Tuesday, June 25

The Leadville Saga: Burning Lungs; Or, What to Do When Your Nephew Sprays Bear Spray in the House

Did I give away the punch line?  Please note: I love my nephew, and think the world of him, but I’m going to say mean things about him now. 

Last night my nephewbecause he was boredpilfered through my camping gear, found the bear spray, and then sprayed it in the confines of the Bike Cave (read: my basement workshop).  Then he and my youngest heathen came upstairs and pretended like nothing had happened.  (On a semi-related note: my niece, sister of our Mighty Bear Slayer, posted her phone number on facebook last night with the message: “Someone text me…bord”)

And they'd have gotten away with it, except the geothermal unit picked up a whole bunch of particulate capsaicin and distributed it evenly through the house. Well, maybe not so evenly.

Now, the rule at our house is "if it ain't yours, don't touch it!"  My kids don't follow that rule.  I don't know why I'd expect that someone else's kid would follow that rule either.  Generally my niece and nephew are good kids and don’t look to make trouble, it just seems to follow them around like a bad smell. Or a cloud of flaming hot bear spray.  
And that’s the thing…when my throat started tingling like I’d gotten just two nettle barbs stuck on my tonsils I didn’t smell anything.  But I knew something was wrong.  When Bean and Mr. Boredy McBored-Pants started coughing almost simultaneously in harmony with my own hacking I suspected it was something environmental.  I didn’t realize it was also something developmentalKids being kids I expected nothing less, and once the story came out I was not surprised.  In my nephew’s defense…sometimes he can act like an idiot.  But then again, don’t we all?  
As my own discomfort increased I began looking for the environmental stressor.  I didn’t realize that he and his accomplice were in the room with me as I wandered around the kitchen looking for some kind of…leak?  We don’t have gas, or any kind of gaseous canisters.  The worst things we have in the house are some different types of paint and solvents.  But those typically have a smell if they leak.  Oh, and we have bear deterrent.
I got a glass of water, as did the two little habaneros sitting at the kitchen table.  The three of us kept coughing and I grew more and more convinced that there was something rotten in Demark and possibly something toxic in our house.  It was still subtle, and when I went out on the porch and came back in to see if there was a difference in internal and external air quality I really couldn’t tell.  There was a not-so-subtle clue when Ty said (while drinking water): “Man, my lips are burning!”  But when I went into the basement I knew something was terribly wrong.  I stormed back upstairs and as I was bent over wretching uncontrollably in the kitchen I groaned: “Turn off the air, and open all the windows!”
I managed to drag myself through the house flinging open windows as Mandy opened doors and windows in the living room.  I was certain then we needed to get everyone out of the house and was turning to tell my wife just that very thing when the littlest one said: “Ty sprayed the bear spray.”
It was an instant emotional relief, if not a physical one, to know there wasn’t some deadly toxin killing all of us.  It would have been an even bigger emotional release to have fed Ty to a bear.  He came running in blubbering: “I didn’t know what it was; I thought it was like the dog spray; I didn’t know it would do that; I…”
“You know better!” I told him firmly, and stormed out of the room with a much better understanding of what we needed to do.  It only took a few seconds for me to calm down and begin chuckling at the whole situation.  But I was still mad.  Both kids had been given the “don’t ever touch the bear spray, it could kill you” spiel that all parents and uncles give the kids of the house.  Right?  But no, really, I’ve given all the kids that spiel.  I’ve even given my kids a demonstration of how it works with the accidental benefit of a practical demonstration of how uncomfortable it can be to spray yourself with the stuff.  Yeah, I can attest to the fact that even with the wind at your back you can get enough capsaicin in your respiratory system to cause more than mild discomfort.  
Ty came in apologizing, crying (from fear, shame, or burning hot pepper I’m not sure), and begging for me to take him home.
Haha… No way! You sit right down there and enjoy the fruits of your labor!” I told him.  There was no way he was getting out of that house that easily. I gave him the lecture.  I may have exaggerated when I told him he could have killed Lily, but it does say right on the can not to use it on humans or small animals.  Beanie qualifies as both.
I knew I hadn’t left the can out where the kids could just randomly pick it up.  I keep it buried in the camping gear, both to deter just this sort of thing, and so that in case it ever leaked it might be absorbed before getting into our air supply.  I didn’t realize it would have an agent of transport with opposable thumbs.  
I went downstairs to try and visit the scene of the crime, but when I got into the workshop I was overwhelmed by a cloud of capsaicin.  I say cloud…it might have been only a spritz of napalm.  I’m not sure how I managed to get back up the stairs without vomiting up my lungs.
I remember seeing photos of my dad's army basic training where they took all the recruits into a building, gassed them, made them take off their mask, and then took lots of photos of them as they streamed from the building in exquisite agony.  I think I now have a slight taste of what that must be like. 
Finally (after only a few minutes) we decided it was best if we got the kids out of the house.  Mandy called her mom and then took them over so they could sleep there.  While she was gone I put a fan in the kitchen window near the most offensive basement vent hoping to force as much of the fiery material into the undeserving night air as possible.
Thankfully our old bedroom vents are closed off and the air in there was clear.  This morning I went down into the Bike Cave and there wasn’t a hint of fire in the air.  It must have all finally settled.  There really can’t be much in the air.  If he’d sprayed a good solid shot of the stuff I think it would have:  a) cleared out the house instantly, and b) put both kids in the hospital, and c) required the services of a professional to scrub the HVAC.
As it is, I’m not sure we’re done with this little episode.  Mandy asked if we should scrub down the basement and I told her I think it’s all going to settle and we’ll just have little eye-burning surprises from time to time as we routinely stir up dust or swipe sweat from our eyes.  It’s probably not worth the effort of giving the house a good sterilization, but we need to remember what happened when, in six months, someone starts screaming because they feel like they have fire ants in their eyes. I’m being dramatic, but I don’t really have any idea how long capsaicin remains active when in the open air.
The good thing is that our resident asthmatic wasn’t affected at all, and by morning the house seemed to be more habitable than at 10 o’clock last night. The latest update is that Lily won’t go near the basement, Ty won’t talk to anyone, and Boone and Mandy are just ducky.
Here’s the kicker: my luck is that I'll get sprayed by my own bear spray multiple times in my life and then mauled to death by a bear someday with no spray in reach; or, at best, the can will be empty.
It's possible that I can use this as an advantage in my training for the lung burning that will occur on August 10th.  I'll get back to you on that...
If only I knew...I'd have left him in that hole.


  1. Totally awesome. It's a hard thing to be stuck between totally pissed and the humor of the situation. But hopefully soon it will just be funny. (Just remember to replace the bear spray!).

    1. Yeah, need to do that. There warnt no bears in KY when we left, but they done went and got some while we were in Colorado.