Bleach and Bleachability

So, today we’re taking a brief break from the “Acting Out” posts of yester-week, and I’m addressing a problem that has once again found it’s way into the news

Yes, folks, once again the prospect of drinking bleach has come to our attention.

I recently joined a google group for true-crime aficionados and the following news article was under discussion:

https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/florida-family-allegedly-sold-thousands-bottles-bleach-marketed-covid-cure-n1265244

If you don’t feel like clicking on that link, rest assured that the majority of the information is already included in the title. A Florida family allegedly sold thousands of bottles of bleach, claiming it was a cure for the coronavirus. They called it “MMS” for “Miracle Mineral Solution.”

Florida. Amirite?

Now, most people realize that drinking bleach is not a good idea. But as I read through this article, it occurred to me to wonder what the “general-public” ruling is on drinking bleach. So, with a whole day that was packed with other stuff I should have been doing, I decided to dedicate some time to really unpacking the whole, “drinking bleach” question: We all know it’s bad… but HOW bad.

Here, I should note that while I was on my quest to really unpack “drinking bleach,” I had the movie Pride & Prejudice & Zombies on in the background.

What follows is the brief essay that I posted for all my new google-group friends to read. I call it Bleach and Bleachability in honor of Jane Austen and every bastardization that has ever been inflicted on her beloved works.

————————BLEACH AND BLEACHABILITY—————————————————

(Please do me the favor of imagining the first two lines of this being read by Kiera Knightly with a lovely baroque piece being played in the back ground as you you gaze over the English countryside:)

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a man in possession of a wife, must be in want of a means to dispose of her.

And although, heretofore, many have supposed that bleach ingestion may be a convenient and available means to such an end… in truth one must endeavor to educate one‘s self before simply adulterating the offending individual’s tea with a spoonful of Clorox.

So, obviously, we’ve all heard Trump’s speech in which he blitheringly mumbled that ingesting cleaners might cure the coronavirus.  I was just as horrified as anyone but didn’t really think about it much more than to assume that the gene pool would be well rid of anyone who looked to our ignoble 45thpresident for medical advice.  But upon being presented with this article, I couldn’t help but contain my curiosity.  Many, many years ago when I was a shitty paramedic, I remember hearing a story of a paramedic instructor who would begin the “toxicology” portion of paramedic school by opening a bottle of bleach and taking a swig of it.  His point being that everything we’ve been told about “toxic” substances isn’t always true.

sorry, wrong “poison”

I took my curiosity to my search bar, just to see what ye olde internet was saying about drinking bleach these days. One of the first articles I ran across was on the web-site Quora (which apparently doesn’t waste much time with fact-checking). A young man by the name of Luke Harrison stated: “just a little sip of bleach can kill you.” He then launched into an admirable work of gruesome science fiction in which he boldly stated that this, “little sip of bleach” would do a person in within 15-30 minutes. He then described how, if someone survived, the bleach would have burned the esophagus and stomach to such a profound degree that the unfortunate soul would have to get an “esophagectomy” and would never be able to eat solid food again.

Feeling somewhat doubtful, I then checked Luke Harrison’s credentials and discovered that he expects to graduate from college in 2023, AND he wrote this little treatise on bleach drinking in 2018.  So… yeah… pretty confident in his medical knowledge for a high-schooler.

Quora… it’s a real think tank…

FINALLY, I simply went straight to the source and called the state chief forensic pathologist and asked him about the toxic effects of bleach.  He said that the toxic effects of bleach are almost completely dependent on the concentration of the substance and the overall health of the person drinking it.  Most people wouldn’t have easy access to highly concentrated bleach and would have to settle for whatever could be found on store shelves.  These products typically top out at a concentration of 6%.  

The biggest issues tend to be less about the theoretical “burning” of the esophagus and stomach (although bleach is corrosive and this can be a problem if you have pre-existing tears, ulcers or esophageal varices due to other health issues) The real concern seems to be more the bleach altering the pH of your blood, because let’s all remember… what you put in your mouth, ends up in your bloodstream. Human blood has a pH of 7.35-7.45, whereas bleach has a pH of 10-11 (making it alkalotic, NOT acidic.) This can do a number on your blood cells (they will hemolyze and die, flooding your bloodstream with blood-cell debris) and result in an acute kidney injury that, again, may be further complicated by an already existing condition.

