Doctors' CO diagnosis saves lives


At about 1 a.m. Thursday, some 500 guests were evacuated from their rooms at the Embassy Suites hotel after firefighters found a carbon monoxide leak in the swimming pool boiler.

Earlier Wednesday evening at about 6 p.m., paramedics transported a guest suffering from an undisclosed illness to Mills Peninsula Hospital. A CAT scan was performed on his brain. The results puzzled radiologist Dr. Greg Lim.

"Something did not look right about it; the harder I looked, the more I scratched my head, Lim said.

The patient had a high fever and was not conscious. Lim thought he might have had a stroke but the results of the scan were different. He finally decided it might be carbon monoxide poisoning, but was still not positive.

"I've only seen it once or twice during my training," Lim said. "And I said, 'Oh my gosh, am I going to make this kind of call?"

Lim told emergency room physician Dr. Karin Molander. She also couldn't believe it.

"My first thought was, 'We're in California,'" she said. "We haven't seen carbon monoxide poisoning since I was a medical student in Chicago."

The tests showed the carbon monoxide in the patient's system was abnormally high, but just about the amount of a heavy smoker. Then his wife said he didn't smoke.

Ironically, Molander believes the lower carbon monoxide readings were a result of the good work by the paramedics.

"The fire department supplying oxygen to the patient so quickly and at such a high flow, I think that's why the level was lower," Molander said.

After consulting with the paramedics, firefighters decided to go back to the hotel and test the grounds for carbon monoxide. They isolated the leak and the hotel guests were evacuated. A potentially bigger disaster was prevented.

"We're kind of like detectives; this is kind of like a real life episode of 'House" or something," xxx said.

But neither doctor says they think of themselves as heroes.

I'm" just a small piece in a big puzzle but I'm glad that the diagnosis I made led to the safety of many other people who could have potentially been injured," Lim said.

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