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Write On, Colorado

A balky furnace and a dystopian novel helped put the coronavirus shutdown into perspective

Colorado authors, thinkers and readers share their thoughts on living through historic times as the state fights the progress of coronavirus

“Why didn’t my carbon monoxide monitor go off?” I ask the masked and gloved repairman who has just informed me he is legally required to turn off my furnace.

I’d called for a routine furnace servicing knowing it probably only had a few years of life left, but hadn’t expected this. Frankly, I’d been reluctant to schedule it wondering if I should have anyone from the outside in the house right now.

“Those monitors only go off when you have to get out of the house,” he answered. “This is a slow leak. But if it registers over 9 ppm we’re required to turn it off and yours went up to 12 ppm.”

I stare at him. For the past five weeks, three 20-something-year-olds, a Boxer and I have spent almost 24 hours a day in this house.

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Is that why I’ve had a few headaches? The reason I’ve thrown up a few times? Both are things I’ve attributed to stress or mild food poisoning as daily I’ve taken my temperature and worried about coronavirus symptoms surfacing.

“The heat exchanger on your furnace probably cracked. I’ll have someone send you estimates for a new one.”

I return to the in-progress Zoom meeting I’d unexpectedly left when he’d called me downstairs.

“Sorry,” I tell my teammates who appear on the screen in the squares that we’re all becoming accustomed to. “Just trying to keep my family alive.”

“And yourself,” someone chimes in.

Early last October, I woke one Saturday to snow falling and a noticeable chill in my bedroom air. I’m at that age where one minute I’m hot and the next I’m cold. I brushed off the nagging thought that I should check the furnace, burrowed under my down comforter and started reading Cormac McCarthy’s novel “The Road.”

I was scheduled to teach an apocalyptic fiction class at the end of the month to high schoolers. I’d been binge watching end-of-the-world movies and had picked up a stack of books in a similar vein to tackle that weekend.

When I finally got out of bed for coffee and saw that the thermostat was set at 70 degrees and registering 58, I called the HVAC company. I was told I’d get a call back in six to eight hours — not surprising on a Saturday in the middle of a snowstorm.

I read “The Road” as I waited. I watched the snow pile up and the number on the thermostat progressively drop lower into the 50s. And with each stark Cormac McCarthy description of despair, I became more grateful.

I had a roof over my head. I had food. Going through a snowstorm without heat was not the apocalypse.

A repairman finally arrived at 8 p.m., gave me the good news I did not need a new furnace – yet – and replaced the igniter.

Now, knowing a major purchase is inevitable, I study the estimates and try to make an informed choice. One-stage or two-stage furnace? How should I finance this? Should I wait until Monday and get other quotes?

I’ve poured money into this house on critical repairs since I moved in a year ago and had hoped the furnace would hold out a while longer. I study weather.com, which forecasts a five-day break before rain moves in and temperatures drop again.

I consider the numbers. I can have a new furnace installed in four days. It’s been turned off all day and the thermostat still reads 60. My own last temperature reading was 98.6, no sign of fever.

The number of deaths in the United States from coronavirus has surpassed 40,000. And approximately 500 people die from carbon monoxide poisoning every year.

I have a roof over my head. I have food. And I’m still here to make this decision. I count myself as lucky.


Malinda Miller is a writer,  an instructor at Lighthouse Writers Workshop and a communicator at the University of Colorado Boulder’s College of Media, Communication and Information. She lives in Broomfield.

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