So… what does drinking bleach do?  Well… it depends.  In a healthy individual, it’s reasonable to expect that drinking a cup of bleach won’t feel GREAT, but it won’t kill you.  Especially if you chase it with a whole lot of water and a swift kick to the ass… because, why the fuck are you drinking bleach, idiot? It’s also reasonable to expect that REPEATEDLY drinking bleach will cause enough problems that you’ll end up in a hospital long before you actually die.  At that point the hospital staff will (hopefully) stop you from drinking bleach and get your dumb-ass better so you can go out and find other bone-headed ways to do yourself in.  Finally, it’s reasonable to expect that continuing to drink bleach WILL kill you as repeated exposure to the substance will eventually cause an esophageal or stomach perforation followed by sepsis.  And/Or it will eventually turn your kidneys into grumpy little brown nuggets who won’t want to do their job anymore due to the lousy working conditions.  

But remember, these outcomes largely depend on the concentration of the bleach.

So ultimately- FUCK THESE GUYS for selling people bleach and telling them it was a miracle coronavirus cure.   And as for Luke Harrison… well, judging by his completely unfounded confidence in his own knowledge of what will kill you and what won’t, I don’t expect we’ll be bothered with his Quora opinions much longer. 

Oh… yeah… and if you want to kill your wife, bleach poisoning probably isn’t the most expeditious way to pull it off.  Feel free to hit me up for a more effective method.

_______________________________________________________________________________________________

Anyway, while none of my new friends have yet asked me for new and different ways of dispatching an unwanted spouse, I did receive one marriage proposal.

Not sure how to feel about that…

The Truth of the Matter: Acting Out Part 2

Where were we?

Oh right…

(I could have modeled for this picture, it looks a lot like me- check out this artist: Rob Bowyer massivefaceart.com)

Anyway, when last we were with our hero (me) I was uttering my favorite tagline-

“Fuck.”

If you recall, I had just driven a nosy news cameraman out of a death scene like Jesus Christ driving the money-changers out of the temple.

Something like that… but he has better hair.

I was standing over a dead homeless guy who didn’t have any identification or belongings on him. He also didn’t have any teeth, shoes or socks and I had no idea what to do since it looked like we didn’t have access to a mobile fingerprint machine (Horay for defunding the police!)

You know what, rather than have me muddle through a recap, you can just read my last post here:

The Truth of the Matter: Acting Out- Part 1

Moving on.

I found myself in something of a conundrum when it came to identifying this dead guy. The officers were already texting pictures of his face to other cops and asking if anyone recognized him.

“Okay,” I said, shaking off my dismay and resolving to carry on. “Here’s the plan. Let’s load him into my truck and take him to the closest funeral home. I’ll call the crime scene people and see if they can give me some direction with fingerprinting him. I’ll also call the on-duty sergeant and see if he can help us at all.”

More than anything, I just wanted to get this guy off the street and into a well-lit room where I could get a good look at him. He might have had tattoos or scars under his clothes that would help us out. He was also wearing walking casts (otherwise known as ortho-boots) in lieu of shoes and I hoped he might have his ID or some other significant paperwork tucked into the padding of these medical devices. Speaking of, the fact that he wore these boots was helpful. He had to have gotten them from a hospital, which meant he had been registered and discharged. SOMEONE had this guy’s name, date of birth and medical history. I just had to figure out who.

Fashionable AND functional!

As planned, I launched a few frantic phone calls as I drove to the funeral home. Predictably, the crime scene people ignored all of my communication, even when I sent them this delightful little text:

Will you PLEASE come and fingerprint this dead guy for me?

Shockingly, the addition of a hairless cat didn’t make my entreaty any more tempting to my colleagues. And the only suggestion I had gotten from the on-duty police sergeant was that I should do my best to fingerprint the decedent myself and then take the print cards to the crime lab the next day and hope someone was there to run an AFIS check on them.

