I recently reached out to a childhood friend whom I hadn’t spoken to in a while. After the initial greetings and well wishes, Paul shared a story that shook me to the bone. His story is a lesson for all of us.
Following is a very brief overview of his ordeal:
On Monday morning, Aug. 14, Paul was awakened around 4:30 a.m. because his daughter was sick to her stomach. His wife also said that she wasn’t feeling very well and they assumed they had eaten something bad the night before.
After getting his family tucked back in bed, Paul headed into work.
Around mid-day he called home only to go into voicemail. He repeated the process to his wife’s cell phone – voicemail again. While this wasn’t unusual for his busy household, he did find it strange that no one answered any phones. He quickly got pulled into a work project and dismissed the unanswered calls.
After a long workday he arrived home around 7 p.m.
Upon opening the front door, he found his 12 year old daughter lying on the floor in the vestibule. She was unconscious. He immediately dropped to his knees and began hollering for his wife. There was no answer.
He quickly flew up the stairs into his son’s room. The 9-year-old was curled up in a fetal position unconscious on his bed. A thousand thoughts went through his mind in a split second.
He screamed for his wife. No response.
Fumbling with his phone his fingers erratically dialed 911.
“What’s your emergency?”
“My family is all unconscious and I can’t wake them up! Please send help!!”
With no signs of a break-in or violence, he assumed that something in the house was the culprit.
He scooped up his son, ran him downstairs and out the front door, laying him on the front porch. He repeated the process with his daughter.
By this point Paul had begun to experience a headache and he was feeling sick and weak.
He scanned the area and fate had a neighbor out for an evening walk. He screamed to him for help.
The two of them ran up the stairs and picked up his wife. He quickly realized that the dead weight of an adult is far different from that of a child. The two of them managed to get her down the stairs and into the fresh air.
While they were laying her down, first responders were arriving at the scene and trying to assess the situation.
“My 2 step-sons are still in the basement” he exclaimed. The responders donned their protective gear and entered the home.
His two step-sons were also unconscious.
By now the scale and scope of the emergency response indicated the gravity of the situation. A scene commander could be heard directing ambulances and fire trucks from five or six towns as well as police vehicles and three helicopters.
Paul’s block looked like a scene from a disaster movie.
In the end, Paul, his entire family, two of his neighbors and three responding police officers were taken to the hospital. The condition of the older two boys was so fragile they were flown by medical helicopter to Jacobi Medical Center in New York City for treatment with hyperbaric oxygen therapy to rid their blood of carbon monoxide.
By luck or divine intervention, his entire family recovered.
They would later discover that it was carbon monoxide poisoning caused by a faulty hot water heater exhaust pipe. Officials recorded a level of 1,600 parts per million of carbon monoxide on the second story of the home; the level is supposed to be zero with a maximum of 35 ppm for one hour of exposure. High concentrations of carbon monoxide kill in less than five minutes. Once again, the level in their home was 1,600 ppm!
By all accounts, Paul’s family should have been dead.
At the end of our conversation Paul shared a final thought with me…
Not overly religious and only attending church on holidays, Paul had a strange urge to attend mass the day before. While listening to the homily, something struck a chord deep in him. ‘Speak Lord. Your servant is listening.’ He continued to think about the words throughout the next day; the day of the tragedy/miracle.
Paul told me he hasn’t missed weekly mass since the event and truly believes it was divine
intervention that allowed his family to survive…as well as fantastic first responders.
This holiday season make sure you check your carbon monoxide detectors. They need to be clean of debris, active and have fresh batteries.
And if you have the opportunity, thank a first responder for everything they do.