Student dies a painful death after inhaling two to three bottles of laughing gas every day

By Fatou Ferraro Mboup

Published Apr 11, 2024 at 12:34 PM

Reading time: 2 minutes

A 24-year-old student, Ellen Mercer, tragically lost her life after grappling with the effects of nitrous oxide, commonly known as laughing gas. An inquest into Mercer’s death revealed that the student had been inhaling two to three large bottles of laughing gas every day.

According to The Independent, Mercer’s suffering began on 9 February 2023 when emergency services rushed her to Wexham Park Hospital Emergency Department. Visibly in a dire state, Mercer was unable to walk and was plagued by a series of alarming symptoms.

Despite receiving treatment from medical personnel at Wexham Park Hospital, she tragically passed away approximately 24 hours later, at 12:52 am on 10 February.

Shortly after the student’s death, a subsequent inquest, presided over by Berkshire’s senior coroner Heidi Connor, uncovered the horrifying truth behind Mercer’s demise. The post-mortem report revealed a devastating combination of bilateral pulmonary thromboembolism, deep vein thrombosis, and the “long-term complications of nitrous oxide use” as the primary contributors to her death.

Mercer’s habitual consumption of nitrous oxide, amounting to two to three “big bottles” a day, emerged as a chilling revelation. The toxic effects of the gas ravaged her body, leaving her in a state of physical and psychological agony.

Speaking with the publication, Michaela Kirtley, the emergency medical technician from Phoenix Response Services operating under the South Central Ambulance Service, explained how she had been the one to respond to the call on 8 February.

Upon arrival, Kirtley was escorted to the bedroom by Mercer’s boyfriend, recounting: “I took note of the room. There were no sheets on the bed at all. There was just the duvet, severely stained. The room was bare.”

The young student explained to the emergency services how she had burned her legs after accidentally spilling a gas canister on them, rendering her unable to walk or attend to basic needs for two weeks. Mercer also appeared to be six months pregnant, according to the accounts.

During the inquiry, the emergency medical technician disclosed that each canister weighed 600g, with Mercer’s boyfriend admitting that it used to be his partner’s daily consumption.

“I’ve never seen bottles of this size before,” Kirtley remarked.

At the time of Mercer’s passing, possessing nitrous oxide for personal use wasn’t illegal, in fact, it was readily available for purchase at many local stores. However, it was subsequently reclassified as a Class C drug in November 2023.

Nitrous oxide serves as a common pain relief option in medical and dental settings. When mixed with oxygen, it becomes known as “gas and air,” a go-to solution for easing childbirth discomfort.

However, the inquest also revealed that Mercer had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, yet authorities neglected to follow up with a mental health review. Additionally, hospital staff failed to conduct a test that could have identified Mercer’s elevated risk of developing a blood clot. Despite these oversights, Connor concluded that these factors did not directly contribute to Mercer’s untimely death.

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