It’s burning my retinas!

We have all trained, at one time or another, to respond to a chemical release at a local swimming pool.  They keep enough chemicals on hand to cause quite the trouble, but how can I explain that to a mother who feels wronged?  By writing…a lot.



Dispatchers have hit the panic button on a full HazMat response to the local indoor pool.



My ambulance is the first of 3 responding as well as a complete first alarm assignment, HazMat, etc etc.  We arrive first and are met in the street by a number of lifeguards waving their arms.  In their little red shorts they look almost like valet parking attendants having a really slow night.

As I roll down the window ever so slightly we are given the initial report of the situation:

“It’s only a couple of kids, there is no chemical release, their eyes sting after a swim lesson is all, the mom wants them to…”

and then he said it.  He said the line that gets my blood boiling.  The line I hear from the bulk of my clients and patients alike.  A line so innocent, but when taken to it’s logical conclusion is never followed through with.  The line I hope to actually act on in the near future.

“…get checked out.”


I cancel the bulk of the alarm, keeping the HazMat Battalion coming, just in case, and enter the pool where close to 100 people are still swimming and playing without problem.  In the back office a mother is sitting with her 2 children and their friends.

“They got out of the pool and were screaming and rubbing their eyes, I want it documented that this facility is using dangerous chemicals in the pool water.”

I introduced myself and went about my assessments while casually mentioning to the Manager to bring me the MSDS.  For those not in the know, anywhere there are chemicals known to possibly cause harm, there are Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) which describe the chemicals, how to treat a person exposed to them and who to call for more information.  It’s that giant binder crammed onto the top shelf in the janitor’s closet.

As he returns with the binder we flip to the chemicals used in the pool.  I have Mom read, partially as a distraction, while I talk more with the assorted children who are more interested with my partner’s phone than their “burning eyes.”

I already knew, as you do, why their eyes sting.  We all learn that lesson early on.

As Mom refused to accept the reality that the chlorine in the pool actually belongs there, she reminded me I am not a Doctor and that she wanted her children…

and this is where the encounter should end.  Me informing the Mom of exactly what is happening, her digesting the information and making an informed decision, based on my professional medical opinion and diagnosis.  But, who am I kidding…

“…checked out.”

My reminders that I had just completed the exam she had requested and that if further evaluation is requested a private vehicle would be more than appropriate went unheard, even unlooked at. She has turned her face away from me like one of her children would do. Then she reminded me I am there for her.  She never mentioned the kids.

We loaded up all 6 in seatbelts with Mom on the cot holding the youngest.  Then I documented all 6 patient encounters since she was convinced her lawsuit against the pool was a winner.

Good luck with that.  I’d love the get called to the stand on that one.  Too bad no lawyer will stop laughing long enough to file it.


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11 thoughts on “It’s burning my retinas!”

  1. Oh, I’m sure somewhere out there in Frisco, there’s a Robert-Vaughn-commercial, poke-em-in-the-chest-while-snarling “Tell them you mean BUSINESS”, advertise-on-the-bus-stop-bench shyster who’ll file suit in the hopes someone will settle the nusiance for a hundred grand.

    Unless the Frisco lawyers are a LOT more honest and self-respecting than their East Coast brethren.

    Oh, wait, we’re talking about lawyers.

  2. As someone who has a pool in their backyard, I know there is a boatload of chemicals used in the pool cleaning process. More specifically, we buy liquid chlorine (not pure Cl, but rather a diluted mix of chlorine & water) as well as D.E. (filtering sand) as well as liquid shock (an anti-algae product).

    I learned a long, long time ago, this you shouldn’t open your eyes underwater, and if you do, the garden hose will flush that irritation right out.

    If we ever have that happen at our pool, I think 1 of 3 things will happen.

    #1. Everyone starts snickering at the mother.
    #2. The kids get their eyes flushed for under a minute and hopefully the mom shuts up.
    #3. Myself, my younger brother, or my parents would be telling the mother to shut up for a second so we can explain why their eyes are itchy & red. Luckily my family is rather smart when it comes to this stuff.Cases like this make me ticked that we’re not thought of as medical professionals, but still just the idiots on the ambulance.

  3. …and what’s the odds on the likely hood that she’ll actually pay the hospital and the EMS bill?

    @Fern: Don’t forget the hydrochloric acid. Oh, and a tip I learned from my father growing up. Regardless of how tempting it is to mix HCl and chlorine together to save a trip walking around the pool when adding it… don’t.

    1. I’d have to check the pump shed, (which isn’t all that easy right now considering all the stuff in it that gets put there after we close the pool annually) but I’m not sure that we use HCl in our pool. It might be in the shock chemical packets, but I’d have to check the next time we get a box sometime in May. (We open it on Memorial Day & close it in early September.)

      And for that matter, don’t stick your head over the bucket or pail holding the Chlorine tabs or liquid while opening it. O.o

      1. The acid for pH balancing pools is normally sold under the name muriatic acid, which is essentially an aqueous solution of HCL.

        Ah, the joys of growing up in So. Cal. Never a reason to actually drain and close a pool. It just sits there during the winter.

        1. Ah, I’ll have to check sometime. But we aren’t exactly anal about pH balancing in the roughly 6700 gallons we have sitting out back in the backyard. More worried about algae than anything. 

  4. This is why I like my state, we can refuse to transport. Granted, my department’s policy is to transport, regardless. But I have seen one of my Captains and my Chief refuse to transport on a few occasions. I’m not sure how well that would stand up in court if something happened.

  5. You’re nicer than I am.  The youngest goes in a car seat or not at all- Mom’s arms are not a restraint device.  (One Nadine Levick lecture was more than enough to change the way I operate forever.)

    I also would have called for a couple of private ambulances to make transport anyway. 

  6. Did you happen to ask mom if “you’re not a doctor”, why she didn’t just take them to the doctor in the 1st place?

    As a dispatcher, I also wonder if a more thorough questionging of the original caller would have avoided the panic button HazMat response.

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