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A possible explanation for some mysterious deaths

One winter night about 8 years ago, a childhood friend of my wife who was living in Jimina in Thimphu found herself barely conscious when she woke up by chance. She tried to stretch out her body to bring herself to full consciousness but her body would not respond to her will. Finally she somehow managed to stretch over to her husband and her baby who were sleeping next to her but when she tried to pull them one after another, they were dead like logs. She tried to call them but they would not respond to her. So she dragged herself to the door and knocked it open. As soon as she got out of the door, she began to regain her consciousness and began to feel stronger. She eventually managed to get some neighbors to help her take her unconscious husband and her baby to the hospital. Sadly as they rushed to the hospital, the baby died on the way and could not be saved. However, the doctor could save her husband. For her, this was the most traumatic experience of her life. For her family and everyone in her neighborhood, the death of her baby and the cause for their unconsciousness became a big mystery. Nobody could figure out what could have caused it.

Later while talking about this incident with my brother-in-law, I learned that they were actually living in a closed room with very poor ventilation. Moreover on that fateful night, they had made fire in a tin jar (rudimentary bukhari) and left it to warm up the room before going to sleep since it was very cold. The seed of tragedy was sown when they decided to make the fire inside the already poorly ventilated room and leave it unattended while going to bed. What they didn’t realize was that the fire would use up the oxygen in the room and produce carbon dioxide which would further pollute the room’s atmosphere. Moreover, the low-heat burning of anything would produce carbon monoxide which is more poisonous than carbon dioxide. So although no investigation was officially done, we figured out that perhaps they suffered from hypoxia (lack of oxygen) and carbon dioxide/carbon monoxide poisoning. It was a matter of sheer luck that the mother of the deceased baby could wake up at the right time to save herself and her husband. Otherwise, all of them would have died together. Likewise, another family also nearly met similar fate in Thimphu sometime ago. The conditions leading up to the incident were similar but fortunately, one of the family-members woke up on right time to save the entire family. So what can we learn from these incidents? The following five points are worth noting:

1. Do not seal off the bed-room completely. At least allow some fresh air to flow in so that the supply of oxygen will not be affected. So at least one or two windows must be kept open at night to ventilate the room while you go to sleep. But those windows must be protected either by iron-nets or rods to prevent burglars from breaking into the house at night.

2. Do not ever make fires inside the room while you go to bed. The fire uses up your share of oxygen and produces poisonous gases like carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide that can knock you unconscious during your sleep.

3. You also should not sleep under a tree or in the forest at night and I hope you know why. We have learned in our science class that plants take in oxygen and give out carbon dioxide like us at night. So, there is a chance that you might run out of oxygen if you sleep under a tree at night.

4. Sleeping in a car with all the windows rolled up is another deadly risk. About a decade ago, an ambulance driver of Samtse hospital was found dead in the ambulance car and suffocation due to the inadequate supply of oxygen was considered the cause of his apparently mysterious death. So if you ever sleep in your car, the windows should not be completely rolled up. You should at least leave some space for the fresh air to sip in.

5. I feel lighting so many butter-lamps and incense-sticks in the altar-room at night also pose some risks to those sleeping in that particular room. Usually the guests are given the privilege to sleep in the altar-room and leaving them in the blanket of smoke from the burning butter-lamps and incense sticks might cause suffocation if the room is not well ventilated. So it’s always important to ensure that our rooms have good ventilation especially at night.

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