Women narrowly escape carbon monoxide poisoning

By Pat Sunderland


The smoke filling the Anderson residence on King Street was plain to see; the carbon monoxide it carried was not.

Joyce Anderson, her sister Debra and their 89-year-old mother Ruth were watching "Downton Abbey" the night of Sunday, Dec. 27, when Debra suddenly had trouble breathing and seemed incoherent. She'd previously complained of a bad headache, as had Joyce and Ruth.

Debra's unusual behavior spurred Joyce into action and she called 911, describing her sister's symptoms to the dispatcher. That information alerted EMTs, who entered the house with carbon monoxide detectors in hand. They immediately ordered everyone out of the house.

Debra was loaded into the ambulance; Joyce and Ruth grabbed their two dogs and headed to the car. The EMTs quickly informed them they'd be riding in the ambulance as well. Leaving the two dogs behind in the car, the three women were put on oxygen and transported to the emergency room at Delta County Memorial Hospital. All three were found to have carbon monoxide levels well above normal; Debra's were particularly high. Additionally, blood tests revealed an enzyme causing stress on Ruth's heart.

By 3 a.m., Debra and Joyce were cleared to go home but Ruth was admitted to the hospital for additional monitoring.

Later, they learned a cap on the chimney was blocked. Instead of smoke flowing up and out, it was forced back into the house. It was a problem they'd been dealing with off and on ever since they started the furnace in the fall. They'd had the chimney and furnace cleaned beforehand, so thought the smoke was simply the result of the coal they were burning. They also discovered a damper that needed to be opened. "We thought that would solve our problem, but we still had smoke and couldn't figure out where it came from," Joyce said.

During the day Sunday they ran a fan and opened the door to clear the house of smoke, but it was too cold to keep the door open for long. After struggling with a smoky house off and on all day, the smoke finally seemed to dissipate.

It's just a stroke of luck that they didn't go to bed, but instead stayed up late to watch television.

"It was a close call," Joyce said, "but we all came out of it okay and we have heat, so we're kind of back to normal."

Joyce has also replaced the carbon monoxide detector as she'd intended to do for some time.

"Smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors are definitely good things to have," she said. "Carbon monoxide can sneak up on you. We knew we had smoke, but we never thought about carbon monoxide. It's scary stuff. You don't realize it's there."

The Andersons have high praise for the emergency responders who capably dealt with the situation, from the firefighters to the EMTs to the police officers to hospital personnel. "Everybody did a great job," Joyce said.