Stories about demonic possession and exorcisms generate many complaints – they’re usually in a small country outside of the U.S.; they ignore medical diagnoses and treatments in favor of religious ceremonies; there’s little or no follow-up on how the possessed are doing after the ‘possession’ has ended. News of a recent possible demonic possession and exorcism from New Mexico addresses all of those … with an unexpected ending.
“I was so scared, it was like she was possessed. The night after she came home from the ER we were up the whole night. She couldn’t sleep and she was just talking gibberish. She kept saying ‘We need to get out of here, we need to leave.’ She kept getting up and trying to leave the house.”
Albuquerque, New Mexico, truck driver Stephen Gutierrez describes his wife Lorena’s behavior AFTER she was released by the hospital emergency room which he took her to because she was demonstrating these symptoms to a lesser degree. KOAT TV reports that a psychiatric hospital visit resulted in a doctor asking if she was drunk or on drugs when she believed there were cameras inside the house monitoring her movements. After she became violent for the first time in his memory and demonstrated more demonic possession-type behavior, Steve was driven to try a home exorcism.
“At some point I threw a lot of holy water on her. Afterwards, my family told me they wouldn’t have been surprised if her head started spinning after I did that.”
Sacramental holy water blessed by a clergy member is a primary tool of the Catholic exorcism ritual, sprinkled on or around the ‘possessed’ in an attempt to cast out the demon, as everyone who’s ever seen “The Exorcist” and its sequels knows. The head-spinning comes from the movies, but the fear that there can be no other logical explanation for the behavior exhibited by Lorena is widespread, even in the U.S., and has prompted a rise in exorcist training and exorcisms. For home exorcists, it’s the easiest place to start since many religious homes have a bottle of holy water for blessings.
Did the holy water work? Shortly afterwards, Lorena was taken to Presbyterian Hospital, where doctors witnessed her experiencing up to six seizures a day and at one point coded blue (respiratory or cardiac arrest) and needed to be resuscitated. That, plus the fact that she’s female, pointed the doctors to test for anti-NMDA receptor limbic auto-immune encephalitis, an auto-immune disease common in women that causes the immune system to attack the brain, resulting in seizures. The strange disease is caused by a tumor somewhere in the body, so the doctors treated the seizures while searching for one. The ‘demon’ in this case turned out to be a large 15x15 cm (6x6 inch) tumor on one of her ovaries.
“Over the course of three months I underwent speech, physical and occupational therapy but I don’t remember much of it.”
The discovery and removal of the tumor was not the end but the beginning of a serious regimen of treatment and recovery for Lorena as the disease was driven into remission (it’s not curable) with heavy doses of steroids combined with plasmapheresis – a process that filters the blood and removes the antibodies causing the immune system to attack the brain. As much damage had already been done, Lorena needed the therapy (see a video here) to retrain her body and brain after suffering so many seizures.
It’s these types of rare diseases which can cause behavior associated with demonic possession that pushes concerned families to turn to religious cures first. There’s some thought that the original sacred oil of the New Testament used to treat those claimed to be possessed may have been part cannabis oil, which today is used to treat epileptic seizures and back then could have been seen as a ‘miraculous’ cure.
No, the holy water didn’t have the same effect, or any visible effect for that matter, on Gutierrez and could have slowed down the eventual medical diagnosis and treatment. Yet this occurred in the U.S., where medical and psychiatric treatment is abundant but still not widely available to all, especially with symptoms that can be more easily discounted as drunkenness, drugs or ‘demonic’ possession. This is also a ‘modern’ country that still ‘demonizes’ mental illnesses to the point where ‘demonic possession’ is considered by many to be more acceptable. If you or a loved one are demonstrating these or other strange behaviors, include medical care in the treatments you try and argue about which one cured them later.