Thursday, December 30, 2010


Avoid tragedy by installing carbon monoxide detectors

We’ve all seen the deadly impact of carbon monoxide poisoning in the news recently.

Unfortunately, I have also seen the devastation firsthand.

I’ve been a Paramedic since 1983, and one emergency call stands out above all others as being my worst call ever.

It was the morning on Nov. 11, 1993 — Veteran’s Day to be exact.

I was a Fire Captain/Paramedic at the Bradley Int’l Airport Fire Department in Windsor Locks and we routinely provided paramedic service to the surrounding communities.

This morning, we were dispatched to an address in Suffield for a carbon monoxide exposure. When we arrived there were a total of seven people poisoned overnight while they slept by carbon monoxide — a colorless, odorless gas which is one of the reasons that it is so deadly. You don’t know that it’s there.

Three of the victims between the ages of 12-13 years old — including one child that was a friend of the family — were in cardiac arrest.

Despite vigorous attempts to resuscitate them, they did die, as did their family dogs. It’s a scene that I’ll never forget, and one that I can easily visualize 17 years later.

What began as a sleepover in a finished basement resulted in a horrific outcome for two families, as well as a community.

When examined at the hospital after the call, I too had an elevated level of carbon monoxide, but required no medical treatment other than fresh air.

Carbon monoxide has a 200 times higher affinity than oxygen to attach to your red blood cells. Therefore the carbon monoxide saturates the red blood cells leaving no room for oxygen.

Carbon monoxide poisoning symptoms, which are very similar to flu symptoms, are usually caused by heaters, furnaces, gas grills and other devices indoors. They usually involve more than one person and can include:

• Headache





Chest pain


Anyone experiencing these symptoms should get outdoors for fresh air and call 911.

Meters to accurately measure the amount of carbon monoxide inside a home are carried by all fire departments, whose members are also trained how and where to obtain samples.

But many times that is too late, which makes it so important for everyone to install carbon monoxide detectors on all levels of their home, especially near sleeping areas. It could be the best investment you ever make in your life.

Fred Potter, Coordinator of Emergency Medical Services at The William W. Backus Hospital, is a longtime firefighter and paramedic. If you want to comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Mr. Potter or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Tuesday, December 21, 2010


Local people can make a difference for those suffering in Haiti

An outbreak of cholera that began in October is the latest disaster to strike Haiti.

There is a large Haitian-American community here in Norwich. Almost all will know someone who is infected with this potentially deadly bacterium before the outbreak is over.

Haiti, the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, has been recovering from a major earthquake in January that took the lives of approximately 250,000 people.

Vibrio cholerae is the bacterium responsible for cholera. It produces a toxin that causes diarrhea and vomiting so severe that it can completely dehydrate a young child or elderly person in hours. Unless fluid is rapidly replaced, the infected person will lose enough volume to cause cardiac shock and death.

In a dehydrated patient, venous access for fluid replacement is often difficult, if not impossible. Specially designed needles can be carefully drilled into large bones allowing fluid to be infused directly into the bone. This is an expensive option since the cost of these needles is $100 each.

Once cholera has been introduced into a community, as it is now in Haiti, it doesn’t leave quickly. After reaching an initial peak, the number of cases slowly declines over a period of years. Current projections of 200,000 infected people and 17,000 deaths are being considered. Given the remote villages affected in a country where no adequate census can be carried out, these numbers are estimates at best.

Cholera is transmitted among humans through fecal-oral contact. Typically, this involves tainted food or drinking water. In Haiti, the Arbonite River that provides the only clean drinking water for many villages has been contaminated.

The most effective way to prevent cholera is through improved sanitation and the provision of clean drinking water. Once contracted, rehydration with fluid and electrolytes must begin immediately.

There is currently an urgent need in Haiti for medical professionals who can skillfully start IVs and provide nursing care. Nurses, doctors and other staff from The William W. Backus Hospital, and paramedics from the Norwich area, have volunteered to go to Haiti in January. They are doing this on their own time and at risk of becoming ill themselves. The physician members of the Backus Medical Staff have agreed to provide financial support for transportation.

