[For privacy reasons, the real name of the story's subject has been changed.]
Lisa Smith had never considered swimming for exercise before, but at the beginning of August, she decided it was time to give it a try. After looking up the open swim times at Rossi Pool near her home, she made plans for her first workout.
After suiting up in the crumbling locker room, which even Rec & Park Chief Phil Ginsburg calls “dank”, Smith showered, jumped in the pool, and began swimming laps. After twenty minutes, she hopped out, showered once more, and headed home.
24 hours later, on August 4, Smith found the first red bump on her arm. As the day progressed, the bumps increased and she was “itching like crazy”. Alarmed, Smith called her doctor and made an appointment for the following afternoon.
By the next morning, Smith’s legs, arm and torso were covered with hundreds of bumps. At this point, she says, she looked “like a pink polka dot leper”. She arrived at her doctor’s office and approached the counter, where the nurse asked her about her chief complaint. Smith opened her jacket and bared her arms.
“The woman behind the counter screamed,” Smith says. She got in quickly for her appointment.
Never having suffered from skin conditions before, Smith was deeply concerned. And so was her doctor. After going over her activities of the past week, Smith’s doctor believed that the infection most likely came from the pool and diagnosed a bacterial infection. Smith left the office with a prescription for antibiotic cream and a two-week dose of steroid pills.
Smith then worried that her rash might be the beginnings of a health problem at the Rossi Pool. She called the pool and after being routed to several people and leaving voicemails, she heard back from San Francisco Rec & Park Director, Chris Boettcher.
During their phone conversation, Smith detailed her experience and says Boettcher was very sympathetic. At one point, Smith mentioned reimbursement for her medical bills. She claims Boettcher verbally agreed to cover her medical expenses, indicating it would not be a problem. He then asked for Smith to email him the details of her experience so he could follow up.
Smith did just that, sending him an email on the night of August 6. Six days later, she sent another, asking him to please respond to her concerns. He eventually responded that evening, but was singing a different tune about her claim.
“I don’t think your rash was a result of the water purification chemicals,” Boettcher wrote. He went onto explain that their Rossi Pool water is checked twice per day and that according to the engineering logs for August 3, when Smith swam, “the water quality was “spot-on” with regards to the amount of chlorination and the PH level”.
Boettcher also added that no other swimmers who usually attend that Monday open swim time had come forward with complaints. “I believe that the aquatics manager interviewed some of the regular swimmers in case there was something of a similar nature,” Boettcher wrote.
In a later email exchange, Boettcher denied that the department had ever agreed to pay Smith’s medical bills “as evidenced by our correspondence”. While there was no mention of reimbursement in the emails Boettcher sent, Smith claims he had agreed to it verbally on their initial phone call. Otherwise she would not have taken the time to email him after their conversation with information about the incident.
Smith’s skin infection lasted a week, and her medical bills amounted to just under $200. She works as a freelance photographer but says that due to the itching and her leper-like appearance, she was unable to leave the house and work. Just making it to Walgreen’s to pick up her prescriptions was embarrassing enough.
While it’s unclear whether or not Smith’s condition was caused solely by the Rossi Pool, she and her doctor were unable to find any other potential cause. Smith says her 20 minute swim was the only out-of-the-ordinary activity she engaged in leading up to the infection.
While you won’t find Smith suiting up again in the Rossi locker room, she will continue pursuing a claim with the Rec & Park department, as well as telling friends and neighbors about her experience. “I want to get the message out there to as many people as possible,” Smith says.
Unfortunately we were unable to make contact with Chris Boettcher of SF Rec & Park for comment on this story.
Do you know anyone who’s had a similar experience at Rossi Pool? Leave a comment here on the blog.
Sarah B.Recreation | 6 comments