Gerry L. Dickert
The Port Arthur News
PORT ARTHUR —
It was quite a few years ago that something really scary happened … I feel certain that one critical decision saved the lives of my wife and children.
It was the week of Thanksgiving and my two boys were still pretty young, probably 5 or 6 years old at the time.
They and their mom, who is a teacher, were out for Thanksgiving break and had been spending time at home getting ready for the big holiday meal.
By the time that Thursday came around, all three of them were terribly sick with the flu. At least that’s what we thought.
Because I was working for the newspaper in Beaumont at the time, the only day I had off was Thanksgiving Day.
I found myself sitting on the couch, watching football and wondering what I was going to do for lunch.
I had thought about going out to pick something up, but it was freezing outside and because of the holiday, I was pretty certain nothing would be open anyway.
I made my way into the kitchen and started rustling around. Because everyone had been sick all week there was very little in the fridge. I grabbed a skillet and started cooking up a fried bologna sandwich.
An hour or so after I finish eating, I started feeling sick to my stomach.
I am known for having an iron stomach. I can eat pretty much anything, and usually do. So I was puzzled as to why I was feeling sick. I thought if I cooled off, maybe I’d feel better.
I turned off the heater, which had been blowing non-stop with the frigid temperatures, and cracked a window in the living room.
At some point during the day, my oldest son Michael had moved from the bedroom to the living room and was asleep on the couch.
About an hour after I cracked the window, I started feeling better. And, oddly enough, Michael was up and moving around too.
It was then that it struck me.
I shut the heater off completely.
To the dismay of my wife, I opened the window in the bedroom and in several other rooms of the house.
I said, “Just let me see something.”
I bundled everyone up in extra clothing and covered them up with heavy blankets.
An hour passed, then two.
Chris, my youngest son, was up and hungry. My wife was no longer sick to her stomach.
We called her Dad, who owns an air conditioning business in Jasper.
He came down and set a meter on the table and plugged it in. I watched as the numbers on the monitor went from zero to 900 parts per million.
It was nearly four hours after I first cracked the windows and the house was still absolutely full of carbon monoxide.
To this day, I shudder to think what might have happened had we all gone to bed that night with the heater running and the windows closed.
As sick as the kids were and as little as they were at the time, I feel certain that by morning one or both would have died.
The safe level of carbon monoxide is somewhere near 50 parts per million. At 200 ppm, inhalation will cause a slight headache within 2 to 3 hours. At 400 ppm, there is a frontal headache within 1 to 2 hours, becoming widespread in 3 hours.
At 800 ppm, inhalation will cause dizziness, nausea and convulsions within 45 minutes and a person becomes incoherent within two hours.
Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless, tasteless, toxic gas that, as it is inhaled, displaces the oxygen in your body.
It is produced by the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels — gas, oil, coal and wood — used in boilers, engines, gas fires, water heaters and open fires.
Poor ventilation or the poor installation or maintenance of appliances can cause carbon monoxide to be introduced into your home.
In our situation, the heat in our home was provided by a gas central heating unit.
The juncture where the heater and the exhaust connected, just above the heating unit, had rusted through over a long period of time and the carbon monoxide was pouring into our house from that point.
It’s critical that you take special precaution each year as we enter the colder months. Have your system checked out by a certified technician. Don’t use charcoal or wood to provide heat in an enclosed area.
But the most important thing you can do is purchase a carbon monoxide detector alarm with a low-level indicator.
You can find a detector at a local hardware store or at WalMart for about $25 to $30.
It’s an investment you can’t afford not to make.
Gerry L. Dickert is the Public Information Coordinator for Lamar State College-Port Arthur.