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Sunday, November 21, 2010

I Cheated Death with a Little Help from a Friend

Twelve years ago I went to bed one evening expecting the following day would be the first day of the rest of my life.

I was sound asleep early in the morning when my furnace broke. The worst part was that the safety to shut off the gas failed too. Oddly, only my bedroom filled with gas. The rest of the entire house, two bedrooms, a living room, dining room, kitchen and bathroom remained gas free. Talk about the universe sending a message.

As the minutes ticked by the fumes became more thick. As it turned out it's not an exaggeration to say it was like death was coming for me. How could all the fumes end up only in my room?

So here's where things took a strange turn. I was dreaming and incorporated the smell of the gas into my dream. I dreamt I had picked up some dry cleaning and opened the plastic garment bag. The dry cleaning odor escaped and blasted me in the face. I was dreaming that I wanted to get away from the dry cleaning smell when all of a sudden I realized something was wrong with my leg. It hurt and I kept scratching at it and the pain was so sharp it caused me to wake up...

What the heck? My leg itched and hurt! I awoke to the sensation of a large welt forming on my inner right thigh and realized that I hadn't just dreamt the odor, my room was full of natural gas! The air, my hair, the blankets and drapes all reeked. In my somewhat lucid (but mostly gas induced) state I became convinced that the welt on my leg was some type of allergic reaction from inhaling so much gas.

When I sat on the edge of my bed I could see the large, oval shaped welt on my thigh. I stumbled through the dark room to open the sliding glass door for ventilation then manually turned off the gas to the furnace. If I had a computer I could have gone on Google to figure out what to do next. But I wouldn't purchase my first computer for 4 more years so I went back to my bedroom, grabbed the phone and called a hospital emergency room. "Go look in the mirror and tell me what you see" the ER person said.

Whoa. My lips looked weird. I told the person the phone, "My lips are purple." "Get in here as soon as you can" the voice on the phone replied.

I didn't feel great but I didn't feel that bad either so I grabbed my keys and drove myself to the ER. In retrospect I should have asked someone else to drive me but who do you call for a ride at 4:30 AM? I showed the nurse my welt. I think because I wasn't having trouble breathing, my color had improved and I wasn't vomiting it was determined in the initial exam that I wouldn't need a blood gas test. The nurse told me I was lucky because the test is painful. So that was some good news I thought.

When the doctor was done examining me he said: "You may be one of the luckiest people to ever walk into this ER." Seriously? Hmm, was he joking? I wasn't feeling lucky at all. I hope I had my poker face on because I thought he was nuts. LUCKY? He had to be kidding.

"That welt on your leg" he explained, "It's not an allergic reaction to the gas. In fact, it's not related to the gas at all." I didn't believe him. He pressed on to help me understand. "It's a spider bite. I don't know what kind but had that spider not bitten you, and had the bite not been so painful that it woke you up, you probably wouldn't have ever woken up again." For real? Yup, he was totally serious. A spider had saved my life.

My lips turning purple was an indicator that I was suffering from "Central Cyanosis" which means my lungs were not getting enough oxygen. As a result my blood had become deoxygenated (from either breathing in the natural gas and/or possibly carbon monoxide that is often present with it). This discolored my oxygen deprived red blood cells causing them to turn blue which caused my lips to look purple.

The next few days I was pretty miserable. Breathing in the gas/carbon monoxide combined with the toxins from the spider bite made me feel nauseous, feverish, my leg hurt and I was in a lot of discomfort. After a few days the welt, which eventually covered an area about 4" by 6" wide, became super shiny. My skin looked like plastic right before it began to peel away like a sunburn. It was really crazy.

So if you see a spider in your house, please don't be too quick to kill it. Even before this happened I didn't kill spiders and to this day I still don't. I catch and release them outside. If I see them outside I let them be.

Catching and releasing them is easy to do. You can use an upside down jar or a drinking glass with a an unopened piece of mail to slip under it. I purchased a kid's, toy, bug catcher that looks like a dust buster and use it when I see anything creeping around the house. I guess along with being a marrow donor program and shelter dog advocate I'm also a spider advocate as well.

So because Thanksgiving is this week I wanted to share with  you why I am thankful for spiders. Even as I lay in bed a wretched heap for several days I could only feel grateful. I had cheated death yet again. This was my fourth close call. Twice in the past I'd suffered from sepsis with 104º and 105ª fevers and once I was in a tour vehicle that slid off a high country mountain road (in Colorado on black ice) and flew off a 30 ft cliff. I survived even though I wasn't wearing a seat belt. Maybe I'll share that story with you later this week... Surviving with just a few small cuts, bruises, hypothermia and a really bad cold was definitely another reason to be thankful.

If you enjoyed this bizzare tale of survival you'll probably also enjoy learning about the time I survived falling off a 30 foot cliff!

A Colorado Vacation Horror Story: I fell off a thirty foot cliff!


  1. You do tell the most fascinating stories... and happily, you're still around to tell them!

    Two big thumbs up for this blog post - I've always been a "spider advocate" and a rescuer of multi-legged creatures so I was quite glad to see your instructions for Catch and Release.

  2. Even though I have heard this story before it still strikes a significant nerve and the fantastic Flirty images make it hit home that much more.


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