We have been looking into my health issues from every angle while asking for God’s wisdom and direction. It has been a long eight months while being very ill and with the doctors suspecting some serious illnesses. A couple of weeks ago we had an environmental inspector come and look at our home. We were curious especially about mold. He found no mold, but said that our furnace had a serious issue in that there was a gap in the piping of the flue. He recommended that we have someone come who is an expert in carbon monoxide. That carbon monoxide inspector came and sure enough, with the furnace on, he detected carbon monoxide (CO) in the furnace room. He also came upstairs and saw increasing amounts of CO fill our bathroom as the furnace ran. So, we were exposed to CO throughout the winter when the furnace ran. The CO levels were not enough to kill us, but high enough to cause health issues with long-term exposure. The inspector kept on saying over and over again, “You guys are lucky to be alive. Someone is watching out for you.” We have been having HVAC people come give us bids for a new furnace. All of them have been amazed when they see the issue and say the same thing, “You guys are lucky to be alive.”
That Sunday we mentioned the furnace leak to a physician’s assistant in our church. His first response was doubtful but he promised he would research it. By the time I looked at my cell phone that Sunday night, there were two messages from him saying that he thought that this had to be the cause of my health symptoms. He referenced a reputable physician’s website that talks about neurological damage which shows up three to four weeks after acute CO exposure. Two-thirds of the symptoms that were mentioned in the article are symptoms that I have including dizziness, vision problems, trembling, changes in gait (the way I walk), confusion, decrease cognition, etc. CO poisoning could also explain the vascular damage of the aortic aneurism.
While waiting to see my doctor, we were able to speak to a toxicologist from John Hopkins University who was recommended to us as one of the nation’s leading CO experts. He listened to my symptoms and exposure levels and said that it is very probable that CO has been the issue. He emailed a protocol and instructions to give to our doctor to do some specialized blood tests to see if there is still CO toxicity in my body. Indeed, the doctor’s office called and said, “You definitely have CO poisoning. All the blood levels are very high.”
HINDSIGHT IS 20/20
Our first response was, “If it was carbon monoxide then why didn’t the rest of the family get as sick?” The professor from John Hopkins said that if one place one hundred people in a room and exposed them to carbon monoxide then each person would react differently to the poison. Then we got to thinking and remembering that the boys were having random episodes of throwing up in the winter. We just thought they had the flu or something. We thought it was odd, but it was not dramatic enough for us to think twice about it. Also, throughout the winter, Brittany was walking around in a daze. She has hypothyroidism so we thought her thyroid levels were off and began the process of getting her blood levels rechecked. Now we know why her thyroid levels came back fine, yet she still had those symptoms. Also, we remember that the winter months are when Melissa was having her severe migraines followed by vomiting. Now that we know what it is, Melissa remembers doing laundry downstairs and feeling very tired and nauseated throughout the winter. Melissa and the kids mostly appear to be fine now; however, we are planning to get them checked out as well.
As for me, I had mono or some other virus that they found in January. This would have compromised my immune system causing the CO to do more damage on me than the others. Plus, I was sick in bed for those first three months being only in our bedroom and the bathroom which is located immediately above the furnace. So, I was exposed to it continually whenever the furnace was on. It makes sense as Easter Sunday was the first Sunday that I felt well enough to be able to make it out to church. Coincidentally, that is when the weather began to get warm! During those winter months, I would get up and go take a bath. After the bath I was so week and dizzy I would stumble back to my bed and sleep for the rest of the day. It all makes sense now. I still have no strength and have several episodes a day of being dizzy and lightheaded. They say that the oxygen treatment will take care of that.
The treatment is to be on 95% oxygen for two hours a day for four months. There may be more drastic measures needed such as a hyperbaric oxygen chamber, but since the poisoning is no longer acute doctors doubt the need for this.
Doctors tell us that I should begin to feel quite a bit better after just a week. Yet, it will take up to a month for the oxygen to saturate the tissues enough for symptoms to subside. It is interesting that when I thought I was getting better (at the end of March) was right after I spent a week in the hospital. I was on oxygen that whole time! Anyway, I will need to be treated for four months total before the toxicity is gone, the blood levels normalize.
While a brain scan in February was negative, a recent MRI showed some spots beginning to develop on my brain. What CO does is it gets in your blood and attaches to the hemoglobin causing it to no longer be able to carry oxygen. During very acute CO poisoning, this lack of oxygen kills your body’s tissues (especially the brain and heart) within three to four hours. Since I was exposed to low levels for a long period of time, what they say happened is that my tissues were damaged but not immediately killed. The after effects unfortunately are that the tissues do eventually die within weeks causing damage to the central nervous system first. This is why many of my symptoms mock a neurological disease such as MS or Parkinsons.
We have read that two-thirds of patients completely recover. Others say that the tissues are damaged and there is no going back. In either case, it is unclear if and when the neurological symptoms will reverse. We’ll see how the oxygen therapy helps long-term. Some doctors are pretty confident that the brain will re-route itself and that I can experience a complete reversal of symptoms just as other patients do after suffering a stroke. The encouraging thing is that all my symptoms worsen with fatigue and exertion. So getting rid of the poison and fatigue may cause the neurological symptoms to disappear. It is in the Lord’s hands to do as He wills.
REASONS TO THANK THE LORD
- Praise the Lord that we travel a lot! We were not home much during the months of October, November, and December when the weather was getting colder and the furnace would have kicked in.
- We praise the Lord that our kids did not frequent the parts of the house where the CO was invading the most.
- Praise the Lord that it was not something worse! Carbon monoxide is of course colorless, odorless, and tasteless and often called “the great mimic” as its symptoms can appear to be a variety of diseases. Doctors feared and tested for some pretty nasty diseases. Praise the Lord that the prognosis looks good!
- Praise the Lord that this was found so that the problem would not be reoccurring this coming winter.
- Mostly, praise the Lord that the disjointed pipe off the furnace was never bumped. Each contractor who has seen the furnace said, “You guys are lucky to be alive.” We know that it is much more than that! We have been humbled to hear of those praying for us. It is amazing how many churches mentioned that we are brought up in every prayer meeting. Little did we know that all of these prayers were keeping us alive and protected us while an invisible poison invaded our home. God is so good!
It is so great to know that God is completely sovereign and in control of all things. His purposes are always perfect. We’ll see how the oxygen therapy works (after 5 days, it appears to be working well). There are still some unknowns and uncertainties. Ultimately, our hope is that I would regain strength enough to drive and to function again in ministry. At this point, it looks as though God will answer that prayer also. Please pray specifically for no long-term effects in our children. We need wisdom as we move forward.
Again, thank you so much for your love and prayers. We cannot express how God has used you to encourage us and sustain us this year. We are so very thankful for you and for your continued partnership. Thank you for considering with us what God is doing (Psalm 64:9).