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Politically Incorrect

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When the crud might not be the crud

The “crud” as they seem to be calling it, has been hitting people pretty hard. It got my brother Joe (and it’s turned into bronchitis in his case), it felled my sweet partner David, it had our own Jinx for 24 hours and it even got... me?

A while back, I was feeling more miserable than I’ve felt in a long time. “It’s just a silly cold,” I told myself, as I huddled in a fetal position on the couch. “You shouldn’t be feeling this bad.” But bad was how I felt.

I won’t go into detail about how bad, or just what lengths I went to to feel better (though I will mention right now - a hot toddy made with tequila and drank at noon after 24 hours of no food is not going to help at all), but my chest was tight, my body ached, my head was pounding and my stomach thought it would be a good idea to not eat again for the rest of my life.

I felt that way for days. I slept on the couch, mostly so that I would wake up in the middle of the night to put more wood on the fire when it needed it.

About 1 am one dark, lonely, miserable morning, I performed exactly that task before falling back into a whimpering ball on the couch. For some reason (God loves me?) I found myself in the exact, perfect position to notice what appeared to be a small gap between the top of my chimney and the housing box where it goes through the living room ceiling.

I squinted at it through sleepy eyes for a few minutes and, when it didn’t go away, dragged myself off the couch to inspect the pipe more closely. Sure enough, on the side of the pipe hidden in the back, there was a gaping, three-inch gap.

If you wonder how a chimney pipe can simply detach itself from its neighboring piece, I should mention my aversion to screws.

Well, not to screws themselves. I love screws. I think the guy who invented them should get some kind of prize, simply for the way they dig in and hang on with so much more tenacity than a nail has ever even thought of. But the truth is, if I ever find myself taking apart something that’s been screwed together, the chances are nil that I’ll replace the screws when I put it back together again.

Before you laugh (in either derision or astonishment) let me point out that this practice has served me will over the course of several decades. I once even took a car engine apart and put it back together with only the absolute necessary fastening pieces, and I drove that car for at least another two years without a problem.

It’s a karma thing (I think). Some small part of me believes that if I don’t put the screws back in, I won’t ever be required to take that specific object apart again.

The chimney came apart the first time I had to clean the creosote out of it and, when I put the pieces back together, it seemed to stay just fine without ever reinserting the screws. So I didn’t bother.

Mostly, a cast iron stove doesn’t move around too much, and it likely would have operated just fine sans screws. But when you find yourself trying to shove in a piece of wood that’s just slightly bigger than the available room in the firebox, the stove can get jostled a bit.

I assume that’s what happened. And jostling, I should note, can cause unscrewed pieces of chimney pipe to come apart.

It’s still 1 am. I am tired - very tired - and let’s not forget that I’m sick. I brought my trusty little stepping stool to the side of the stove, wrapped my arms around the telescoping chimney pipe, and attempted to lift the chimney back into place.

Remember, I had just re-stoked the fire.

No, the chimney pipe wasn’t more than a tad bit warm. But the pipe doesn’t telescope as well as it used to. (That’s another story, and a situation I blame firmly on Ernie) After gripping and grunting and groaning for a few minutes with no success, I placed my bare foot on the surface of the stove in order to get a little more leverage.

Did I say I was very tired, and very sick? Keep that in mind before you decide I’m dumber than a box of rocks.

Unlike the chimney pipe, the top of a cast iron stove gets very warm, especially once you’ve got a roaring fire going on.

I don’t think I screamed out loud, but I did fall off the step stool, and the tears filling my eyes were induced by pain.

After I regained control of myself, I shut down the stove as well as I could, opened the window next to it, cranked up the electric heat and took myself off to my bed.

Every year, more than one hundred people die from carbon monoxide poisoning. They call it the silent killer. And it presents like a common cold.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission says symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are similar to the flu, but without fever. They include, “headache, fatigue, shortness of breath, nausea and dizziness.”

Every single symptom I was demonstrating, in fact.

The first line of response to carbon monoxide poisoning, they say, is “get fresh air immediately.” Oxygen is what combats carbon monoxide poisoning and, if that’s what I was suffering, I was lucky indeed. My wood stove includes a fresh air intake fan that pulls in outside air and passes it over the heated top of the stove to circulate the heat. That undoubtedly helped. Opening the window, and going to sleep in my bedroom where the windows were cracked open certainly helped as well.

Of course, they go on to recommend that you get medical attention immediately (depending on the amount of CO in your blood, medical personnel may recommend you breathe pure oxygen for a while) and that you have the fire department inspect your home and tell you when it’s safe to go back inside.

Those things I didn’t do, figuring that I have enough bills in the first quarter of the year that I didn’t need to add a visit to the emergency room to them, as well.

I did spend an awful lot of the next few days outdoors, however, and I drank a lot of water, as well. (Water can help flush toxins from your system.) I also continued to use my electric heat.

Slowly, I began to feel better. The nausea passed first, and the general “oh my goodness, I feel like I’m going to die” improved hourly.

The draw on my chimney was good enough that I never had enough smoke leakage to either be visible or to set off my smoke alarms. Yet there’s a very good chance that my home was a source of poison for both me, and for my daughter. (Amy had remarked earlier in the week, “I don’t know what’s going on, Mom. I’m getting enough sleep at night, but when I sit on the couch to do my homework, I can’t stay awake." I had suggested she might be going through a growth spurt.)

A simple carbon monoxide detector costs only $20, and possibly would have sounded the alarm that something was wrong. It’s such a simple thing to have in your home.

And not just if you have a wood stove. There are many ways your home can become a source of CO poisoning, including a malfunction in any gas appliance, or a leak from a running car in an attached garage

The CPSC says clues to a possible CO leakage include: rusting or water streaking on a vent/chimney; loose or missing furnace panels; sooting; debris or soot falling from a chimney, fireplace or appliances; loose or disconnected vents, chimneys, fireplaces or appliances; loose masonry on the chimney; and/or moisture on the inside of your windows.

As for me, I’m fine right now. Maybe I had the “crud” that’s going around, and maybe I didn’t. But I’ll tell you this. I bought a carbon monoxide detector and, when I got the chimney back together (with David’s help), I used all the screws.

Here’s to health for all of us the rest of the year.

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Author info

Landon Otis

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health, crud, illness, carbon monoxide poisoning

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