Categories: Workplace Medical Mystery
July 20th, 2015 2:19 pm ET - Stephanie Stevens, MA
Chris was thrilled to have landed a summer job working at the local golf course. He was going to be a junior in college and he knew forthcoming summers would entail internships in a dark, windowless office. Chris loves playing golf and this job would give him the opportunity to play for free whenever he had the chance.
Chris’s job at the golf course was “course maintenance.” On a typical day he arrived at 4 a.m. to mow the greens and place the pins before the first golfers teed off. He was also responsible for making repairs to the tee boxes, greens, and fairways as well as other odd landscaping jobs around the course.
After working at the course for about a month, Chris and some of his colleagues were assigned some new tasks by their manager, the golf course superintendent. Half the team would be spraying parts of the course with a pesticide to help reduce the number of mosquitos the golfers had been complaining about. Chris and eight of his co-workers would be unloading a trailer of wood chips and spreading them around some of the decorative trees and shrubs on the course.
At 8 a.m. Chris met the wood chip vendor who arrived with a 40-foot enclosed trailer filled with wood chips. As Chris signed the invoice the vendor noted that he had given the course a 10% discount since some of the wood chips were leftover from last year. Chris and four other workers went to work unloading the trailer, while the other four employees spread the chips around the course.
Chris hurriedly shoveled the mulch; after all, the sooner he finished, the sooner he could start a round of golf. It was especially hot that day so both Chris and his co-workers opted not to the wear the respiratory masks that their employer made available to them. As Chris began shoveling the wood chips from the front of the trailer, Chris yelled out to his colleagues, who were still working at the back of the trailer, “it’s a good thing they gave us a deal, these chips are all moldy and gross!”
By Noon the trailer was just about empty so they decided to call it a day and finish what was left tomorrow. Chris quickly changed his shirt—it was covered in dust from shoveling the chips—and hopped in a golf cart; he figured he could at least get nine holes in before he would be too tired.
Chris breezed through the first few holes, shooting just over par. On the third hole he had to wait for some of his co-workers to finish spraying for mosquitos over in the rough. By the eighth hole Chris wasn’t just feeling tired; he was feeling weak, chilled, and achy. By the time he was done with his round, he was short of breath and coughing uncontrollably. Feeling feverish and like he might have the flu, he went to the local emergency room.
An emergency room doctor listened to Chris’s lungs and both his breathing sounds and a chest x-ray were normal. However, lab tests showed his white blood cell count was higher than normal. The doctor sent Chris home to drink a lot of fluids and rest.
After Chris got home, he updated his status on Facebook to sick and saw that some of his work buddies had also posted that they were sick.
What is making Chris and the other golf course workers ill? Find out in the next installment of Workplace Medical Mysteries.
Stephanie Stevens, MA, is a Health Communication Specialist in the NIOSH Office of the Director.
This blog is part of the NIOSH Workplace Medical Mystery Series. The names and certain personal details of the characters are fictitious and do not represent an actual person or persons.