Last night, a few hours after I went to bed, something woke me up.
I had retired at 1:00 a.m. as usual and was sleeping oblivious to the world (or so I thought) in my attic bedroom all alone in the large house when this sound penetrated through the layers of sleep and hit my primary auditory cortex. It was an electronic beep. As I floated up to the surface, I first thought it was my laptop, and then thought it was my phone, and as more and more of the conscious mind took charge from the subconscious, I decided it was my burglar alarm letting me know in no uncertain terms the presence of a burglar downstairs.
This idea worked better than a cup of coffee in chasing away the last vestiges of sleep and I was alert in an instant, only to realize that it couldn’t have been the burglar alarm after all. The burglar alarm is on my bedside table and this beep was coming from somewhere else. Besides, the sound was different. It was a sharp beep - almost a screech - and it occurred once every thirty seconds or so. The burglar alarm beeps non-stop.
The windows were open a crack as it had been rainy yesterday, and I opened them wide in hope of tracing the origin of the sound. It only helped me establish the fact that the sound was coming from downstairs of my own house.
By this time I had a very clear idea what the wretched thing was, but I couldn’t even begin to guess why it was making all this fuss in the middle of the night. So I cautiously opened the door and switched on the staircase light. Then, armed with the burglar alarm control in one hand and my cell phone in the other, I cautiously proceeded to descend to the second floor. And even before I reached there I could see the source of the sound. It was the carbon monoxide detector fixed on the wall of the second floor hall. It was blinking red and beeping once every thirty seconds. Obviously, I was in some kind of danger.
My first thought was that I had left the gas burning and something was on fire. I started sniffing the air in hope of detecting a burning odour and failed. I also realized that if I was up to the ears in this carbon monoxide stuff, I should not continue all that spirited sniffing. So I came down and tried to open the window. This time the burglar alarm detected me and made me jump out of my skin by beeping right in my hand. However, I managed to open the window, and turn off the burglar alarm. In other words, I did precisely what a burglar would have liked me to do. Unfortunately for them, they weren’t nearby. Unfortunately for me, the CO detector did not quit beeping.
So I went downstairs and peered into the dark kitchen, too afraid to switch the light on; I knew that switching the light on is precisely the kind of thing that triggers a fire from a gas leak. So I felt my way through the dark kitchen and checked the gas burners. Nothing. They were tightly closed. I am too short to reach the kitchen windows, so climbed the counter as usual and opened them. Then I opened some other windows around the house. When I reached the CO detector again, I found it was continuing its shrieking unabated. I also found I had a throbbing headache and was feeling at my wit’s end, which were, as I realized due to my extensive reading, the first signs of carbon monoxide poisoning. Besides, I had a growing feeling that it was all a false alarm and nothing would happen to me after all. This is exactly the kind of complacent feeling that lack of oxygen brings. I tried to reset the device, but it only started shrieking louder and more frequently. Taking out the batteries stopped it, but then, I wasn’t sure that it wouldn’t call the fire department if I kept the batteries out for good. So I put the batteries in again and it resumed its beeping. I felt like strangling the device.
I couldn’t call anyone for advice at this hour. I tried calling my landlord who is in Europe, but the call never went through. So I dialed 911. It started ringing at the other end, and just when I thought it wouldn’t be answered, a sleepy man picked up the phone. Evidently, his sentiments towards me were the same as mine towards the CO detector. The conversation went somewhat like this.
“This is the emergency assistance number. If you are calling at this hour you better have a proper emergency. I hope you understand this and have sufficient reasons to call us.”
“Oh yes, hello. What’s the problem?”
“I would like to know…”
“Sir, I hope you understand that this is an emergency number! If you are seeking information then this is not the…”
“Will you listen to me? I am not sure if this is an emergency and that’s what I want to know. The CO detector at my house is beeping and I do not see a fire or anything. I have opened the windows. Am I missing something?”
“What kind of a detector is it?”
“Well, it is small and round and has KIDDE written on its…”
“Please hold on while I transfer the call to our fire department.”
And he hung up. I couldn’t connect again.
By this time, I knew there was no CO anywhere in sight. I just wanted the alarm to stop. I went upstairs and did what I do best – Googled for a solution. It took me to the Kidde website where I found the user manual of that device. And what the user manual said was this: my CO detector was hungry for power. No, not power over me – it already had enough of that to make me climb on kitchen counters at 4:30 in the morning. It needed power in a more literal sense – it had run out of batteries. It would continue beeping until I put in fresh batteries. Luckily I had half-used Duracell AAs in my SLR’s external flash unit and I fed them to the alarm which silenced it. My job was far from done though – I had to shut all the windows in the house again, climbing on kitchen counters wherever necessary. Finally I could get back to bed around 5:20, an hour after I had left the bed. I still had the headache.
And in one night I got an idea of what parents of newborn kids feel like when the little ones cry in the middle of the night and wake them up for food.