlikely things happen all the time. For example, had anyone said that 12 months ago Britney Spears would be back on tour looking and sounding fantastic then I for one would have let out a chuckle. After all it was only a year ago that Ms Spears was in the middle of a very public breakdown which involved her shaving her head, speaking with a British accent, and stumbling around at the VMA's like a startled Panda bear.
But somehow Britney has managed to make the greatest comeback since Jesus. And I think I speak for everyone when I say “good on you”. I mean don't get me wrong, Britney being bonkers was endlessly entertaining, but there was always the worry in the back of one's mind that it would all end in tragedy. To see someone hit pretty much rock bottom only to get back on their feet and have another go is, in some ways, inspiring.
It also gives me an excuse to dust off my record collection and give Britney's greatest hits another spin. Now I'm not usually one for cheesy bubble gum pop music, and if I'm honest most of her records leave me cold. But every once in a while, to her credit, Britney comes up with a piece of absolute musical genius. For example, Hit Me Baby One More Time has lyrics that Morrissey would have been proud of. I mean who couldn't see the quiffed wonder singing a line like “My loneliness is killing me. I must confess I still believe”?
Anyway you may be wondering what got me thinking about Britney Spears this afternoon (Gee Note: Because apparently I need an excuse to think of an attractive blonde). Well the truth is two things made the pop princess foremost in my thoughts. Firstly it's the end of week and I've run out of clean clothes, meaning I am now limited to a black tank top that has the slogan “Arrive. Raise Hell. Leave.”, and for some ungodly reason I'm also wearing a baseball cap. I am, in short, looking deliciously white trash.
Secondly I came across this while looking up something or other this afternoon. And of course the song “Toxic” popped in to my head and has yet to leave.
Allow me to explain. Gloria Ramirez was admitted in to the emergency room of Riverside General Hospital, California on February 19th 1994 suffering from respiratory problems brought on by the advanced stages of cervical cancer. Paramedics injected her with Valium, Versed, and Ativan to sedate her and a Nurse named Susan Kane drew some blood from the patient. And then, quite unexpectedly, all hell broke loose.
Kane noted a foul odour emanating from the syringe and passed out cold. Dr. Julie Gorchynski, the senior medical resident attending in the room at the time, rushed over to Kane to check on her and took a whiff of the syringe. Noting a strong smell of ammonia, and some strange looking manilla coloured particles floating in the blood, she complained of feeling nauseous and then promptly passed out. Ramirez's care was taken over by Dr. Mark Thomas, who became light headed and dizzy after a short period of time. These same symptoms also effected the respiratory therapist Maureen Welsh and Nurse Bettina Betty just seconds later (Gee Note: And down like Dominoes they go). Fearing that somehow the room was contaminated by a toxic gas the Emergency Room was evacuated with a skeleton staff left behind to care for Ramirez. She died about 35 minutes later of kidney failure.
Freaky huh? The good news is that the county health department called in the Californian Department of Health and Human Services to find out just what the heck had caused, when all was said and done, 32 members of staff to report symptoms of nausea and dizziness. (Gee Note: Bare in mind that Gloria Ramirez's autopsy showed no toxins in her blood stream or major organs). Their conclusion?
Now I'm willing to accept that media reports of a terrible half man half monkey terrorising the streets of New Delhi could cause the good folk of India to panic. Or that communities in 16th Century France could convince themselves they had contracted an illness that forced them to dance (Gee Note: Nurse come quick! This man has a severe case of the “Boogie Woogies”), but a hospital room full of people who are trained to deal with all sorts of atrocities that can befall a human body, all of whom experienced mass hysteria because one of their member fainted? Sorry but I'm not buying it.
This diagnosis also ignores what happened to Dr. Gorchynski. Perfectly healthy until Ramirez was admitted, Gorchynski spent two weeks in intensive care with breathing difficulties and developed degenerative problems with her knees. Susan Kane also suffered respiratory problems for years after the event. As did Maureen Welch.
So if it wasn't mass hysteria then what was it? Well initially the hospital claimed Ramirez had been taking pesticides in order to commit suicide, which as you can guess is a stellar way of winning over the poor woman's family (Gee Note: To top it all off the hospital improperly stored Ramirez's body, meaning that when the family did get it back for burial 10 weeks later it was so badly decomposed that any chance of a secondary autopsy or an open casket funeral were pretty much ruined. Riverside, the hospital that cares). But the idea that a chemical compound called dimethyl sulfate (DMSO4) could have poisoned the medical staff seems to have gained a modicum of respectability. Traces of dimethyl sulfone (DMSO2) were found in Ramirez's blood during the autopsy, a by product of a solvent that she may have been taking as a home pain remedy. Dimethyl Sulfone is itself pretty harmless, however dimethyl sulfate is nasty stuff. So far though no one has been able to determine a likely chemical reaction that would have caused one to metamorphosis in to the other.
The other theory is of course a toxic gas leak that the hospital were well aware of yet, for fear of litigation, have covered up. In this theory Ramirez just happened to arrive at the hospital at the same time as the leak.
Whatever the case the “Toxic Lady” is certainly an intriguing mystery. Could one woman have been able to make several other people ill by a syringe of her blood alone?
Well, in my opinion, if Britney can make a comeback then anything's possible.