Wednesday, January 14, 2009

first week home, first 911 call

So Mack is one week old, and I think we're all doing well. Cal so far has made the adjustment as smoothly as one could expect (in that he acts like an insane person, but the insanity is typical three year-old stuff and indistinguishable from the insanity manifested before the baby was born) and Joe is back at work doing Those Things He Does. Speaking of which: THANK GOD for Joe's paternity leave. Oh man, if we could have a househusband full-time, that would just be solution to all life's problems, because Joe single-handedly kept this place afloat that first week. Not only was he completely available to Cal while I was hobbling around, alternately incapacitated by fatigue and my most non-adorable sutures and a variety of not-appropriate-for-discussion postpartum indignities--he did almost all the cooking and cleaning and handy-manning that one could reasonably accomplish in a week. Really, the only thing he didn't do was the biologically improbable, barring a prolactinoma in his pituitary the size of Kansas.

Ha! Medical humor! How much do you love it?


Anyway, I remarked to Joe over the weekend that we might want to get a carbon monoxide detector for the house. They were actually required in New York (or at least I assume so--one day about two years ago our super showed up at our door, shoved a carbon monoxide monitor into our hands and instructed us in his inimitable nasal Queens accent to affix it somewhere near the kitchen before stalking away, screaming something into his walkie-talkie). But there is no CO monitor in our house currently, and as I had been having some headaches ever since we started using our gas fireplace, I just wanted to make sure we had our bases covered. So anyway, we got the detector yesterday morning. After some cursory exam of the packaging (some terror-inducing clipart of kids sleeping while ODORLESS DEADLY FUMES closed in around them), I pulled out the detector, plugged it into the wall close to the fireplace, and walked away.

It started alarming about a minute after.

I pushed the reset button quickly (just to turn off that deadly piercing shriek before we all went deaf), and thought to myself that I shouldn't panic, it could just be a startup alarm, to show that the detector is working. After resetting, the alarm was silent. The little green light was on, showing that the detector was sampling. I headed into the kitchen to make some lunch.

And the alarm went off again.

I repeated the reset process, but the third time the alarm went off, I figured we needed to do something about it. First, I cut off gas flow to the fireplace. On the back of the alarm were printed instructions that if carbon monoxide was detected, we were to: 1.) Open all the windows in the house, 2.) Move outdoors, and 3.) Call 911. I did the window thing, bundled Mack up and moved him next to the open doors leading out to the courtyard of the complex, but when it came to calling 911, I balked. Call 911? Really? Wasn't there a building supervisor I could call? Or a local fire department hotline? Everyone was fine. Was it overkill to call 911?

I called the building supervisor. Voice mail. I looked online to see if I could find the the contact info for my local fire station. After finding a number that seemed plausible, I called in and explained the situation. Whoever it was that picked up the phone was very nice, very responsive, but after every sentence I said, she put me on hold, and then there was a pause of about 15 seconds before she came back to ask me the next question. Address? I told her. Please hold. Click. Doo dee doo. I put my jacket on. I poked Mack, who was still alive. I thought about hyperbaric oxygen chambers. The gas flow to the fireplace had been back on for six days by this point.

The lady at the fire department came back on and told me that she was sending someone over. "But next time, you should just call 911. That's why I kept putting you on hold. Everything you were telling me, I was relaying to the 911 dispatcher." Oh. Three minutes later, I heard sirens. I peeked out the window and I saw a firetruck--a full, huge rig--tearing down the street in front of our house. Did I do that? Were they coming here, or is there another, actual fire? Two minutes after that, there was a knock at the door. When I opened it, there were no less than ten firemen standing out in the hallway.

It kind of reminded me of a code in the hospital, actually. Probably a third of the time there's a code called (usually in the case that a patient has arrested), the code is a false alarm, and what really happened is that someone just fainted, or had a dip in their vitals, or disconnected one of their monitors while making a run for the bathroom, making everyone think that they died. In the hospital, the cavalry shows up to every code called, but once they see that it's a false alarm, most of the people leave.

After about a minute, seeing that no one was passed out or engulfed in flames, half of the firemen went back to the truck. The others went around the kitchen with their carbon monoxide detectors, examined the stove, poked at the fireplace. I felt sort of sheepish for some reason, and kept apologizing and rationalizing, even though I know that I only did what I should have done and the fire department were just responding as they are supposed to--but I just felt embarrassed, like I was making a big hysterical fuss. Anyway, I explained the whole thing--the out-of-commission-for-several-years-only-recently-reactivated gas fireplace. My headaches. The new CO detector that basically started alarming the second we plugged it in. One of the firemen was examining the detector itself, which was now making intermittent staccato shrieks. "Was it alarming like this?" he asked me. No, I told him, when I called, it was making a single, steady alarm. "This thing is acting weird," he remarked.

Anyway, in the end, the firemen blamed it on the monitor, saying that sometimes they can malfunction, and that there may have been a buildup of schmutz (my paraphrasing) on the detector mechanism causing it to false alarm. In any event, they did not detect any carbon monoxide with their own detectors, but that, to be safe, we should keep the gas flow to the fireplace off until it could be checked. In light of my headaches, which prompted the whole purchase of the CO detector in the first place, they asked about Cal and Mack, if they've been having headaches or acting different. I said that we'd only had Mack home for a week, so I wasn't really sure what "different" would be for him, but he seemed perky enough, and that Cal was feeling fine. "Good," he said, "you're probably OK, then. It's like canaries in a mine shaft. The smaller ones will feel the effects first."

Anyway, the firemen--who were all very nice, by the way--trundled out after about ten minutes, and after letting the house air out for another ten minutes (I was taking no chances), I closed all the windows again, examined Mack again for signs of carboxyhemoglobinemia (what, you don't have a carbon monoxide oximeter on your eyeballs?) and put another layer of clothes on him, because without the fireplace, the house was getting downright chilly.

I actually have a ton of work that I need to do during this maternity leave, including but not limited to 1.) studying for the Boards, 2.) working on my manuscript, and 3.) possibly getting my GA state drivers license. I gave myself a week "off" before jumping into the fray, and though that week ran out yesterday, I really, really didn't feel like doing anything.

So anyway, if nothing else, I had a great excuse for blowing the day off.


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