By Dan Valentine
I like a hostel. More than once I’ve said I love a hostel. I’m downgrading my heartfelt affection a notch or two.
My stay here, which up to now comes to a little more than four months — twice as long as my second marriage — has been killing me from day one, or so I believe — little by little, slowly but surely, softly with its song.
I don’t feel well — and haven’t for weeks. I can hardly lift a finger, take a single step. I walk around like — well, like the living dead.
For many months now — no doubt, way before I ever arrived — there has been a leak in a gas pipe just outside the kitchen door, which is left open during the daylight hours. It’s a miracle of sorts that nothing disastrous has happened despite the fact that guests have been cooking all the while on the gas stove, the leak just a short ways away.
From the online edition of The Hindu, India’s National Newspaper, 2008: “Two died as gas exploded in a hostel kitchen in Bangalore. The explosion damaged window panes of the hostel as well as those of neighboring houses.”
From BBC News: “Last September four Brits were among 13 guests at an alpine hostel in Tyrol, Austria, who were treated for carbon monoxide poisoning from a leak from a faulty heating system after some of the guests complained of dizziness, headaches, and blurred vision.”
Dizziness? I can relate to that of late.
A few weeks ago, I got up one morning, lit a cigarette on the back veranda, took a puff or two, stood up, and had to catch myself, gripping firmly onto the iron grate of a nearby Spanish gate, afraid I was going to faint.
Headaches? I can relate to that, too.
When I was younger, I suffered mightily from severe migraines. After getting the holy crap beat out of me in D.C. a few years ago, the migraines mysteriously went away. I was mugged and beaten so bad that the culprits, afraid they had killed me, ran off without taking my wallet and money. As a result of the beating, my daily migraines vanished. Poof! Some good came from bad. But, in the past few weeks, the headaches have returned.
Blurred vision? That, too I can relate to, but it’s not a recent development. In my youth, I worked for Sen. Orrin Hatch. That’s what brought me Washington, the nation’s murder capital at the time.
From “Messageboards – Bolivia: “Our first night we had carbon monoxide poisoning from the hostel we stayed in. People were passing out, being sick and we all had massive headaches.”
Being sick? That I have been. Very, very sick. Massive headaches? Not massive but, as I mentioned, headaches have become a part of my daily life once again.
I haven’t passed out, but I can barely stand at times. One morning Rodreigo, daytime receptionist/nighttime musician, happened to come out the back door to the veranda, where I was bracing myself again, one hand grasping a nearby rail. I had just had my first morning puff of a cigarette. I handed him my newly-bought pack. “Take ‘em!” I said. “They’re killing me!” I went for a long walk along the beach down the road.
From Wikipedia: “Oxygen works as an antidote as it increases the removal of carbon monoxide.”
Soon after talking in the fresh sea air I felt much better — for a short time.
From Wikipedia again: Symptoms of mild acute poisoning include headaches (check), vertigo (check), and flu-like effects.”
A few weeks back a visitor from Finland stayed here for a time. We became fast friends. He was moving to Canada for the warm weather. (That’s how cold Finland is!) He did not enjoy his time here. He was sick with the flu almost his entire stay, as I was long after he left. He thought he had caught it from two visiting Germans who had the flu. They, too, without knowing it, may well have been suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning.
From Wikipedia once again: “Chronic exposure to low levels of carbon monoxide can lead to depression.
I was sitting one day on the veranda. Two guests were sitting talking at the picnic bench — one from the mainland of Mexico, one from Switzerland. Both where jovial and happy — on vacation from worry and woe. The Mexican smiled and asked me, “Enjoying life?”
“Nope!” I replied and I was deadly serious.
Shortly after, the two rose from their seats and returned inside. I could read their thoughts: “What’s his problem? He’s no fun!”
I’m almost always “up”. I rarely, if ever, get depressed. And when I am, I try my best to hide the fact. But when you feel like you’re dying . . .
From the website “Silent shadow : silent killer”:
“Carbon monoxide, also known as CO, is a potentially deadly gas that can have devastating effects upon your life — assuming, of course, that it doesn’t kill you.”
I’ve been inhaling the fumes for months now. One day, some weeks back, I felt so sick that I strolled slowly up the street to the nearest hospital, which wasn’t that close, to the emergency entrance. Gathered outside were countless poor. Standing and sitting in the waiting room were countless more. The receptionist didn’t speak English. We tried to communicate with each other best we could. She asked one of those waiting to show me her card. It was in Spanish, but I got the gist. It was a Mexican social security card. The receptionist wanted to know if I had one. I shook my head no and went on my way.
From some internet source (I’ve misplaced my notes; I’m not thinking straight): “Exposure to carbon monoxide can lead to confusion.”
To say the least! A month or so ago, I lost my debit card. The cash machines here are in Spanish. Of course! I pressed the wrong button and it ate my card. I had to take the bus to the border an hour and half away, to the closest Chase Bank to get cash. Gabrielle/Gabby, the hostel manager, lent me money for the fare.
The bad news: Chase won’t mail me a new card until I have a U.S. address to mail it to.
