The Unexpected Present

The Canary in a Coal Mine

wildfire smoke

The Canadian wildfires are burning. Over the past six weeks, massive wildfires (more than 400) came early in the fire season and are running rampant, spreading far and wide because of extreme temperatures and drought conditions.

During a wildfire, concentrations of particles substantially increase in the air. More than 100 million people in the U.S. were affected by the air quality alerts sent out yesterday, Wednesday, June 7. How long has this been going on before the public is warned about it becoming a potentially deadly event?

The week before Memorial Day, and seemingly on the road to recovery, Yuri experienced coughing, sneezing, and a sinus infection – all things that bedeviled us after two years, two months, and ten days since his drug-induced vasculitis from the Pfizer vaccine. It now makes sense.

Just as canaries were used in coal mines to detect invisible but deadly carbon monoxide gasses, our Nellie has sounded the alarm. She caterwauled for days– making shrill howling and wailing calls that had unnerved us for the past few weeks. She would sense Yuri’s discomfort and crawl onto his lap. Anxiety scratching forced me to put the Elizabethan collar back on her.

According to online sources, the health effects of wildfire smoke exposure are rooted in scientific evidence between exposure to fine particle pollution, a central component. A principal public health threat, it can be defined by its chemical composition or the sources from which it comes, such as a mixture of gaseous pollutants (e.g., carbon monoxide), hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) (e.g., polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons [PAHs]), water vapor, and particle pollution.

Particles can be made up of different components, including acids (e.g., sulfuric acid), inorganic compounds (e.g., ammonium sulfate, ammonium nitrate, and sodium chloride), organic chemicals, soot, metals, soil or dust particles, and biological materials (e.g., pollen and mold spores). 

Fine particles (PM2.5), mainly invisible to the naked eye, generally 2.5 µm in diameter or smaller, represent the primary pollutant emitted from wildfire smoke.

This group also includes ultrafine particles, typically classified as having diameters less than 0.1 µm that can translocate into vascular circulation. Small in size, particles can easily penetrate homes and buildings, increasing indoor particle concentrations. Fine particles from wildfire smoke are of most significant health concern.

Once inhaled, these particles can affect the lungs and heart. Individuals who have had a cardiovascular or respiratory illness (hello) are at greater risk of health effects as scientific evidence links wildfire smoke exposure to the risk of cardiovascular- and respiratory-related issues, particularly as the intensity of wildfire smoke increases. It makes sense.

The sinus infection from air pollution particle inhalation created intense, painful pressure in Yuri’s head– sinuses, jaw, and ears. We went to Urgent Care on Monday, Memorial Day, but the lone doctor was overwhelmed and sent us to the ER, where a fever started setting in. He was given an antibiotic and hydration, and we were sent home after toxicology tests. It wasn’t a good move. The sinus infection affected his balance. This led to a fall during the late-night bathroom visit, which sent us back to the ER.

The next day Yuri was transferred to the U.M. Eastern Shore Medical Center in Easton, where he was assessed and treated with gentle hydration. The nurse for Yuri’s wound care (skin torn from an ER nurse’s IV tape removal) noted the smokiness in the air, a yellowish veil draping over Easton, hanging thick and low over the landscape. That was a week ago.

June 1 marks the start of hurricane season, noted on the Kent County Office of Emergency Services FB. I know about tornado warnings and what to do during a lightning storm in the area. On June 2, an Excessive Heat Warning was issued –a Code Orange Air Quality Alert meant that air pollution concentrations within the region might become unhealthy for sensitive groups—no mention of wildfire activity and its repercussions.

I wasn’t prepared for the wildfire smoke that is as insidious as wood pellet dust, sawdust, or just plain dust, for that matter. June 7 reports stated Code Red, unhealthy air quality. Today, I read, “Good morning; we are currently under a Code Purple, which is Very Unhealthy Air Quality. We should improve to Code Red throughout the day. However, this issue is going to stay with us through Saturday.”

Meanwhile, the wound care nurse noted a severe contusion on Yuri’s clavicle and swelling on his chest. She recommended we see an orthopedic surgeon. Fortunately, private equity firms have not yet taken over the medical practices here, and we were able to see a doctor sooner than later. Yuri was assessed as having dislocated his sternum. Painful and swollen, he is getting physical therapy and PEMF treatments. The air quality is not helping.

This man is amazing. Despite everything being thrown at him, he takes it and comes back from the physical challenges with the will and intent to play his music again. I know he can do it. Nellie will see that he does.

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