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Carbon Monoxide Poisoning And Traumatic Brain Injuries

***I want to share my experiences with Carbon Monoxide Poisoning and a TBI for anyone else who has survived these horrible experiences.  I have read quite a bit about both, including from the survivors' perspectives, and from what I see, most feel so alone in their suffering.  I completely understand this, as I feel the same way.  I am hoping writing about it will help anyone who has experienced either or both to know they aren't alone.***

February 27, 2015 started out like about any other Friday for me.  I was very tired, having barely gotten any sleep the night before, which happens quite often since I have C-PTSD.  Otherwise the day seemed unremarkable at first.  It was a cold winter day, so my husband started a fire in the fireplace that morning before he left for work.  I maintained it after he left.

As the day went on, I felt rather loopy, but I chalked it up to having so little sleep the previous night.  My cousin called me that afternoon, and later said I sounded somewhat distant.  He assumed it was due to my lack of sleep which I mentioned during our conversation.

I felt worse and worse as the day progressed, but thought nothing of it.  My head hurt, I had absolutely no ability to concentrate and my vision was blurry, yet the thought that something could be wrong never crossed my mind. I also don't remember much of the day, but my husband discovered that apparently I did some very odd things during the day, such as throwing away his bottle of cologne.  

Between five thirty and six that evening, I took my daily shower.  Sort of.  I obviously didn't do a good job, because hours later I realized I didn't wash the conditioner out of my hair.  When I got out of the shower, I got something to drink and looked at the clock- it was just past six.  I then walked into the living room and realized the fireplace was starting to smoke up the house just a little.  If you have a fireplace, you know what I mean- there is a little smoke in the room, so you adjust the wood on the grate, and open a window for a few moments and the smoke goes away.  At least that is what normally happens.  That did not happen in my case.  

This time, as I went to adjust the wood in the fireplace, I must have passed out.  I don't remember that at all though.  I only remember going to the fireplace, kneeling in front of it to adjust the wood, then suddenly the house was full of smoke.  My husband and I pieced together what happened from my fragmented memories, what little he knew, and the evidence in our home.  Apparently, when I went to adjust the fireplace at a little past six, I passed out, hitting my head on the wood holder on the way down.  There was a pool of blood beside it, and I had about a three inch gash in my scalp that I did not even notice until I was told about it later that evening, in spite of the fact my shirt was soaked in blood.  When I came to, I was absolutely parched.  I went to the kitchen for something to drink and to escape the smoke since I was having trouble breathing. I left a trail of blood that I didn't notice.  I looked at the clock.  It was about six-thirty, but I didn't realize I lost over 20 minutes.  I finished my drink.   I then called my husband at work, and he didn't recognize my voice.  He said I sounded very odd and wasn't making much sense.  I was griping about  all the smoke in the house, saying how frustrated I was because the house was all smokey and I couldn't fix it.  I sat down on the love seat as we talked, and said something about I wonder why there is so much blood all over the floor.  He put me on hold and called 911 at this point, even though I said not to, that I didn't want to deal with expensive hospital bills.  I didn't realize at the time he did that until two paramedics came into my home.  Apparently there was also a fire truck, and a couple of firemen took care of the fireplace.  To this day, I don't remember them at all, only the paramedics.  I do remember some of the ambulance ride and later remembered what happened at the hospital fairly well.

A couple of days later, my husband looked at the fireplace, and the flue was somewhat closed.  There was a bunch of debris behind it, forcing it to close a bit. It wasn't closed enough to cause an obvious problem at first like a lot of smoke in the house.  It apparently was closed just enough to force carbon monoxide into the house, however.  Thank God my husband was at work that day and my furbabies weren't affected- that to me is a miracle!  

This entire experience has been very harrowing for me in so many ways.

For one, I was less than thrilled with how the hospital staff treated me.  They did not seem very concerned that I had Carbon Monoxide Poisoning.  They examined and treated my head wound first, which makes sense, but even so, it took I think it was about two hours to test my blood gases and get me on the oxygen I desperately needed.  By then they told me that my blood gases were at 16%, so it seems safe to assume at its peak, my blood gases were quite a bit higher, which is extremely dangerous.  (From what I've read, 30% is fatal.  Also, without oxygen therapy, carbon monoxide leaves your system in 2-4 hours.  With oxygen, in 1-2 hours.)  They said that 16% was "not so bad".  It seemed very bad to me!  Also, I had to practically beg the doctor who put the staples in the wound in my scalp for more medicine in my scalp to numb it.  He couldn't seem to understand why I wanted more medicine and was upset.  Eleven staples.  In my scalp.  Lots of nerves in the scalp, and I don't like pain.  All good reasons to numb my scalp to me!  He also couldn't grasp why it was upsetting to me.  Again, eleven staples in my scalp.  I don't do this every day, never had staples before, so yea, I was upset.  A nurse and a doctor both scolded me about getting my heart rate down too- as if I could control that.  No one seemed overly concerned that carbon monoxide can elevate your heart rate to the point of heart attack.  They also said I didn't have a concussion.  Considering I was very dizzy & my vision was blurry, you'd think they would've done further testing or warned me that I could have a concussion but it didn't show up, or it might show up later.  

