The Selkirk-area farmer was decoupling a pressurized hose May 15 when he was sprayed with liquid nitrogen. Sunglasses protected his eyes and he washed it off his hands and face, but he didn’t bother to change his clothes or shower.
Chorney was well aware of the dangers of anhydrous ammonia, which burns skin on contact. But while liquid nitrogen doesn’t irritate the skin, it draws moisture from the body, which can result in serious illness.
By noon the next day Chorney said he was almost delirious and “sweating buckets.” After changing a flat fire on his air seeder he returned to his tractor cab and cranked up the air conditioning.
Chorney said he quit seeding at 7 p.m. but had no appetite, and had to be helped to bed by his wife Michelle, who is a nurse.
“Then she took my temperature and said ‘holy… this is not good, we better take you to the hospital,’” he said.
When he arrived at Selkirk General, Chorney had a fever of 39.3 C, a heart rate of 135 beats per second, very low blood pressure and severe diarrhea. Repeated blood tests, a urine test and X-ray revealed no signs of infection.
“These two doctors were just dumbfounded as to why I had this runaway fever and no way to treat it,” Chorney said.
“They were running IVs in me wide open as fast as it would flow for two full litres and then they slowed it down.”
Chorney was also prescribed powerful antibiotics. Instead of worrying about delayed seeding, he worried he might never seed again.
Chorney left the hospital the morning of May 17, but was in bed at home until Saturday night, having still eaten almost no solid food. But by May 19, he was feeling better and returned to seeding. By May 20 he felt normal again.
After leaving the hospital, Chorney said his fertilizer suppliers told him his sudden illness was caused by exposure to liquid nitrogen, which like other forms of the nutrient, draws moisture, including from human bodies.
Chorney suspects he might also have been low on fluids because of the spring rush. Now he carries a cooler of Gatorade and water in his tractor.
“It took me two full days to recover,” Chorney said. “You just don’t rehydrate yourself by having seven glasses of water.
“The key message we’d like to get out to producers is first of all avoid getting spilled on, but if you do have an accident, get to water as fast as you can,” Chorney said May 22 while seeding at his East Selkirk farm.
“It’s critical not to just change clothes (after being exposed) but to get it out of your hair and off your body.”
Chorney said he’s thinking a lot more about safety now.
“Nobody ever plans to do these things to themselves,” he said. “It’s always a split-second mistake.
“You can get into a mad frenzy, rush too much and this is when these things can happen.”