...the issues are still unresolved. The potential for this kind of disaster persists. The perils spread to more and more places across America, while the industry continues to deny responsibility and elude regulation...
Reread and reflect on the insanity of this story:
By Joe Hanel
Durango Herald - Denver Bureau
July 17, 2008
Nurse sick after aiding gas worker
Driller refuses to disclose chemicals that would have helped treatment
DENVER - A nurse at Mercy Regional Medical Center fell gravely ill from chemical exposure after treating a sick gas-field worker in April .
[Three months later] Cathy Behr is back at work and recovering after she fell ill from helping a man who showed up at the hospital soaked in unknown chemicals. The worker's company wouldn't share information about the chemicals that could have helped Behr's doctor diagnose and treat her injury, she said.At the time, she was suffering from liver, heart and lung failure in Mercy's intensive care unit.
Chemical exposure leads to liver, heart, lung failure
On a busy Thursday morning in April , a gas-field worker walked into Mercy Regional Medical Center’s emergency room, complaining of feeling sick and lightheaded.
From 20 feet away, the nurse on duty, Cathy Behr, could smell "a sweet kind of alcohol-hydrocarbon" odor. It would be the last thing she smelled for three weeks.
Behr put on rubber gloves and a thick paper mask, and went to the worker. She realizes now she should have told him to wait in the parking lot while she put on more protective gear.
"I took him straight to the shower. Mistake. This is the embarrassing part of the story," Behr said Wednesday in an interview with The Durango Herald .
Another nurse took the Materials Safety Data Sheets from the man’s supervisor and looked up the chemicals in a computer database.
Meanwhile, Behr noticed the patient’s boots were damp. She removed his clothing and boots and double-bagged them in plastic sacks. The other nurse almost vomited while taking the bags outside.
But Behr didn’t notice. She had already lost her sense of smell and wouldn’t get it back for three weeks.
At the time, though, she felt fine - just a little headache, which she put down to not eating lunch.
The nurses called a Code Orange, which locks down the emergency room and brings in the fire department’s hazardous-materials crew. Behr estimates she inhaled chemicals for five to 10 minutes.
Behr went home that night feeling fine. But two days later, she became sick with what she thought was the flu. Her husband took her to the hospital Monday after she didn’t recover.
"Delayed symptoms are common with this particular chemical," Behr said.
The doctors sent her home with antibiotics and oxygen. But two days later, she was back in the hospital. She only connected her illness to the gas-field worker a week after she was exposed.
Friday, she got dramatically worse. Her vision was blurred.
"I went into liver failure, heart failure and respiratory failure," she said.
The intensive care doctor decided to treat her for chemical exposure, but when he called the energy company to find out how to diagnose and treat her, he couldn’t get what he needed.
"He was denied this information because it was a proprietary chemical," Behr said.
So he guessed how to treat it.
"It was the right guess, because slowly I started getting better," she said.
She returned to working her 12-hour shifts at Mercy last week, although she still has trouble when hiking at high altitude.
"I feel extremely fortunate to work at a hospital that has extremely excellent intensive-care facilities for such a little town," Behr said. "I’ve known that as a nurse for a long time."
[Behr] wanted to share her experience ... at a hearing of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, but commissioners decided not to allow her testimony.
Gas-industry critics have long complained about the composition of frac fluids.But representatives of Halliburton and other companies said current federal laws are good enough.
Much is still unknown about the Mercy incident, including the identity and fate of the gas company worker. Mercy employees, including Behr, said they can't talk about him or reveal where he worked because of privacy laws.
The site of the original chemical accident isn't known. The COGCC's Neslin said he doesn't think it happened in Colorado, and the COGCC is not investigating. Los Pinos Fire Protection District spokesman Tom Aurnhammer said he couldn't recall responding to a gas-field spill in April.
Jane Tabor, a spokeswoman for New Mexico's Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department, said New Mexico oil regulators don't know of such an incident. And the Bureau of Land Management's Farmington office has not heard of any spills.
Behr still doesn't know long-term health effects of her exposure.
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Editorializing in red by Splashdown.