Tuesday, March 3, 2009

A Cautionary Tale

(Duplicate post on Desperate Mothering blog - children/past pregnancy mentioned briefly)

I typically joke when my husband is heading off on a business trip that I am always sick or will get sick and some disaster will ensue. Two Christmases ago it was the car accident that totaled our van and broke my foot. Many years ago, just over 12 - it was ending up in the hospital with a complete placenta previa that was abrupting while my spouse was in Texas. Another trip of his to Texas was when I had the worst asthma attack of my adult years, a 2 year old with RSV and a doctor who only agreed not to hospitalize me provided I found an adult to take care of me and I got my O2 sats above 90 before he sent me home. The month before our youngest was born it was an ice storm that knocked our power out for 36 hours. (Spent the day Matt left at Walmart with 5 kids and at 35 weeks pregnant because they had lights and heat.) Early last year there was the morning he kissed me goodbye before another such trip and said "Bye, love you and oh, the heater isn't coming on . . ." That year the switch telling the furnace the cover was closed was broken - open door, no work. Just this past summer it was the starter motor on my van dying. This weekend with 4.5 inches of icy snowfall, everyone sick to varying degrees and Matt gearing up for a business trip to Kentucky, we discover the heater doesn't seem to be working. The fan just runs and runs and the heat never comes on. I figure, of course, I'm sick, the kids are sick, the furnace isn't working and it must be time for Matt to leave on a business trip again. (He always misses the drama!) He tried replacing the thermostat yesterday morning before he left (the temperature inside the house had dropped to 54 degrees by morning) to no avail. I drove him to the car rental place after dropping the kids off at school. My head was splitting, I somewhat questioned my ability to drive, feeling weak and teary and just wanted to go home to my mommy. Trent had dragged himself off to Seminary Monday morning despite have a miserable weekend as well. He complained of a headache and just seemed to want to sleep non-stop. We all made it to church on Sunday, but he left in the middle of Sacrament meeting and didn't return. We found him in the Seminary room asleep on the floor. After returning home from church, he headed straight to bed. Matt complained he felt even worse than he had during the week and I took a 4 hour nap trying to find relief from my pounding head, queasiness and various aches.

So yesterday, after dropping Matt off at the car rental place and a brief foray to Walmart to procure more cold and flu medications and refill my asthma inhaler, I make the call for a repair man. He shows up and finds the problem with the fan right away - a bad switch. He also discovers our flue pipe is leaking. Yes, leaking, as in Carbon Monoxide leaking. "Did you say y'all have been sick lately?" he asks me. He is able to repair both problems quickly - neither of which is relative to the other. Without the bad switch, the heater would still have come on and we would not have had reason to call a repair man. If replacing the thermostat had solved our problem initially, again, no call to the repair man. No call to the repair man = ? We would not have known about the CO leak. I would have continued to chalk up how awful we all felt to being sick. Everyone is sick right now - our friends, the kids say that half their friends are missing from school. This is cold and flu season. Never in a million years would I have ever entertained the notion this was Carbon Monoxide poisoning - low level to be sure, but still, in addition to being legitimately sick. I also have carbon monoxide alarms on each floor of our home. According to what the repair man told me and also doing some research of my own, these alarms are not particularly reliable. I went out and purchased an alarm that shows the level of CO present in ppm. Even if the alarm doesn't sound, I will at least have a continuous reading of the CO level in our home. Matt called me from the road and said he was feeling a lot better - then I told him about the heater. In true unphased Matt style he said "Oh, it was good you got it fixed then." Also according to my research, it is not uncommon for people experiencing carbon monoxide poisoning to feel better when away from the source of CO. Matt is at work during the week, he felt worse at home on the weekend. I was very interested and concerned to see what condition Trent would be in on his return home from school. His room is right off the closet where the furnace and water heater sit - you access the closet through his bedroom. He came home from school a completely different kid. He was bright eyed and clear - looking and sounding 100% better. I asked him how he felt and he said he felt much improved. By evening, I too noticed that what I had attributed to cold and flu symptoms were much alleviated as well. Wow, just, wow.

