An entire Muslim family in the DC Metro narrowly escaped death by carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning in a real life horror story on October 30, 2013.
They are sharing their story anonymously to help spread awareness that could possibly save a life.
An odorless, colorless and toxic gas that is impossible to see, taste or smell, CO can kill you before you are aware it is in your home. The afternoon before the incident, the Ahmad's* landlord turned on the gas heater. Unbeknownst to the family, the chimney and vents were not cleaned and so the fumes were circulating in the home. The family went out for dinner and arrived home around 10 at night. Immediately upon arrival they noticed the house emitted a slight odor like burnt candles, but didn't think much of it and went to sleep.
The next morning, everybody woke up with severe headaches. The father of the household was vomiting uncontrollably, and he and others were collapsing and fainting as they tried to get on with their morning duties. They first suspected food poisoning, but when the conditions became very severe, one family member brought up that it may be carbon monoxide. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, at lower levels of exposure, CO causes mild effects that are often mistaken for the flu. These symptoms include headaches, dizziness, disorientation, nausea and fatigue. They quickly checked on Internet for CO symptoms, which perfectly matched what was happening and called 911.
Windows were opened, the heater turned off, and the family rushed outside into the chilly eve of November. Over 10 police cars, ambulances, and fire trucks came to the scene within the next few minutes. An initial carbon monoxide test was taken, and it showed everybody had some of the deadly combination in their body.
All seven members of the family were quickly rushed to the hospital. The youngest siblings were taken to Children's Hospital, while the others were admitted together at the nearby Washington General Hospital.
The doctors told the family that had they slept and stayed in the house for another two hours, they may have died. Ahmad says he has heard of carbon monoxide poisoning but “real experience is nothing but a real tragedy!”
For the next several hours, everybody was monitored closely and given oxygen masks to replenish their oxygen supply and to expel the carbon monoxide out of their body. After several hours, Ahmad still had a very high level of CO in his body, exacerbated by his diabetes, so he was flown by helicopter to the Shock Trauma Center at the University of Maryland, Baltimore. There, he was put in a gas chamber with the pressure altered to help bring his body back to normal. The pressure forced him to vomit a pound of food, which helped him to clean out his system.
“The landlord found the exhaust system of the furnace clogged with a bird or a squirrel[‘s] nest! As a result, fumes were coming back in the house [that] produce[d]excessive monoxide,” the father told the Muslim Link.
As daylight savings time ended and the country change their clocks back, an annual ritual that is imperative to health is to install or check carbon monoxide alarms. It is the law in Maryland. Passed in 2007, the law requires that hardwired CO alarms are installed in a central location outside of each sleeping area. Similarly, Virginia even allows tenants to install carbon monoxide detectors in rental properties if they believe it is necessary to ensure their safety. DC follows the International Residential Code. According to DC Fire Marshall Faus requirements for smoke alarms and Carbon Monoxide alarms in Washington DC, include one on every floor and centrally located outside of sleeping areas: at least one has to be hardwired, for the rest can be battery operated.
“Alhamdulillah. It will take some time to [be] clear of CO. We as a family felt it was a big test from Allah,” says Ahmad.
The biggest lesson that the family learnt from their nightmare on that haunted night was the saying of the Prophet “tie your camel and have tawakkul on Allah.” The Ahmad family did not have alarms installed in their rental home at the time of the incident. Since then, they have installed carbon monoxide alarms near their sleeping areas.