This effort to help those in need defines the term “community” both locally and internationally.

Anthony G. Alessi, MD, is a neurologist and Medical Director of the Primary Stroke Center
at The William W. Backus Hospital. This column should not replace advice or instruction from your personal physician. If you want to comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Dr. Alessi or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Monday, December 13, 2010


Tragedy in Griswold impacts us all

All of us have been affected by the recent tragedy in which four teens were killed in a car crash in Griswold.

This was not a one day news flash, and coping with the grief will be a marathon, not a sprint. As new information emerges — such as photos of the teens involved, updates on the teen that lived, the ongoing funeral services — we are reminded of what happened on a daily basis.

Yet we have different connections to these circumstances, and this will affect both how we relate to the issues and how we need to adjust our coping strategies to them.

There is a quietness in our school hallways, not just in Griswold, but throughout many, many schools in our communities. This is not surprising — and should not concern you.

There are some helpful tips to remember when dealing with emotional trauma and painful emotional issues:

Pace yourself. I use the expression, “it’s likely to be a marathon, not a sprint.” That means you should try to deal with these issues in little bits at a time. Take a break after talking about these painful things and do something that brings you comfort — watching an old movie you know you love, working out, prayer, calling (not texting!) a friend.

Rely on your natural supports. This can be a time to freshen up friendships and relationships. Make a point to find someone for a lunch or a dinner visit. Stop by someone’s house for a cup of coffee.

Stick to a normal routine as much as possible. It sounds simple, but the concrete, simple things make a big difference in times like these — eat right, get an appropriate amount of rest, exercise a bit.

Talk to people. And I mean talk, face to face, human contact is important. Electronic media, social networking, Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, this communication are all good tools, but they are only tools — and they do not offer the solace and comfort that we need during these times. Some say that much of communication is non-verbal, as much as 80%. That is especially true now. Strong, important emotions are not well communicated with smiley faces, and dashes and dots at the end of a text. Use this as a chance to break that habit and talk to someone!

Use faith-based supports. Few resources are as well-equipped to help during these times as our rabbis, ministers, imans, priests, pastors. Reach out to these resources and you will find comfort and much wisdom.

Visit to watch a video on coping with tragedy, or for printable coping tips.

Peace to all of you during this season and trying time.

James O’Dea, PhD, is a clinical psychologist and Assistant Vice President, Business Operation at The William W. Backus Hospital. This column should not replace advice or instruction from your personal physician. If you want to comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Dr. O'Dea or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Wednesday, December 08, 2010


Free flu clinic offered just in time

With the holidays and cold weather upon us, now is the time to get a flu shot.

People are crowding indoors — whether in daycares, shopping malls or family gatherings.

It is only a matter of time before the first cases of flu are reported in Connecticut, and you need time after a vaccination to build immunity.

To help those in the community without access to flu shots, Backus Home Health Care and the Uncas Health District are holding a free family flu clinic on Friday, Dec. 10, from 5-7 p.m. and Saturday, Dec. 11 from 1-4 p.m. at the Norwich Fire Department on 10 North Thames St., which is off of West Main Street across from American Ambulance.

We urge the public to take advantage of this free clinic, especially now that new Connecticut law that requires children between the ages 6 months and 59 months to be immunized if they are planning to attend a private licensed daycare facility or nursery school after Jan. 1, 2011. This law was enacted because flu spreads rapidly in these settings, and children are particularly vulnerable.

In addition, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has expanded its recommendations on who should receive an annual flu shot. All people 6 months and older should now get vaccinated.

High risk populations include:

• Children under 5 years old, and especially those under 2.

• Adults over 65 years old.

• People with chronic medical conditions.

• Pregnant women.

• Severely obese people.

The bottom line: the best way to prevent the flu is to get vaccinated — now.

Bonnie Thompson, an advanced practice nurse, is Administrative Director of Organizational Excellence at The William W. Backus Hospital. This column should not replace advice or instruction from your personal physician. If you want to comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Thompson or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

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