It's that time of year again where having carbon monoxide detectors in your home could mean the difference between life and death. Every year Happy's group is asked to admit at least a couple patients with carbon monoxide poisoning. Most of the time there isn't a lot we can do except place them on high flow oxygen and observe them. Occasionally, we consider transferring patients to an institution with a hyperbaric oxygen chamber . Every year some poor mother and her children don't make it to the hospital and are found dead because they didn't have a carbon monoxide monitor in their home. Last night, we had our own carbon monoxide detector scare. It was 1:00 am and I was deep in REM sleep on my hospitalist night call when my cell phone rang. My cell phone never rings in the middle of the night.
My mind is fairly well trained to awaken at the sound of my call room land line or my pager. But not my cell phone. I fumbled around for a minute or two before my mind realized that it was Mrs Happy calling. The phone had already gone to voice mail. So I called her back. It sounded like a horrible connection, when in fact, what I was hearing was the loud screeching sound of the carbon monoxide detector going off in the background. Mrs Happy and our pups Marty and Cooper were awaken to the sound of the carbon monoxide detector in our master bedroom. Cooper ran behind the bed and shook in fear. Mrs Happy called me. She said the carbon monoxide detector was flashing "GAS" and a number of 220. I told her to grab the dogs and get the heck out of the house and she did. While at work, at 1 am, I got on the internet and I searched for the contact number of our gas company. I contemplated calling 911 like everyone else in this country would, but I figured the gas company would be more helpful. So I called them and explained what was going on. They said they would send someone out immediately to check the situation out.
It turns out the gas company had to call in a third back up gentleman who lived on the opposite side of town. Mrs Happy, Marty and Cooper sat in the car, in the middle of winter, for about 45 minutes waiting patiently for the gas man to arrive. When he did, he took his meter into the house and determined that everything was clear. There was no carbon monoxide detected in our home. That's when Mrs Happy asked him
"Why did it flash GAS then?"
The gas man hadn't realized that. It turns out many of the carbon monoxide detectors can actually detect both carbon monoxide and natural gas. So he swept through the house once again on the gas mode and even went outside of the house in search of a gas leak. Interestingly enough, he determined that there was no gas leaking in the home, but there was one in the gas line coming into our house. He said the leak was before our gas meter, so we weren't being charged extra for the lost gas. Who knows how long that has been going on for. As he wrapped things up he told Mrs Happy to make sure we take an air canister to the carbon monoxide detector filters at least once a year. He said nine out of ten calls he gets now a days turn out to be nothing. But he recommended calling every time with any concerns because when you're dealing with a deadly gas, it's always better to be safe than sorry and I know that all too well as a physician hospitalist who see's carbon monoxide poisoning patients several times a year.