Smell the Coffee: How recurring pink eye saved our lives

I’ve always been prone to pink eye. I was so susceptible that if someone on the opposite end of my building had a child in the same school as a kid who had pink eye, I would catch it. I’ve just always been bent that direction.

Back in the early 2000s, when I lived in a 1940s home in South Charleston, my recurring instances of pink eye didn’t sound any alarm bells. When my daughter began suffering similar issues at the same time, I chalked it up to the joys of genetics.

But then our dogs got it as well.

I remember searching online to see if dogs can catch pink eye from people, and it said that although uncommon, it was possible. So, I sort of brushed it aside and treated our problem with over-the-counter remedies and waited it out. The problem would subside for a time, then recur. Always worse in the winter, and then generally going away when the weather grew warm.

I never connected those dots.

The eye problem became a niggling little annoyance during a time when life was especially rough — myriad health issues and financial problems and this incredibly needy old house, where something was constantly breaking.

One of my dogs at the time was a foster who was behaving bizarrely in ways I didn’t know how to address. When speaking casually with a vet about Roo’s many problems, I mentioned her chronic pink eye. Just sort of tossed it in as an afterthought.

“Has anyone else in the house had it?” she asked.

“We’ve all had it,” I said. “Every one of us. Over and over again.”

She paused for a moment.

“Do you have a gas furnace?” she asked.

For her to go from pink eye to our heat source seemed like quite a leap, but I told her yes. Our rickety old furnace was gas. But Roo never went in the basement. She pretty much never left her closet.

The vet made me promise we’d get it checked right away.

Fortunately for all of us, it was a promise I kept. I called the gas company, and they sent someone over immediately. They said my house had the highest carbon monoxide levels they’d ever measured in a home without a fatality.

Our saving grace had been that, along with the terrible furnace, we had drafty windows and gappy doors that allowed in lots of air. Had they sealed better, we would have died.

Instead, we had frequent headaches, trouble concentrating, extreme fatigue, frequent nausea. And our eyes were pink. After we got a new furnace, all was normal again.

This morning, while in bed on a sleepy, rainy morning, I was watching a YouTube video about a family who believed their house to be haunted. They’d all been experiencing varying degrees of delusional thoughts — hearing noises, seeing apparitions, becoming suddenly and violently queasy. Then they had their gas furnace replaced, and every sign of their house being haunted instantly ceased. Everything had resulted from the carbon monoxide poisoning.

It reminded me of that time in South Charleston not so long ago, and how close we had come.

That year, I’d been so shaken by the experience I bought carbon monoxide detectors for everyone in my family. I nagged friends to get them. Even worked the experience into random conversations with strangers. I was a regular CO2 evangelist.

But time and distance softened the experience until I’d almost forgotten it altogether. Until being reminded by YouTube.

I realize how lucky we were our vet was aware of the pink eye connection. If you Google the symptoms, carbon monoxide is generally not on the list. How easily things could’ve gone differently then.

And differently now.

The house we’re living in has a gas furnace, gas stove and gas water heater.

And, thanks to that video, a brand new detector.

Karin Fuller can be reached at

Funerals for Sunday, November 17, 2019

Ellis, Walter - 1 p.m., West Logan Missionary Baptist Church.

Evans, Robert - 2 p.m., Koontz Funeral Home, Hamlin.

Hess, Steven - 6 p.m., Grace Church of the Nazarene, South Charleston.

Holmes, Buddy - 2 p.m., Elizabeth Baptist Church, Charleston.

Jeffrey Jr., Algie - 2 p.m., Stevens Chapel Methodist Church, Lake.

Mace, Elma - 2 p.m., Stump Funeral Home & Cremation Inc., Arnoldsburg.

Meadows II, Richard - 2 p.m., Central Christian Church, Huntington.

Messinger, John - 2 p.m., Davis Funeral Home, Clarksburg.

Reynolds, Gladys - 1 p.m., Taylor-Vandale Funeral Home, Spencer.

Smith, Rosie - 2 p.m., Morris Funeral Home, Cowen.

Sykes, Teresa - 2 p.m., Winfield Church of the Nazarene.