Carbon Monoxide - A Personal Account of CO Poisoning Effects

The following letter was e-mailed from a visitor to our CO ALERT web page (

To the editor:

The story I am about to tell you is a miracle. It is a miracle that my family and myself are still alive. I don't think the general public understands how dangerous CO is and how common of a problem that it really is.

My parents had a custom home built in 1986. We moved in June 1,1986. I was 21, a college student,a restaurant worker, and a gift shop owner. I was in perfect health and did not even have a physician except for a pediatrician.

The fall semester started at college at the end of August. By september, I noticed when I walked to class that my chest hurt right in the center and that I couldn't breathe well. I thought maybe I had bronchitis because I hated to wear a jacket. I bought some over the counter medication; but that didn't work. I began to feel tired as well. I felt so bad that my parents urged me to see a doctor.

I decided to go to the student health clinic at the university that I attended. I knew the director as well. He said it was allergies which I had never had before. Just take some dimeatap. So I did; but I continued to get worse. Now, my left ankle was beginning to throb and hurt. I could hardly walk. I was so tired. He began to run blood tests and take x-rays. His conclusion was that I had bronchitis. He gave me an antibiotic.

The antibiotic didn't help either. I began to not eat because my throat felt tight, irritated, and I choked easily. My sinus hurt as well. I had a mottled rash not raised on my skin. The director of the student health center had no idea what was going on. He sent me to a private practice.

By this time, my hair is falling out by the hands full, I have extreme fatigue, you cannot touch me because it feels as though you beat me, I have night sweats until you can wring my clothes out, I can't pick my head up it lays on my chest, I can pull long green thick rope like strands of mucous from my nose, and I am in pain from head to toe. My blood work is all messed up. I had high sed rates, positive ana, high white counts, lymphocytes, etc.

The doctor in the private practice doesn't know what to do with me either. She sends me to a pulmonary specialist. He does alot of testing and says you have COPD, idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, interstitial lung disease and I don't know what caused it.

From there, I go to a rheumatologist. By this time, I am in a wheel chair. I am a miserable person. So sick I can hardly stand to live. The doctor said he needed to put me somewhere that the doctors could come to me, because its obvious I can't continue to go to them. He sent me to N.C. Baptist Hospital.

My mother and I were there a week. This is January 1987. I have now suffered literally through five months. The doctors tested my everything. They sent me home on a Friday. The doctor called us on Monday. He said it is possible that she has a connective tissue disorder, mixed connective tissue disorder, wegner's disease but we are going to call it a lupus like syndrome.

The doctors started me on prednisone. I began to see some improvement. By this time, it is February 1987.

Please keep in mind that I was in perfect health. Starting in November of 1986, my life consisted of laying on a fold up cot in my family room. I couldn't climb the stairs. I couldn't do anything. I lost a 100lbs. in three months, too.

At the same time, my dog became ill too. The veterinarian diagnosed her with lupus, too. We thought that was odd. She began to bust open with sores all over her body and to hemorrhage in her retinas, she would wander all over the yard and couldn't find her way back, she had incontinence, she was weak, and she would bite at me like she didn't know me. Finally, I had her put to sleep. I couldn't stand to see her suffer like me.

Now, let me skip ahead. I have continued to have this lupus like syndrome. Now, I have a lung capacity of 27%, a PO2 of 44, and I am on oxygen 24 hours a day.

In December of 1995, my mom and I watched Oprah. She had a program on carbon monoxide poisoning. We decided it would be a good idea to get two. So late in December, my mom was in a store that sold them and bought two.

We put one in the garage which is attached to the house. We thought if we have a source that would be it. The other one we put upstairs where the bedrooms are. We really didn't read the information on it. We noticed the light would blink but we thought it was just testing itself.

On December 24, Sunday morning, my mom got up and opened the door that goes from the house to the garage and the CO detector was sounding an alarm. She didn't want to wake anyone up so she wrapped it in a towel and put it in a storage room in the garage. I know big mistake!!!I was awakened by another CO detector. The one upstairs. We called the fire department. I had just came home from the hospital and was on oxygen.

The fire department opened all the windows and doors. By the time they got the machine here to read the level, it was a level 6. The fire department said the source was our gas hot water heater. The fireman cut off the pilot light and told us to get a plumber.

We called a plumber that minute. He was a friend of ours and came out. When the builder built the house, they did not put any ventilation around the hot water heater. The plumber cut in a vent in the foundation. The flue for the water heater was not installed properly either. It had an elbow in it which caused CO granules to clog and seal it off. All this had been like this since we bought the house. But we were relieved to be alive and thought we had the problem solved.

My mom and I sent my dad to the store for another CO detector for the downstairs area, where I am still living. We installed it and thought we would rest easy that night.

It was about three a.m., when the new downstairs detector went off. It was Christmas morning. The fire department told us what to do so we opened doors and windows.

The next few days were just like a nightmare out of some novel. I couldn't believe the things that were happening to us. Through the gas company and a heating and cooling company, we found out why the new detector went off continually.

Our chimney has two flues. One for the fireplace and one for the natural gas furnace which is under the house in the crawl space. When the house was built in 1986, the builder sealed the flue to the furnace with mortar. It was sealed completely. The heating and cooling company had to take a sledge hammer to get it out.

This means we had occult chronic carbon monoxide poisoning for ten years. We just couldn't believe it. The first thing that hit our minds was this is what made me sick. Now, I just have to get a doctor to connect it.

But it wasn't over here. We decided to have a chimney sweep come out to make sure it wasn't blocked anymore by anything. The chimney sweep man told us that part of the flue for the furnace is not lined. About two feet of the flue at the bottom. Not only that but it is cracked all over the place. So we are now getting a new lining and cap for the flues. Thank God, we never burned the fireplace.

That's not it either. Over the ten years our upstairs unit had a problem with the pilot light not staying lit. I don't know how many times that we had someone check it. I read some information that came with one of the carbon monoxide detectors and it said that if your pilot light won't stay lit something is wrong. We called another company out to check it.

It has a big hole not a crack in the heat exchanger. We are getting a new furnace upstairs right now.

Now you know it is a miracle that we are alive. It's unbelievable that one house($300,000.00) could have such negligence in it to have four sources of carbon monoxide.

What bothers me the most is what it has taken from me. Now, I wait every day to see if my health will improve and to see if any other symptoms appear. I bought a computer so that I could search the net for someone else with the same problem and to make a connection between the CO poisoning and a lupus like syndrome.

I urge you to some how make your web site more prominent. This is so important. I think the greatest gift you could give to someone would be a carbon monoxide detector.

Thanks and I am sorry this got so long. This really is the short version. If you have any information for me, please send it.

Tammie - Advanced training and support for novice teen drivers.
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Expert Advice
Carbon Monoxide Detectors w/ PPM Displays and Battery Backup

Although all home carbon monoxide detectors use an audible alarm signal as the primary indicator, some versions also offer a digital readout of the CO concentration, in parts per million.

Typically, they can display both the current reading and a peak reading from memory of the highest level measured over a period of time.

The digital models offer the advantage of being able to observe levels that are below the alarm threshold, learn about levels that may have occurred during an absence, and assess the degree of hazard if the alarm sounds.

They may also aid emergency responders in evaluating the level of past or ongoing exposure or danger.