“But doesn’t anyone have any of those mobile fingerprint machines? I could swear you guys had them.”

“Nope,” the disappointment was heavy in his voice. “Well, technically we have a whole mess of them sitting in our property and evidence room, but as far as I know the entire county discontinued the program. For a while the transit guys had them- but now…” his voice trailed off. It had been great while it lasted. When we had an unidentified body, we could call for an officer with the AFIS machine and they’d come to the scene and scan the dead person’s fingers. With 10 minutes and a good wifi signal, the machine could produce an ID and rap sheet for anyone in the national database. It was pure magic… but also a pure magic no one in administration wanted to pay for. Now we had a property room full of expensive door-stops and no magic except whatever I managed to conjure up with nothing but curse words and my own rage.

I sighed.

“Okay, well… we’re going to get a better look at this dude at the funeral home and see if we can find anything that might give us some direction.”

“Okay… I guess give me a call if I can do anything more to help?”

I was too irritated with the circumstances to say goodbye. I was tired, hungry and realizing that my options for identifying this dude were shrinking like styrofoam in a fire. Getting him unloaded and undressed at the funeral home didn’t offer much hope. He was completely free of tattoos or significant, identifying scars (except for the previously mentioned mess of track marks and non-specific scars on his arms. But those were hardly distinctive since most homeless drug addicts display these same markings) Again, he had no teeth so dental wasn’t an option (not that it often is). I tore his ortho-boots apart in the hopes he might have squirreled away his ID in there, but no dice. The only unique thing about him was the fact that the ortho boots came off to reveal our dead guy had undergone bilateral foot surgery sometime in the last few months and the stitches were still there. It was like he’d been born on the moon and fallen out of the sky.

“Well fuck,” I said again, turning to the officers who gazed back at me blankly, waiting for some direction. “Okay. So we know this guy has been to a hospital. We found him midway between St. Joseph’s and Kaiser so here’s what we’re going to do. Take pictures of his surgical sites and his face, take them to St. J’s. I’ll do the same and take them to Kaiser and we’ll see if anyone in the ER remembers him.”

It was a haphazard plan, but one based in experience. Back when I was a paramedic we were on a first-name basis with every homeless person in the city. Due to their lifestyle/circumstances they were susceptible to any manner of medical emergency: overdoses, assaults, hypothermia, catastrophic illnesses. Not to mention the fact that sometimes they just wanted to sleep indoors so they would flag down a cop or ambulance and claim they had chest pain. A lot of ER’s have to ban these “frequent flyers” because they can fill up every bed in the department in a matter of hours on a cold night, leaving no resources available for actual, life-threatening problems.

The officers and I had just raided the fridge at the funeral home for snacks and drinks and we were gearing up to sally forth into the night to procure an ID when the sergeant called back.

“Who’s you favorite cop EVER?!” he demanded of me… which is kind of a trick question since I’m married to one. But I was in a bind so I went ahead and threw my husband under the bus.

“Ummm… you are?”

“You bet your ass I am! It just so happens that I went to the police academy with the on-duty sergeant in *next county over* And I pulled probably the biggest favor OF MY LIFE. He’s sending a couple of officers over with an AFIS machine.

“NO SHIT!”

“None at all!” I could hear him, beaming with pride over the phone. “They’re about a half hour away. I gave them your number so you should be hearing from them when they’re close. And we owe somebody BIG for this.”

He was right. The county that was generously loaning us 2 officers and an AFIS machine had over 200-and-counting continuous nights of ANTIFA protests. Their city was being torn apart at the seams and they were severely understaffed and probably hating life in a way that I couldn’t even fathom. But here they were, coming to my rescue with a magical, expensive door-stop that actually WORKED.

To be fair, they probably couldn’t wait to get out of their county…

When the promised officers arrived, it was all I could do to keep myself from kissing their feet. I greeted them at the door with maniacal cheer and immediately offered them the funeral home’s entire stock of cookies and mixed nuts. If there had been champagne, I would’ve uncorked it and sprayed it all over the ceiling, I was so excited.

