What's colorless and odorless and dangerous all over?
Carbon monoxide, or CO. Every winter you will hear the horror stories on the news. I recently heard a report of an entire family found dead inside their home from CO poisoning. They went to bed and never woke up. It breaks my heart and gives me goosebumps to even think about it.
According to the CDC, more than 400 Americans die of CO poisoning every year, and over 20,000 people visit the hospital because of CO poisoning. If you aren't familiar with the ways in which you can be exposed to unhealthy levels of CO or with the symptoms of CO poisoning, visit this short and sweet page by the CDC. I have several friends and family members who are thankful to be alive today after being involved in near-fatal CO incidents... unfortunately I myself wasn't even aware of the dangers until my family had a terrifying CO ordeal last year.
I had heard of CO poisoning. But something like that wouldn't happen to me and my family. No way! We had a coal stove that we'd used without any problems for an entire winter. Our landlord had gotten us a CO alarm to install when we first moved in and we'd casually plugged it into a wall in the kitchen for good measure, not reading any of the instructions that came with it.
With the start of winter, my husband started getting headaches and always felt lethargic. He was also a full-time student in an intense CRNA program. I was pregnant and tending to a one-year-old. We attributed any unusual symptoms to the normal wear and tear of daily life.
One night we arrived home from Christmas shopping to find our CO alarm beeping. Since we were clueless about CO safety, we figured that the alarm was faulty. So we unplugged it and went to bed, which was probably the stupidest thing we could have done. It wasn't our time to die! I thank God for sparing our lives.
The next day I got a little smarter and had my husband pick up another CO alarm from the store on his way home from school. We plugged it in and went to bed. Hours later we both awoke to a loud beeping. At first we were confused and unaware of what was happening. Was the CO alarm seriously going off again? The packaging and instruction manual for the alarm were still sitting on the kitchen counter. So at 4:30 on Christmas Eve morning my husband and I stood in our kitchen reading the instruction manual for our CO alarm, trying to figure out why it was beeping, finally coming to the panicked conclusion that the alarm we were hearing was telling us we were in danger. We opened all the doors and windows (it was SO COLD outside), woke up our son, threw some things into a duffle bag, and left our home.
The fire department later detected the highest levels of CO in our basement near the coal stove, so our landlord had it looked at. We thought the issue was resolved, but time and time again we would wake up in the night or arrive home from being out of the house to find the CO alarm going off. We never really found out what was wrong because I eventually said, "ENOUGH!" I was done being a guinea pig! Sure, it was the "Polar Vortex of 2014-2015" but I would rather be cold and using temporary forms of heat than be dead or causing irreversible damage to my loved ones.
I was an emotional wreck during the ordeal. I was about 20 weeks pregnant. I had a young child. I was terrified when I learned that unborn babies and children were especially at risk of being damaged by CO. Furthermore, my husband was displaying symptoms of CO poisoning.
The reason I'm writing this is because I want everyone I know to have a working, properly-placed CO alarm, because it could very well save your life. I also think it's vital that you know how to recognize the symptoms of CO poisoning, because exposure can happen outside the home as well. (Did you know driving an SUV with the tailgate open without also rolling down all the vehicle windows is an invitation for unhealthy CO exposure?!) This Kidde CO Alarm is under $25 and is able to detect levels as low as 11 ppm (anything over 10 ppm). The alarm won't sound until the levels reach 70 ppm or higher, but long-term exposure to low levels of CO is dangerous, too. Alarms that can detect levels lower than the 11 ppm are harder to find and more expensive. Some jobs expose workers to unsafe levels of CO (this article by OSHA explains more about that) and simple tasks like driving can also expose you to higher levels of CO. I like that the alarm I mention above is battery operated and can be easily transported for use in the car or on the job if you're ever curious about exposure levels.
The bottom line? Even if you "think" you're not at risk, you should have a CO alarm and be familiar with the symptoms of CO poisoning. That "flu" you think you have might be something much more dangerous. These are simple ways to protect you and your family. Your life is worth $25!!!
My two-year-old son is standing next to me saying, "I don't want you to press buttons" aka "Stop typing" so I'll wrap it up for now! Until next time :)