The reason I am sharing all this with you is because also in my research I found this article that states accidental carbon monoxide poisoning kills approximately 500 people each year. Most at risk from dying from even low level poisoning are small children, the infirmed and elderly. Poisoning is not restricted to malfunctioning heaters during the winter time; one student died and several others were sickened due to a malfunctioning gas water heater at a Roanake College during the summer. The recent ice storms in Kentucky lead to the deaths of people who had to find other heat sources when they lost their power. Improper ventilation swiftly led to toxic CO levels. In the town where I grew up, this past December, a 22 year old mother died from CO poisoning which also seriously sickened her husband and 2 year old son. They had believed as I had so readily, that they simply had a case of flu. By the time they realized this was more serious than just a case of flu, it was too late.

This article outlines ways you can help prevent Carbon Monoxide poisoning. I would add to this list regularly checking your gas appliances to ensure proper function/ventilation as well as installing carbon monoxide detectors that show you the level of CO present. Units can be found reasonably priced and fairly easily where you would also find smoke detectors and fire alarms sold. Our local Walmart had one for less than $30. My only complaint is that it is only battery powered and I would have preferred one that plugged into an electrical outlet with battery back up. A biochemist friend of mine says increasing your iron intake and even exercise if you suspect low level poisoning can help facilitate a quick recovery - anything that increases the oxygen levels in your body. Adding the cost of the CO monitor to the $90 charge for the repair man, I spent less than $120. The cost could have been so much more..


Mrs. Spit said...

That's great information, thanks!

loribeth said...

Oh, yikes, Julia!! I had a funny feeling when I was reading through your post about your furnace troubles & everyone being sick that you might have a CO leak. About 10-11 years ago, we had a lot of problems with our furnace & our CO alarms sounding (although whenever the fire department arrived, they could never find anything beyond a very low level right around the furnace). The heating guy advised us it could be a cracked exchanger in a place he couldn't see, & said it would only get worse, so we wound up replacing the furnace.

This was around the same time I was pregnant with Katie -- & (all my uterine problems, etc., aside) I've always wondered (with a great deal of guilt) whether that may have been a contributing factor to her stillbirth.

Ahem. That said, at this moment, we do not have a working CO detector in the house. We were roundly scolded by the last heating guy who visited our house about it. Your post is just one more reminder that we need to get to Home Depot, pronto. Thanks, & I hope you are all feeling better now!

By the way, your furnace wouldn't happen to be a Luxaire, would it? We have the exact same problem with our furnace -- at least once or twice a year, it goes into this mode where it runs & runs & the heat never comes on (it gears up but never kicks in, or it blows cold air). It's a thing called the limit control sensor, & all you have to do is take it out & clean it with a little steel wool. We've had it replaced twice but it still happens -- the guy has been to our house so many times for this, he's tried to show us how to do it ourselves, but dh refuses to touch the thing. ; ) So we wind up paying $80 a visit. I did some Googling & it was a hugely common complaint!

JuliaS said...

Loribeth - that is precisely what was wrong with our fan running. Though, we have an Intratherm heater and not a Luxaire. :0) That is a good thing to keep in mind though about cleaning the sensor.

And {{hugs}} - I know feelings of guilt are so typical with loss, but you have nothing to feel guilty about. You had alarms, you addressed the problem, you replaced the whole darn furnace! Sounds to me like you did everything you could and should before it became critical.

Kristin said...

Oh wow...I am so glad y'all are ok. CO poisoning is NASTY. We have one of the readers that lists the ppm in our house too.

CLC said...

How scary! Thanks for the info and glad you are all ok!

Kelly said...

Oh my goodness. Thankfully your switch was broken! We only have electricity in our neighborhood. I miss my gas cooking stove, but after your story, not so sure I ever want one.

Thanks for sharing with everyone. CO is one of those things that can go undetected for awhile. I'm always turning off my car long before I close the garage - call me paranoid but I know people who have used that method to end their lives.

So glad you are all okay and feeling better. Maybe your husband should lighten-up on his travels, smile.

MrsSpock said...

Whoa-scary! We have always had a CO detector, but I have seen patients in ICU with CO exposure and am freaky paranoid about such things. They're a must-have for the house!

CappyPrincess said...

How wonderful that Heavenly Father sent you the trial you needed to make sure that the CO issue got repaired! And thanks for the reminder about needing to monitor CO in our homes. It is such a silent predator that many people forget the true danger. I'm so glad your family is healthy and safe once again.