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Kaiser Wilhelm’s Revenge

18 March 2014

So, I’ll paint a picture for you of this last Sunday. We were having out neighbors over for dinner, because we live in Texas, and that’s the sort of thing we do here. They were scheduled to arrive at 7:30; dinner was to be served at 8:00.

We were also having a bit of a drainage issue in our main bathroom, which will become the focal point of this story.

Anyway, I started the sauce at about 11 a.m. I’m Irish-German, so all of my family recipes are inexplicably Italian. My plan was to spend the rest of the day cleaning the house.

By about 2:30, I was ready to tackle the drainage in the main bathroom. First step: regular old drain cleaner (the gel type). I waited the requisite 15 minutes, then flushed the drain with hot water. It seemed to drain OK. About a half hour later, I ran the water again; still not draining as fast as I’d like, but water was flowing.

I proceeded to step 2: an industrial-strength drain cleaner (the sulfuric acid type), on the assumption that the first cleaner had cleared out already.

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Oops.

It hadn’t. And I’d just inadvertently recreated the same basic formula that the Germans used on the British in World War I. Chlorine + Acid = chlorine gas. And I got a nice dose of it while I closed off the area, started all the fans running, and opened the house to air it out.

I was very lucky, in that I was the only one significantly exposed. My wife and dogs didn’t suffer any ill effects. My exposure could have been a lot worse — it started out as a burning feeling in my nose and throat and some rather upset lungs.

But the show must go on, and we had people coming over for dinner in three hours. I ran to the drug store, got some epinephrine, and powered through.

Until our guests left at 10:45 or so and I weakly asked my wife to take me to the emergency room.

Long story short — after oxygen, chest x-rays, a breathing treatment, steroids, and yo-yo-ing blood-oxygen numbers, the ER doc confirmed that I had a moderate case of chlorine gas toxicity. Moderate is better than severe — while moderate means chemical burns on my lungs and throat, severe would mean pulmonary embolism and probably death.

So, I’m on inhalants and steroids for the next week and a half or so until the crispy insides of my lungs start to heal up. I’m getting winded walking across the room right now, but I’ll heal.

Sometimes, I use this blog to talk about creative things, or cool stuff that I’ve seen, or even stupid stuff I just want to opine about.

Other times, I make mistakes so you don’t have to. This is one of those times — let my life serve as a cautionary tale to others.

I’m going to go cough a bunch now.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. 18 March 2014 0847

    Egads! Glad it was only moderate, but moderate is a step beyond minor and just below severe. My mom’s mom once passed out when she combined chemicals while cleaning. I don’t think it damaged her lungs, though.

    It’s a good cautionary lesson, though…you’d think, after a good passage of time, that there would be no need to fear the mix. But then…FOOM!!!

    • 18 March 2014 1512

      Yeah, I come down on the side of “stupid mistake, and that’s what you get for playing with the rules of chemistry.”

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