The worst part of the whole hospital experience though is no one told me what to expect with my symptoms.  They sent me home with a list of a few symptoms (I forget exactly how many) and said if these happen, see a doctor.  No one said the symptoms could be serious or more could develop in the days, weeks or even months after I went home.  (In fact, they even sent me home with a note saying I could return to work in two days.  Thank God I don't have a job outside of the home, as there is no way I would have been able to go to work two days after it happened!)  I eventually had many more symptoms than the ones on the list, most of which developed in the weeks after my trip to the hospital.  I did some research online, since I really did not feel up to searching for a new doctor or even leaving home to see a doctor.  I then learned that not only did I have Carbon Monoxide Poisoning but a concussion as well.  Thankfully I have learned from what I read online and in talking to some people how to treat both problems.  

This awful experience has been very isolating as well.  If you read my work, you know I have narcissistic parents as does my husband.  Even in the poisonous haze of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning, while wearing the oxygen mask, I told my husband if he told any of these people about what happened to me, I would kill him.  Not in the hospital, because they would fix him, but later, away from the hospital.  While I was not serious about actually murdering him, he knew there would have been hell to pay if he told any of our parents, because narcissists are the last people I wanted to deal with at that moment.  My in-laws wouldn't have been much of a problem, because I refuse to speak to them.  They would have no doubt showed my husband fake concern, which he would have told me about, and which would have annoyed me.  My parents though?  I'm sure I know how they would have responded.  My mother would have told me she couldn't help me in any way because her back pain was too bad, and her latest struggles with that, ignoring anything further I had to say about my illness.  My father would have wanted my reassurance that I was alright, then gone on to say, "Can you imagine what would've happened if you'd died?!"  A terrible scenario would have followed which would have thoroughly depressed me.

I also did not tell my family.  I have come to realize that most of my relatives seem to think my only purpose in life is to take care of my father.  Some have been very critical and invalidating about other things such as my relationship with my parents and my work.  Keeping all that in mind, I figured it best not to tell them about this experience.  I cannot emotionally handle coming that close to death being ignored.

Then there are the symptoms.  Wow!  I had no idea how hard they would be to go through or how varied they would be!  The poisoning made some symptoms of C-PTSD I already had worse, like mood swings and short term memory problems.  Knowing these things may be permanent is utterly depressing, but I try to keep a positive attitude anyway.  

Here are some of my symptoms.  In all fairness,  I'm not positive which come from the Carbon Monoxide Poisoning & which come from the concussion.  Both of those can cause very similar symptoms:

  • Headaches.  Much better now, but they still happen often.  Sometimes ibuprofen helps, sometimes nothing helps.
  • Fatigue.  It doesn't take much to tire me out. Even going out to lunch can do it.
  • Malaise.  Some days I feel like I'm coming down with the flu.  It was horrible at first, and didn't let up for weeks.  Now it seems to have plateaued off to a much better, more tolerable place.
  • Eyesight is damaged.  I need much stronger glasses than I did before this happened.  Sometimes when I get stressed or upset, my vision goes blurry for a little while.
  • When I write, now sometimes I invert letters.  The becomes teh, love can be lvoe, with is often wtih.  Thank God for spell check...it's my new best friend.
  • Irritability.  Try as I might, there are times I snap at people and have to apologize quickly.  I get irritated very quickly now.
  • Anger.  I get angry easily where I didn't used to.  If someone deliberately mistreats me, I no longer have patience for it or give them the benefit of the doubt.  I will not hesitate to call them out on their bad behavior.
  • Mood swings.  As if the C-PTSD didn't make them happen often enough, now my life is an emotional roller coaster.
  • Super sensitive.  About anything can make me cry.  Shortly after I got sick, I was playing a game on my tablet.  I got stuck on one level.  I was frustrated and asked God to help me in a complaining half prayer type of moment.  I played again, and passed the level with a very high score.  I immediately started crying and thanking God for loving me so much as to care about this stupid little game.  Pretty strange, huh?
  • I have more empathy for people than I did, unless their pain was caused by them making a dumb decision they made in spite of knowing better.  Then I have no patience for them.  In fact, I have much less patience for all kinds of things now.
  • Short term memory.  It's pretty much gone. I have learned to love the Google Keep app, Google's calendar and post it notes.  They help me remember things because I really can't remember recent things well at all.  My long term memory wasn't affected nearly so badly.
  • Concentration.  Don't expect me to be able to do something for long.  It won't happen.  I simply don't have the intense focus I once had.  And, if I'm interrupted, my train of thought is completely destroyed.  
  • Comprehension.  Sometimes I have trouble figuring out even simple things.  My husband has gotten used to me constantly saying, "What do you mean exactly?" since I got sick.
  • Vertigo.  Thankfully, it's not nearly as bad as many people have it, but it can still be rough sometimes.  Dizziness strikes me out of the blue, but especially when I stand up, look up or down, or look at stairs when I'm about to go down them.  It is happening less than it did at first, but still happens quite often.
  • Light and noise sensitivity.  I've always preferred dark and quiet, but now I absolutely need them or else I get a bad headache.
  • Chemical smells bother me.  Tile cleaner, bleach and other household cleaners give me a headache now when they never did before.
  • My sense of touch seems more sensitive.  I don't wear shoes in my house.  If the floors aren't perfectly clean, it irritates my bare feet.
  • Occasionally my heart races some.  The night I got sick, it went up to 168 beats per minute when normally it's around 90-100.  Thankfully now it doesn't go above 120 when this happens, and it doesn't last long, but it's still unsettling.
  • My appetite has changed.  Most days, I can go without eating much at all, but sometimes I get really hungry.
  • Even what I like to eat has changed.  I have a new fondness for granola bars whereas I never really ate them often before.  I also need croutons on my salad now. Never used to care about them one way or another, but now I won't eat a salad without croutons. 
  • Carbon monoxide sensitivity overload.  God help me if I'm near a running vehicle.  I don't even have to smell the exhaust fumes for it to make me feel ill for anywhere from a day to a week.  When that happens, I feel almost exactly as I did in the hospital.
  • I can't handle stress. Once you've had Carbon Monoxide Poisoning, your body is changed.  It gives you an extreme sensitivity to carbon monoxide.  That is why the sensitivity to exhaust fumes, for example.  When you're stressed, your body produces carbon monoxide naturally.  A healthy person has no problems with this process, but one who has been poisoned previously, being very sensitive to carbon monoxide, physically can't handle the additional carbon monoxide in their body.  It makes you feel overloaded when you get stressed, even in cases of mild stress.  
  • In spite of being an introvert to the extreme, now I get lonely easily.  I've gotten clingy with my husband.  I don't like being left alone for long periods of time as much as I used to.  In fact, for the first time in my life, sometimes now I absolutely hate being alone.  I really believe I've developed Dependent Personality Disorder
  • Sirens.  I hate them now, as I feel like I'm about to have a flashback to my horrible experiences the night I got Carbon Monoxide Poisoning.  They make me cry sometimes or at the very least create a high level of anxiety in me.

