Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

A few nights ago our carbon monoxide detector went off.   It is a device that acts like a smoke detector but it alarms when there is a possibility of carbon monoxide, not smoke. We have a gas furnace and I have always been a little leery of the chance of a gas leak.

Well, back to a few nights ago, I was sound asleep as it was one o’clock in the morning when the detector started making a chirping sound, a loud chirping sound. Once I woke out of my deep sleep and figured out what was going on, I forced myself out of bed and staggered into the living room to see what the problem was. I stood there and stared at the source of my frustration, plugged into the wall, and waited for it to chirp again; but it didn’t. I was relieved but not convinced it was finished.

Reluctantly, I went back to bed.

I laid there wide awake knowing I would never be able to go back to sleep for wondering why the thing went off. Just as I was about to get up for a second time, it chirped again. I went back into the living room and unplugged it. At first I just held it, then I decided to walk over in front of the closet that houses our gas furnace. I figured if it was really a problem it would detonate if I got close enough to the supposed source of the problem. And that’s exactly what it did. It was a loud solid piercing whistling sound, kind of like a tea kettle that’s ready to boil over on the stove, only higher pitched and louder, so much louder. I turned it over and read the instructions on how to reset it. Basically press the “reset” button (no rocket science here) or get it to fresh air and that would stop the alarm. So, at one-ish in the morning I was out on the back screened-in porch in my pajamas, in the freezing cold waving the detector around trying to get it to stop screaming.

No luck.

By this time my ears are hurting and I am desperate to get this thing to quit. It suddenly occurred to me that there must be a battery since it was still “alarm-ing” and it was disconnected from its power source. (I know, clearly I was meant to be a brain surgeon, missed my calling.) I ran to the laundry room and tore it apart looking for a screwdriver. At last I found one and performed surgery on it to get the battery. Finally! It was silent. I stood there looking at it, what do I do now? My ears were ringing, it’s one thirty in the morning and I have to work tomorrow.

That is, if I don’t die of carbon monoxide poisoning.

I had a decision to make. Go back to bed and assume that the detector was faulty or call the gas company and have them come over and check for the silent killer. All I could think was “why does this stuff happen at one in the morning?” It didn’t take me too long to decide that I would need to have the house checked out before I was going to be able to sleep a wink.

So, I reluctantly picked up the phone and called the water and gas department. Of course at that time of the morning the number was transferred to an answering service for the police department. “Brewton City Police Department, can I help you?” she said. I was so tired and stressed that I’m sure she wondered if it was a prank call. I just kept saying, “I’m just not sure what to do” and “this is NOT an emergency” over and over again. Once she was finally able to quiet me, she asked me for my address, which I gladly gave to her.

I stood at the living room window, by this time it was two AM. Waiting, just waiting for the fire truck to come blasting down the road, sirens blaring, lights flashing, waking the entire street. I was hidden behind the blinds in my window, except for the small opening that I was sticking my nose through, so I could see the road. I kept whispering to myself, “this is NOT an emergency.”   You can imagine my relief when the truck appeared at the end of the street with no red lights or obnoxious sounds. It parked in front of my house and turned on flood lights. The entire front of my house was exposed in the night.

Great, not red lights, but I looked like a suspect of something far worse than a potential carbon monoxide victim in the shadow of the four thousand watt flood lights.

I walked over to the front door and waited for the firemen to knock. As soon as they did, I opened the door and suddenly remembered I was wearing my black robe and my red fuzzy slippers. This is not to mention my bed hair, and I don’t even want to think of what my breath smelled like. I just hoped bad breath wouldn’t set off the portable carbon monoxide detector that one of them held in his hand.

No worries though, I would keep my distance.

They were so kind as I explained my unusual situation. I’m really not sure how many times I said “I’m sorry.” After hearing my story, they went right to work checking and inspecting every room of my house with their specialized equipment. The whole time they were asking me questions about what was gas and what was electric, all I kept saying was, “I’m sorry.” Not sure why I thought I had to keep saying it. Finally one of them said, “it’s okay, ma’am, it’s our job. You did the right thing.”

I cannot tell you how good those words sounded right then. At two o’clock in the morning to a slightly (that’s generous) stressed out mom with bed head and nighttime breath who needed confirmation that she had done the right thing. Sometimes we just need to be reminded that we made the right call, we did what we thought best and it was RIGHT. In the midst of living a life where it’s sometimes hard to see the right thing and harder still to do it, that is a glorious feeling.

After fifteen or twenty minutes, they gave my house the all clear. Again I found myself babbling, this time it was “thank you” over and over again. It is more than clear to me now that I am a complete ninny in the wee hours of the morning. No doubt about it.

Just ask the local fire department.

Once the door closed behind them, I turned off all the lights in the house and dragged my weary body back to bed. By this time it was two thirty in the morning, and did I mention I had to work the next day? Well, let me mention it again.   I knew I had to get to sleep and fast if I was going to be able to make a coherent thought in the morning. But, my body didn’t seem to understand that. As soon as my head hit the pillow, my eyes flew open. I had so much adrenaline flowing through my veins that I didn’t think I would ever fall asleep. I tossed and turned, until finally sometime after three thirty I fell into a restless sleep.

The alarm was loud and clear a couple of hours later and it was time to get up and at it and start my day. That night actually competes as one of the worst nights of my life. I was and am so thankful for the help of our courageous fire fighters, they aren’t thanked enough, but I was so exhausted I wondered how I would keep my eyes open.

It is amazing how resilient we can be, because I made it and it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. You just have to keep moving; that’s the secret. Of course, I don’t remember half of the day, but that is beside the point.

I purposely haven’t mentioned one tiny little fact about all of this that I think you will find rather amusing and potentially unbelievable. My seventeen year old son never woke up during the entire affair. Not once. He was sound asleep in his room the WHOLE time. Oh to sleep like a teenager again. Right before I went to bed, I went in his room to check on him.   I put my hand on his shin to see if he was too hot, and he opened his eyes and looked right at me and said, “Hey mom.”


He slept through the night from hell and woke up when I put my hand on his leg? All I said was, “hey sweetie, love you. Night.” He rolled over and was back asleep in a flash. When I inquired about whether or not he heard anything the next morning, he had no idea what I was talking about.


Oh, and by the way, the detector had a bad battery. That was the problem. The kind firefighters had a spare nine volt battery in their truck, so my problem was solved. I don’t think I’ll forget that night for a long time, maybe ever.

But, I can rest in the nights to come knowing there is a new battery in the carbon monoxide detector and that I did the right thing.

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