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The Silent Killer

The Silent Killer
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As told by Allen Lucas

Being a “motor-head” for over 50 years I was never concerned with the danger from exhaust fumes. I would build engines in my garage, put them in cars, and start them up. I loved the smell of new motors heating the paint on the engine, the smell of new exhaust pipes as they heated up, the sound of the engine at a fast idle, then adjust the timing, setting the idle, getting the engine to run just right, cracking the throttle, checking the oil pressure, watching the temperature, making sure there’s no leaks, and checking to make sure the generator/alternator is charging. Love that engine sound – it is so good! Live for the smell!

I don’t know how many engines I built of the past 50+ years – lots. I have been retired now for a couple of years and I change my own oil on my street rod. Like other street rodders I have a special place in my garage for my rod. My rod is in a lower level tuck under garage attached to our home. 

This particular season I was a little late in changing the oil in my street rod. The day was a chilly nine degrees outside and we had just received lots of snow in our area. My wife was gone for the day, and I had some extra time so, I decided to change the oil in my rod. I went into the lower garage and did just that.

Earlier in the month, preparing for winter, I had covered the lower garage door to insulate the garage. “No, I wouldn’t let the car run that long” I thought to myself as I fired up the engine.  I checked the oil pressure - which was ok- however, the alternator was not putting out enough amps. I gunned it a couple of times, but it didn’t do much on the gauge – darn – I shut the car off, opened the hood, checked the fan belt which was a little loose. I tightened that, looked under the engine to see if there were any oil leaks, none. Stood up, and wow, I felt a bit dizzy.  “Must have been because I got up fast”, I thought. I decided to work on an engine I was going to rebuild. While removing three oil line plugs in back of block I felt a bit dizzier. Hm-m-m, I decided to go upstairs and rest.  My pulse was really pounding, and my face was flushed.  I took an aspirin and sat down.  Not so dizzy now. We have a blood pressure/pulse machine so I took my vitals. They were high.  Over a period of several minutes I was getting a bit dizzier and hands got shaky.  I decided to call my wife to let her know I wasn’t feeling well and asked her when she would be home.  She said in her commanding voice “call 911!” then added, “please do that for me”. Reluctantly I agreed, and called 911.

Police showed up, I told them my symptoms and what I had been doing with the street rod.  When the paramedics came I repeated my story and they told everyone to leave the house and get in their truck.  The police called the fire department to come and check for Carbon Monoxide levels.  Let me tell you, the neighbors got an eyeful.  Two squad cars, an ambulance, and a fire truck, people everywhere. No one was allowed into the house, not even my daughter who had arrived and wanted to use the rest room. “No way”, the levels in the house were too dangerous.  The fireman had taken a reading at the front door and registered 60 (whatever that means), as they went to the lower level it was 260, and as they approached the lower door into the garage it was 272.  They tell me that was really bad.

They put me on oxygen and transported me to the only hospital in Minnesota that had a decompression chamber. On the way to the hospital I was told I was darn lucky that I called 911 or I would have been just another statistic of a guy who wouldn’t call 911. I was also told if I had stayed any longer in the garage I would have passed out, and there is no coming back from that.  That in less than an hour I would have been dead.

At the hospital ER took very good care of me.  I was put on 100% oxygen, took my blood to check the levels of carbon monoxide in my system to see if I would have to go into the chamber. A couple of hours later the staff asked me questions about the time spent in the garage, and lifting activity.  My levels were now in an ok range and I was released but with caution. I did not have to go into the chamber.

While I was at the hospital the fire department cleaned out the air in our home by opening doors, windows, and using fans – and it was a cold 9 degrees outside.  We were told if they could not get the air cleaned we could not sleep there that night. 

We were lucky. By the time we returned home our house had been cleaned of the carbon monoxide and we could stay.  There was no one around, doors were locked, and everything looked normal. I checked the lower garage.  The fireman had removed the garage door covering and had opened it to clear out the air.  Everything was fine. 

My wife said to me “don’t you ever do that to me again! Do you know how scared I was that I was going to lose you?”   Well, I was scared too.  You can bet your bottom dollar I won’t do that again.  I am one bull-headed Pollock who learned his lesson!!”

A big thank you to all our police officers, paramedics, and fireman who every day serve us and who do their jobs well. 

PS – Hey guys and gals – don’t start your car in an enclosed garage. Not even for a few minutes. Carbon Monoxide is bad!  It gets into your blood and blocks the oxygen from getting into your heart, lungs and brain. No oxygen – no life!