from the Associated Press, 9/3/94: Report discounts 'mystery' patient fumes LOS ANGELES-Ho
from the Associated Press, 9/3/94:
Report discounts 'mystery' patient fumes
LOS ANGELES--Hospital workers who fainted after smelling mysterious fumes
while treating a dying patient probably were just suffering from stress,
according to a state study released Friday.
The Department of Health Services reviewed medical records of five staffers
who were hospitalized after inhaling the fumes and surveyed 34 other workers at
Riverside General Hospital.
The department also went over investigative work by other agencies in an
attempt to solve a medical mystery that has led to two lawsuits.
Gloria Ramirez was taken to the hospital's emergency room on Feb. 19 near
cardiac arrest. As a nurse drew blood, staffers noticed an ammonia smell and
seven of them fainted.
Ramirez, 31, died shortly after of what doctors said was kidney failure
brought on by cervical cancer.
"The findings from our and other investigations are most compatible with an
outbreak of mass sociogenic illness, perhaps triggered by an odor," the report
The report said that small amounts of an "unusual nitrogen-containing
compound" were found in air samples taken near the body but that the fainting
was probably caused by "anxiety or other psychological stresses."
Scientists at the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory were trying to identify the
compound in blood samples taken during an autopsy.
The report said it was possible there may have been a toxic substance that
caused symptoms in some of the staff, while the rest reacted "to the stressful
situation around them."
If so, the department said, it's still not clear where the toxin came from.
Staffers had breathing difficulty, muscle spasms and other symptoms, but
tests found no sign of toxic exposure, the report said.
Ramirez's family has sued the county over its handling of the case and of
her body, which was kept sealed for two months except for extensive testing to
find the source of the illness.
The family maintains that something went wrong at the hospital, and that
the mother of two was portrayed as a freak.
Dr. Julie Gorchynski, who passed out after sniffing a Ramirez blood sample,
has also sued the county, saying officials botched their investigation and
refused to share information.
The notion that her problem could be psychological is "absolutely insane,"
said her lawyer, Russell S. Kussman.
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank