April 07, 2020

Disaster Area> Carbon Monoxide; Hyperbaric chambers treat exposure to fumes

BANGOR — Fire officials expressed relief Tuesday that the city seems to have had few problems from carbon monoxide with people who have used alternate heat sources while their power has been out.

But St. Joseph Hospital is continuing to use its hyperbaric chambers to treat people from other communities who used equipment without proper ventilation and experienced carbon monoxide poisoning.

Tuesday morning, the hospital used its chambers to treat two people from Hudson who had been using a kerosene heater and cooking with propane, said hospital spokeswoman Kathy Jeffrey.

Others treated with the chambers’ pressurized oxygen in the past few days included two Belfast people who had been using a propane heater inside, and possibly other equipment for cooking; and a Waterville person from a home where a generator was operated inside.

St. Joseph has had the chambers only since last May, explained Kevin Kelley, technical director of the Problem Wound and Hyperbaric Medicine Center. The only other chamber in Maine is an older model at a Sanford hospital.

The chambers at St. Joseph have saved both lives and limbs in the nine months they have been operating, Kelley said, and performed life-saving duties in the past week. Several local physicians have had special training in the use of hyperbaric treatment, he added.

The average treatment in a hyperbaric chamber — a clear tube 8 feet long and 32 inches in diameter — lasts 1 1/2 hours and costs $800, a fee which Medicare, Medicaid and private insurances will cover. A treatment can not only save lives, arms and legs, Kelley said, but can reduce time in the hospital and thus costs.

Patients enter the chamber on a stretcher, and may recline on their backs, sides or abdomens while being treated. They may converse with the technician on duty at all times, and even watch TV.

Jeffrey said that she could not release the names of any of the people treated at St. Joseph because of confidentiality.

But news reports have listed one person treated there as 66-year-old Gladys McCluskey, whose husband, Martin, died in Waterville on Saturday. In addition to McCluskey’s death this weekend, carbon monoxide claimed the life of 73-year-old Harold J. Eddy of Newport.

Treated at St. Joseph’s emergency room on Sunday, then released, was a family of five from Etna, where they had been using camp lanterns and a propane heater inside.

“They had mildly elevated carbon monoxide levels,” Jeffrey said, but did not have to be treated in the hyperbaric chamber.

There were no calls from Bangor people over the weekend about carbon monoxide, said Capt. Frank Rollins of the Bangor Fire Department. The total number for the one-week period wasn’t immediately available, he said.

On Monday, fire personnel did 25-30 checks of mobile homes in Cedar Falls Park on Finson Road, which continued to be without power.

Capt. Richie Palmer said that the homes were checked for the presence of smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors, and the type of alternate heat source in use.

The dwellings were also checked with carbon monoxide detectors — the department has one each on its four pumper trucks, and a fifth that can be used separately.

“They were all negative — zero readings,” Palmer said.

He added that the department would test the homes of people who were using alternate heat sources if needed. The non-emergency telephone number is 942-6335.

The thing Palmer said he wanted to emphasize to people using kerosene or propane heaters was ventilation.

“Even though it’s the middle of winter and you don’t want to have a window open,” he said, “it’s the safe thing to do. And if you have a generator inside, get it outside,” Palmer stressed.

As for using charcoal briquets to provide heat, don’t, he advised. “That’s bad.”

Tom Holmes, a vice president for Marcus Healthcare, the Houston company which furnished the hyperbaric chambers at St. Joseph Hospital, explained why contact with carbon monoxide is so deadly.

“Blood cells have an affinity for carbon monoxide that is 200 times greater than with oxygen,” he said in Bangor Tuesday.

Have feedback? Want to know more? Send us ideas for follow-up stories.

comments for this post are closed

You may also like