The good news: When I withdrew much-needed cash, I found several hundred dollars that I didn’t know was there. My bestest best friend in the world had deposited it into my account. Who does that but a saint? She has little money to spare. She was up for tenure this year as full professor at the University of Houston-Clear Lake but was let go — only to be rehired directly afterward as an adjunct professor, teaching the same classes she’s been teaching the past five years at the same university at half or so the salary. And she’s not the only one! Class-action law-suit stuff!
In the movies. Not in real life.
Once again, from “Silent shadow : silent killer”: “The effects of carbon monoxide poisoning can and does kill thousands of people each year. Some people simply slip away into unconsciousness or a deep sleep from which they will never reawaken.”
Thank heaven for the frequent all-night drinking parties on the back veranda. Few guests if any — carbon monoxide or no — are likely to slip away into a deep sleep here.
From some source on the internet (I forget which one): “Carbon monoxide poisoning can cause memory loss.”
Memory loss. Memory loss. Hmmm. What’s that? Oh, yes, memory loss! (Check.)
Just kidding. I can well remember the night a gas leak was first suspected. Three or so weeks back, I was out on the back veranda again, chatting with a young London couple and a young backpacker from Australia.
One of them asked, “Can you smell that?”
I said, “No, what?” My nose has been broken so man times I can’t smell a thing.
“Smells like rotten eggs.”
“It’s gas,” said another. “Leaking gas.”
“Holy shit!” said a third.
From “Silent shadow : silent killer”: “Carbon monoxide has no taste, color or odor, and can be breathed in over a short or long time without you ever knowing that it is present.”
Suppliers add a rotten egg scent to signal that harmful gas vapors are loose in the air. Until that night, no one had complained about it. Except for the Danes, and they had pointed their fingers at me! Those damn Danes!
I immediately informed Gabby, who wrinkled her brow and said she had been having headaches for months.
A few days later, the owner — of the business, not the building — who lives in Switzerland, paid a short visit with his wife, whom he had met here at the hostel. He’s Mexican-born and very dashing. She’s Parisian and very lovely. They both look like movie stars. I like movie stars. But, at that present time, for this particular precarious predicament, what the place needed was a GLS — a Gas-Leak Specialist.
Hostels are wonderfully inexpensive because they’re run on the cheap. A buck saved here, a buck saved there. Some bad comes with good. Life is a two-sided coin.
Shortly after his arrival, the owner of the hostel business (not the building) smeared soap suds from a cloth on the gas pipes in and around the boiler, watching for bubbles to arise, exposing the leak. Unable to detect one, the dashing pair dashed on their way — they were on vacation — the scent of leaking gas still in the air.
The task and glory of finding the leak fell upon the shoulders of Rodreigo, the daytime receptionist/nighttime musician. Several days went by without success. Then one morning on bended knee, he leaned an ear down to listen.
The sssss-hissing sound was coming from a puncture in a very thin pipe on the ground by the kitchen door. He smeared soap on it and the bubbling suds billowed up as if it were a boiling mud pot in Yellowstone National Park. You had to see it to believe it! Caught on film, it surely would have been a huge hit on YouTube. Rodreigo covered the leak with a wet towel. Ole!
A professional Gas-Leak Specialist was contracted to replace the punctured pipe. While doing so, he told Gabby a story about another leak he had recently fixed. After leaving the premises upon completion of his task, according to the specialist, the gentleman residing there had lit himself a cigar and — boom! — one of the walls exploded outward in flames, leaving a major peep-hole in his bedroom. Fumes from the gas leak had seeped into the paint on the wall.
But, anyway, back to the hostel here . . .
So all’s well, right? Perhaps, perhaps not. I can’t breathe. I can’t think. I can’t write. I can’t walk but for a few short steps at a time. When I’m not resting in my bunk, I’m resting on the one “comfortable” chair on the back veranda.
Gabby has told me more than once: Everyone else is okay! — though, she herself experienced headaches many days after the leak was fixed. (But, then again, perhaps the headaches were caused by me! That could very well be!)
I, in rebuttal, have replied: Most everyone else stays for a couple of days or so. I’ve been here for four straight months. Most everyone else takes in the sights, so they’re out and about. I’ve been staying inside, day in and day out, writing and typing away at the computer here. I rarely leave the place.
A couple of nights ago I came out from resting in my room for a bite to eat in the kitchen. “Are you okay?” she asked. She, too, now is concerned about my health.
I lied and said I was.
First thing the next morning, gazing at me with deep concern, she asked, “You want me to take you to the Red Cross?”
I told her there was a VA medical center in La Jolla and that I was going to take the bus there in the next couple of days.
“I have business to do in Tijuana,” she said. “I will drive you to the border.”
From Googling again: “In many cases, the symptoms may wear off within a short period.”
Good to hear, comforting to know!
“However, in some cases the effects are permanent, particularly in the case of brain damage.”
This, I must admit, is worrisome. When you’re down and out, you get through each day thinking to yourself that you’ll get out of the mess you’ve got yourself into — somehow, someway. There are still opportunities out there, you tell yourself, if you can just hang in there and brave it out.
But with brain damage, well, you have no options but one: being bused to Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin rallies.