Slow Poison

Last week, I found out that I was being slowly poisoned. Not by a disappointed lover, but by my apartment. My former apartment here in Buenos Aires uses a natural gas instant-on water heater. The apartment is heated by underfloor radiant hot water heating, plus of course hot water in the faucets. I had been staying in the apartment for about 14 weeks, and due to the cold weather, I had the heater on all the time. And as it turns out, there was a significant leak in the venting system for the hot water heater. Which meant that carbon monoxide was present in the apartment all the time. It must’ve been a fairly low level, because I’m still alive. But, as I understand it, the effects of carbon monoxide poisoning are cumulative, and I did not realize until I got out of the apartment what had been happening to me. I had been suffering from headaches, not often, but the frequency had been increasing, and perhaps the most worrisome, looking back, was that I been starting to take naps up to 3 to 4 times a day. I was always feeling tired, and I suspect that my ability to concentrate had been greatly affected.

The way I found out was that there seemed to be a problem with the water heater providing hot water. When the repair guy came, I had asked him to check the venting system anyway, just in case. A close friend of mine and I had both been thinking about carbon monoxide due to my not infrequent headaches. And when the repair person removed the grill I could see by the look in his eye that even he was taken aback. There was approximately a 30 cm gap between the water heater and the exhaust ducting system. Whoever had done the installation had attempted to accomplish it by taking normal kitchen aluminum foil, wrapping it into a tube shape (without any tape or crimping) to bridge the 30 cm gap. And of course, it had unfurled, so there was basically no ducting.

My agent here who had helped me with the housing, after he talked to the repairman, arranged within about 20 minutes for me to move into a different apartment some two blocks away. Very on top of it. Not to mention he made sure I got a refund from the owners for the time I didn't stay there.

Now I have to say, at this point yes, I was worried about the carbon monoxide, but I still wasn’t thinking clearly. The main reason that I moved was, although the repair guy worked on the water heater for about two hours, it still wasn’t providing hot water.

So, the next day, about noon, I realized that I wasn’t sleepy, I seemed to have energy, and my head did not seem to be wrapped in cotton wool. I simply didn’t get it until I was out of the environment. The thing was, between my studying and reading, I spent about 80% of my day inside the apartment. Day after day, for almost 14 weeks. But it wasn’t until my head cleared that I really understood what must have been happening.

Anyway, a salutary lesson. And as a friend said, maybe it’s time to carry a carbon monoxide detector with me when I travel. All seems to be well now, but I count myself lucky that it the situation hadn’t been much worse.

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