Beware of carbon monoxide poisoning

Wednesday night, two family members near Duluth died and two were hospitalized due to carbon monoxide poisoning. Unfortunately, it's not that uncommon of an occurrence in the colder months. It's an occurrence that Detroit Lakes resident Kathy Lar...

Wednesday night, two family members near Duluth died and two were hospitalized due to carbon monoxide poisoning.

Unfortunately, it’s not that uncommon of an occurrence in the colder months. It’s an occurrence that Detroit Lakes resident Kathy Larson knows a little too well.

In September of 2010, she and her husband, Dave, got their furnace serviced for the winter, being diligent about it as they always were.

Larson said she remembers it was a Friday that the maintenance men came and put in a new part, and her husband called her to let her know they were at the house before he took off for a trip to the Twin Cities.

“A lot of people think this was probably due to a lack of preparation on our part, but in fact it was indeed due to total preparation on our part,” she said with a laugh.


The one thing she would do differently now, though, is having a carbon monoxide detector - which was another weird fluke that fall.

Also a must-have at their home in the winter, Larson said she happened to unplug the detector when they had people staying with them because they needed the electrical outlet space.

Once unplugged, the detector was misplaced and she hadn’t purchased a new one yet. That Friday evening, she said she had a gut feeling that she should run to the store and purchase one since it was getting cold out and the furnace might be kicking on any day now.

She ignored her intuition.

“It’s so bizarre how these things work,” she said. “If I would have gone and gotten a detector like my gut had told me to, none of this would have happened.

“Now,” she added with a laugh, “we have them all over our house.”

So that Saturday morning, Larson woke up with a headache and feeling sick to her stomach. She had musical practice but called her assistant director, Mark Everson, to take her place.

“It had been cold the night before and the heat kicked in.”


But Saturday during the day, given that it was September and the temps vary so much, Larson opened up all the windows in the house and spent time outdoors because it was so nice out. And guess what? Her symptoms went away and she felt fine.

According to the Mayo Clinic, carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless and tasteless gas. Too much carbon monoxide in the air you breathe diminishes your ability to absorb oxygen.

Although the signs of carbon monoxide poisoning can be subtle at first, the condition is a life-threatening medical emergency. Symptoms can include dull headache, weakness, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, shortness of breath, confusion, blurred vision and loss of consciousness.

Larson said she thought that when her symptoms cleared up later that day, she must have just been overtired to have woken up sick in the first place.

That evening it was getting cold again so she shut all the windows in her house, unknowingly trapping all the carbon monoxide inside again.

“This is when I started to die,” she said. “And when I say started to die, I mean literally started to die. I ended up being 20 minutes from death’s door - that’s what I was told in the emergency room.”

Sunday morning, Larson was supposed to be directing church choir, which she had just started doing.

“If I hadn’t taken that job, I don’t think I’d be here right now because I would not have gotten up that morning.”


Her alarm went off to get up for choir that morning but she couldn’t make her body get up.

“It was like being in a severe state of intoxication or severely, severely drugged.”

She said she kept trying to come out of her unconscious state of mind and she was feeling very sick. When she got to her feet, she instantly face-planted into the carpet.

She woke up again and starting throwing up.

She said that although she’s never been on a super tripped-out high, she imagines that’s what she felt like because she couldn’t comprehend what was going on and just kept wondering why her legs didn’t work.

“I remember throwing my body through the hallway to the kitchen because I couldn’t walk.”

She was thirsty and wanted juice, but when she poured it, it went all over the countertop instead of in the glass.

She fell to the floor again after getting a phone call off to Karen Bimberg, a member of the church choir. Her friend had to fill her in later on the phone call though because Larson didn’t remember it.


She didn’t make any sense on the call either.

But it was weird enough to alarm Bimberg, who sent her husband, Cliff, and Mark Everson over to Larson’s house. Bimberg also called an ambulance, which got there about the same time as the men did.

“Cliff is actually the one who figured out it was carbon monoxide poisoning, because he took one look at our puppy, Hudson, and he wasn’t moving. He called Hudson and Hudson couldn’t walk.”

He picked the dog up and took him outside while the paramedics worked on Larson.

She said the paramedics wondered if she had overdosed on drugs or something, but Everson stepped in and said knowing Larson, there was no way that was the case.

With Hudson being outside and out of the carbon monoxide poisoning, he got better and started to walk around. That’s when Cliff Bimberg knew it was carbon monoxide and told Everson to tell the hospital that it was the poisoning.

“She told me I was 20 minutes from death’s door. She told me thank God for your friends,” Larson said of the emergency room doctor.

Larson was sent by helicopter to a Twin Cities hospital where she was treated for the poisoning.


Though it’s been four years, Larson said it’s her family that thinks about the incident more than she does. It left a lasting impression on Larson, but it’s not something she sits and ponders either.

“You certainly don’t sweat the small stuff,” she said of having a near-death experience. “It really does give you a different perspective when you come that close.

“I don’t take my days for granted, that’s for sure. I’m very grateful for every day I’m given. I appreciate every moment and every breath I take.”

Since the incident, Larson said she and her husband make sure they have plenty of carbon monoxide detectors in the house and that they are replaced every year. Every chance she gets, she also talks to people about the importance of detectors in their houses.

“It’s such a simple thing to have a detector. They’re not that expensive.”

Definitely cheaper than a trip to the hospital - or worse.

Follow Pippi Mayfield on Twitter at @PippiMayfield .

What To Read Next
Get Local