Some good came out of it though.  I truly appreciate little things so much more now.  Warm running water in the shower and my very comfortable bed, for example.  Kisses from the furbabies are another thing I love more than ever.  Little things like that can bring me joy like never before.  I also no longer have any tolerance for being mistreated by anyone.  Where I once stayed quiet or defended myself rather meekly, I now am much more willing to call people out on their bad behavior or make them explain themselves.  I also have a better grip on anxiety now.  Not perfect, but better.  Coming so close to death has helped me not to sweat the small stuff so much.  Definitely another big plus.  I am extremely grateful for such changes, although I wish they would have come about in an easier way!

The changes in me though, good and bad, make me feel very isolated.  I don't know one other person who has experienced carbon monoxide poisoning.  I've also found most people don't want to hear me talk about my experiences.  Coming so close to dying really shook me up, but admitting that to some people has elicited such responses as, "But you didn't die!", changing the subject quickly or making jokes about my symptoms.  This has left me feeling very alone. 

One thing that helped me to feel less alone was finding out that one of my favorite authors, Edgar Allan Poe, not only experienced Carbon Monoxide Poisoning, but wrote about his symptoms.  The compilation list I found of his symptoms compared so much to mine, I finally felt not so alone.  It also helped me not to feel so crazy!  The symptoms can be so bizarre, they can make you feel insane sometimes.  It was reassuring to know what was happening to me.   I also found a website where many survivors discuss their symptoms that helped me very much as well.  

While going through all of this, I felt as if God wanted me to share some of my experiences.  He constantly encourages me to be transparent, which is very hard for me, as I'm an extremely private person.  I think it is because people are thirsty for people who are real.  There is so much fake in the world, and people truly appreciate real.  I have vowed to be very real in my writing, even admitting the bad or embarrassing things, so here you are- my real experiences with Carbon Monoxide Poisoning.  I pray it helps you in some way.  I think it is helping me some as well, to write out my experiences in detail like this.  Writing things out can be very validating, which is why I always encourage people to write out difficult experiences.  

If you too have experienced this horrible thing, I just want you to know that you aren't alone. So many others go through it every year.  According to the EPA website, around 500 deaths occur and 15,000 trips to the emergency room annually because of accidental Carbon Monoxide Poisoning.  In spite of this, not many people know a lot about Carbon Monoxide Poisoning, even those in the medical community.  I would like to urge you to talk about your experiences.  Write about them in a blog or on a website.  Other survivors can benefit from your story.  Look how much I have benefited from reading about Poe's experiences.  Your story may bless someone else as his story did me.  And hopefully, by sharing your story, you will find comfort from others when you learn you truly aren't as alone as you feel. 

If you wish to talk to me about your experience, you can reach me at CynthiaBaileyRug@aol.com


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