Another Reason Not To Smoke

Gas explosion 2

by Robert Lanz, LCSW

An old motel not too far from the hospital, a roll of duct tape, a pair of pliers, a pack of smokes and a fifth of Jack Daniels – the only thing missing in the list of props is a depressed old guy who would soon be dead. Remember the statistics on who is most likely to take their own life: old white men living alone and drinking. Well, we’re all matched up now so let’s go to the script.

Depressed old guy rents a room at the old motel that still has the gas stove in the kitchenette. Depressed old guy puts duct tape over the window frames and goes out for a bucket of ice from the machine. When he returns with the ice he puts a couple of cubes into a glass and adds a double shot of the whisky, knocks it back and pours another, thinks a moment, then goes back to the duct tape and tapes up the door sill and jams. No use stinking up the parking lot he thinks.

He then pulls out the pliers and twists the connecter that ties the gas stove to the gas line and turns on the valve —whoosh, the gas escapes into the room while the depressed old guy takes a seat on the couch and pours another drink. The pouring and whooshing continues. Despite his level of intoxication he remains melancholic, sniffs the gas, puts more ice into his glass and pours another shot of JD.

Over an unknown period of time, maybe an hour or so. according to the night manager of the old motel, he continued drinking apparently thinking (and I could be wrong about this) all that natural gas from the stove would eventually kill him painlessly. In a way, I guess, it did. But not the way he thought.

The fire investigator thought the depressed old guy grew impatient as he became more and more intoxicated. He most likely pulled out his smokes and his ancient Zippo lighter. When he rolled the little wheel against the flint a super whoosh blew the walls right out of the motel and flashed-burned the depressed old guy. He was found, unconscious, but alive, seated on the smoldering couch which was now located in the parking lot of the business next door.  He was covered in white powder. Apparently someone (no one knew who) sprayed him with a fire extinguisher. Probably a good thing he was still unconscious: he would otherwise be in a lot of pain.

Sometimes, even though a severely burned patient comes to the hospital alive and breathing, we still can’t save him. Too much damage. When flesh gets burned, the underlying tissue swells from the body fluids being released. Dermis destroyed by burns is the perfect storm for infection. Third-degree burns imply that there will be areas of first and second-degree burns as well. Third-degree goes all the way down to the fat, or worse, to the bone: if a victim is lucky, the nerve endings have been burned away.

With this level of destruction, every patient I have ever seen with burns like this old depressed guy had (except one) were in such acute pain that they begged for death or unconsciousness. This old depressed guy’s nose hairs were burned completely away so we knew his lungs were equally damaged to the point we could barely get a breathing tube down his trachea. While a machine breathed for him, his muscle tissue started breaking down, and once into circulation in his blood, released myoglobin which damaged his kidneys. The heat from the explosion burned his trachea to the point where no machine could save the life the depressed old guy wanted to end. Simply too much damage. In the ER, he died.

He had no I.D., so I never knew who he was. ‘John Doe #2634-87,’ I guess. He looked really bad, but he did get what he wanted. With the police present, the coroner took the  body and that was the end of it for me. Except for the nightmares.

Somehow, a guy should learn how not to do that: not be afraid of any of one’s feelings, that is. Let them in, let them through, and let them out. But sometimes the passage is simply too treacherous, and they linger forever…

Dividing line


About robertjlanz

Author and health care professional.
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