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‘Do you think the fan is plotting to kill us?’

As summer slowly approaches and the heating in the apartment is switched off, I find myself starting to look through boxes to locate my flip-flops, sunscreen and sundresses. Packaged up for the long Korean winter, my dresses have barely seen the light of day in over 6 months but alas, as jacket-less days draw close, so too does a formidable threat.

A threat at the very heart of summer. A threat so inconceivable it just might be true. A threat of death.

Or rather, a threat of ‘Fan Death’.

A few years ago, during one of our weeks off school I decided to go to Jeju Island, an island off the coast of South Korea. Just so that you don’t think I’m off work all the time, here in Korea we get two weeks per year off work, one in summer, one in winter…and winter isn’t usually Christmas week like you’d think. It’s usually the week after or in February for some people. The Canadian One and I have never managed to have the same week off and, as such, have never taken a vacation together. Given also that my company is only required to let me know when my week off will be 30 days before the actual week off happens, there’s not much prep I can do even if we did want to go away somewhere.

So anyway, while everyone else used their week off and went to the Philippines or Japan (I’d just spend 10 days in Japan two months earlier), I signed up for an adventure trip to Jeju with a travel company. Also on this trip was a Korean girl, raised in USA and now teaching English in Korea, and her younger sister (about 20) who was visiting. Over dinner one night, this conversation took place:

Some guy: ‘I bet you believe in fan death too!’

Younger sister: ‘Wait, fan death isn’t real?!’

Older sister: ‘No!’

Younger sister: ‘Mom always told me it was real!!’

Older sister: ‘Oh my God!’

Fan Death is one of those weird things you hear about and don’t think people actually believe in until you have a conversation like that.

Based around the concept that if you sleep in a sealed room with an electric fan on, you could may will die. The theory is during the night, the fan will suck all the oxygen from the room thus suffocating you OR it’ll make the room too cold while you sleep, causing you to die of hypothermia.

Now, The Canadian One and I sleep with the fan on all the time as it gets so hot in summer here a good night’s sleep becomes a distant memory by mid June. Although maybe we’re the lucky ones. Like those people you hear about who jump out of planes and their parachutes fails, yet they survive with merely a bump and a bruise.

It’s at this point in my post I really wish I was kidding.

On 18th July 2006, The Korea Consumer Protection Board (KCPB) issued a consumer safety alert after analyzing injury data related to summer accidents collected for the past three years through its Consumer Injury Surveillance System (CISS).

The top five recurring accidents they found were as follows:

1. Asphyxiation from electric fans and air conditioners

2. Children’s asphyxiation inside cars

3. Explosions inside cars

4. Air conditioner explosions

5. Sanitary accidents at home

Their advice for dealing with ‘Fan Death’?

Doors should be left open when sleeping with the electric fan or air conditioner turned on

If bodies are exposed to electric fans or air conditioners for too long, it causes bodies to lose water and hypothermia. If directly in contact with a fan, this could lead to death from increase of carbon dioxide saturation concentration and decrease of oxygen concentration. The risks are higher for the elderly and patients with respiratory problems.

From 2003~2005, a total of 20 cases were reported through the CISS involving asphyxiations caused by leaving electric fans and air conditioners on while sleeping. To prevent asphyxiation, timers should be set, wind direction should be rotated and doors should be left open.

Incidentally, part of their advice regarding Number 3: Explosions inside cars is:

In addition, it is dangerous to leave opened orange juice or tomato juice bottles in the car as it ferments and explodes. This can be especially dangerous while driving. Ten cases have been reported through the CISS.

I have no idea if this is true…although I kinda want to test it out. I need a car, orange juice and summer….

According to the press release, in Korea between 2003-2005, there were 20 (that’s TWENTY) cases of Fan Death, 10 cases of exploding orange juice and 12 cases of exploding disposable lighters inside hot cars.

Interestingly, a year after this press release came out, Dr. John Linton who’s autopsied one of the ‘Fan Death’ victims told the International Herald Tribune:

There are several things that could be causing the fan deaths, things like pulmonary embolisms, cerebrovascular accidents or arrhythmia. There is little scientific evidence to support that a fan alone can kill you if you are using it in a sealed room. Although it is a common belief among Koreans, there are other explainable reasons for why these deaths are happening.

It IS worth noting that Dr. John Linton appears on my (very short list) list of designated medical practitioners in Seoul with the authority to conduct my official Canadian Visa Medical Check.

Why didn’t I pick him?

His hospital would have charged me $20 more than the other hospital and I figured with the savings, I could buy a fancy latte and a muffin for lunch…which I did. Although NOW, I totally wish I had’ve gone to see him. I could have asked him directly about ‘Fan Death’.

Oh well, guess The Canadian One and I will just have to risk our lives once again this summer and leave the fan on at night.

Although, to give the Koreans some credit, dying because a fan was left on while you were sleeping is not the weirdest way to die.

150 people are killed each year by coconuts and an average of 100 people choke to death on ballpoint pens every year.

In 2008, a man in Russia was killed by his couch and just last year, a woman was killed by her recycling bin in America.

So, you know, stranger things…


3 replies on “‘Do you think the fan is plotting to kill us?’”

I know, right?! The amount of times I’ve been seriously warned about the dangers of using my fan at night! And we have TWO fans in our apartment. Two! Sure we may as well leave the stove on at night and put cyanide in the aspirin bottle for all the risks we’re taking around the apartment!

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