They were understandably, a little weirded out by my enthusiasm at their arrival. But I couldn’t help it. I was giddy with relief at the thought of getting my decedent identified and wanted to make sure they knew how much I appreciated them.

At first the AFIS wouldn’t take a print off the dead guy. But I fixed that by wrapping his thumbs in warm, wet, paper towels. This is also how we unlock dead people’s finger-print phones as well. It seems, phones require a warm fingerprint and AFIS machines feel the same way. So that’s a trade secret I guess… you know- should you ever have need of a dead fingerprint.

Anyway, once the officers had a usable print, they went back to their car to plug the machine into their computer, warning me before they left that it was always possible our guy wasn’t in the system. I nodded like a grinning bobble-head and offered them another package of trail mix, gushing that I understood and I was just happy that they showed up to help. They excused themselves and I glanced over at the local officers who were staring at me in astonishment. It appeared they were utterly amazed at my transformation from a surly, disillusioned monster to a cooperative, charming hostess. Little did they know that I was raised by a Boston debutante and no one can maintain appearances like a bourgeois housewife. As far as I can tell, I was born to serve hors d’oeuvres as the world burns.

Can I interest you in another sparkling water?

We had been told it would take about 15 minutes for the AFIS machine to render a verdict, and my nerves crawled with the agitation of the wait. I stood in the vehicle bay of the funeral home, vibrating and twisting my keychain around in my hands until finally the anticipation proved to be too much. My decedent was laying on a prep-table in the vehicle bay as I was moving him to the cooler when our fingerprint saviors showed up. I started hopping around, first on one foot, then the other, shaking my keychain in time with the imaginary ticking in my head. “Come on! Come on! Come on!” I silently prayed. My hopping looped into a wide circle around the decedent as I tried to discharge the nervous energy. One local cop had gone back to his squad car to write up reports, while the other stood in the corner, watching as I rotated around the dead body.

“What are you doing?” he finally asked.

“I’M PERFORMING A DANCE TO THE FINGERPRINT GODS! WHAT THE FUCK DOES IT LOOK LIKE I’M DOING?” I shouted

And with that I began waving my arms over my head in dramatic swirls, shaking my keys, jumping and twirling as I circled the body. “You should join in! It might help!”

He didn’t.

All the same, a few minutes later, the visiting officers came back into the funeral home with wide grins. We had a hit. The AFIS machine displayed the driver’s license photo of our dead guy, clear as day. And listed along with his name and date of birth, was an array of arrests for criminal trespassing, drug violations and theft. Even better, our dead guy had an incredibly bizarre last name which meant a next-of-kin search would be a damn sight easier than if he was just any old John Smith.

Jackpot. We were saved.

I fell all over myself thanking our guests and sent them along with a virtual cornucopia of soda pops and munchies. It was well past dark and inching toward bedtime, but I was convinced that I’d be able to get this guy sorted out and the majority of my paperwork done before my shift ended.

In a matter of hours I was cozied up in bed, sleepy and satisfied that my upcoming days off wouldn’t be choked up with unfinished reports or unreturned phone calls. My husband was working late so I was luxuriously spread out over the entirety of the mattress when he stumbled in. It was about 3 am, 5 hours to shift change and I’m pretty sure he thought he was doing me a favor when he grunted to me as he threw himself into bed:

“There’s a homicide. The detectives are going to be calling you in about 3 hours.”

3 hours.

(brief side note- it’s pretty normal for the detectives to wait to call the medical examiner when they’re on the scene of a homicide. Since I’m investigating the death but not the crime, I don’t really need to be present for all of the crime scene photographing and fingerprinting- which can take HOURS. They usually only call me when the body is ready to be moved.)

I did the math in my head. 3 hours put me at 6am. Shift change was at 8am. It’s kind of an unspoken rule that if you’re going off shift, you only have to loosely handle anything that happen the last hour of your shift. Meaning from 7am on, anything complicated or lengthy (like a homicide) would be held over for my incoming co-worker.

But they weren’t going to be calling me at 7, they were going to be calling me at 6. This homicide was all mine.

“Fuck.”

Stay tuned for Acting Out, Part 3- The mintiest finger in the west!