It was the dead of winter and something sinister was afoot in the Perkins household. A flu-like illness was plaguing our entire family. All of us had headaches, malaise, and achey eyeballs. I don't remember that any of us went to the doctor - we just kept working and followed the lead of Mom, a stalwart lady who could defeat anything with the strength of her will.
Things came to a head on a bitterly cold Sunday morning. I awoke at 3:15 AM with a throbbing headache and headed out into the 7-degree cold to throw my paper route. Strangely, the longer I was out, the better I felt, and by 5 or so, my headache was gone. But it had been a tough morning. I remember wrapping a paper with a rubber band...which popped in the frigidness and made my hand bleed. But around 5:30 or so, I managed to finish the route and head home. As I approached our house, I was amazed to see a car belonging to my aunt and uncle in the driveway and all the lights in our house burning.
Here is what had happened. Both parents had intense headaches during the night, such that Mom finally convinced Dad to get up and call an ambulance. Dad never made it to the phone and collapsed on the living room floor. Mom got up, stepped over Dad, grabbed the phone and called her sister, Pearl. In retrospect, she should have called for an ambulance, but I'm sure her brains were scrambled at that point. Mom told Pearl to get over ASAP, then she collapsed.
Pearl and Raymond arrived to bizarre scene of my folks sprawled unconscious on the floor and quickly summoned an ambulance. Mom, Dad, and my younger brother and sister were all taken to St. Paul Hospital, and minutes later, I rolled up with a quizzical look on my face. Here's what had happened. Our source of heat in the house was a floor furnace. Just prior to all this sickness, our house had shifted and, unbeknownst to us, disrupted the gas line feeding the furnace in some way. The silent killer, carbon monoxide, had been seeping through the house for at least a week. That explains why we all seemed to improve when we left the house during this time.
I drove to St. Paul and saw my family. I don't know what was given them by the doctors, but all were doing much better. If fact, it seems that I was able to bring everyone except my dad home. I went on to church, where it was announced that the Perkins family would need electric space heaters to get us through the next few days. The wonderful folks responded beautifully and we were able to stay in the house until the floor furnace was repaired.
It's frightening to think what might have happened had Mom not made it to the phone. Here's why. If she had collapsed before calling Pearl, I would not have seen them in the floor when I got home. My custom was to park the car, go around to the back of the house and let myself in a back door to the kitchen, then head immediately upstairs to my bedroom for an hour or so of shut-eye. That might have been enough time for the deadly, almost undetectable gas to finish off my parents and my siblings. We were very blessed that morning. And it wasn't the first nor the last time my mom's strength of will saved the day for our family.