don’t drink the water

About a month ago, I became very sick Friday night after work and remained so up until the following Monday. I discovered that a smattering of other people in my department also had severe bouts of nausea for a day or three here and there in the week following. I assumed it was food poisoning from the questionable – but cheap and accessible – deli from which everyone ordered food almost every day. I don’t normally order food from there, both for cost reasons and because I don’t consider their food to be anything worth the name, but that Friday was the last day before I went on vacation and I decided to treat myself.

A week later, I come back from vacation to find a sign on the downstairs water cooler. “Not working, XXXX water company has been called.”

Apparently, some employees had found unidentified matter floating in the water dispensed from the cooler.

Personally, my first thought would not have been, “call the company and ask them to fix it.” I would have demanded a replacement, that day, but apparently the person who handles this stuff did not consider it to be worth such a reaction.  From what I could discern, after a few days (yes, that reads days, not hours) someone from the company came, flushed out the cooler, and announced that it was once again safe to drink from.

I was not impressed, and said as much to anyone I could find. “Flushed with what? Water? Do any of the people at this company have any training in microbiology? Did they test it for bacteria? I’m not drinking out of that thing again until they flush it with bleach. And maybe not even then.” For a change, I was not alone in this sentiment. I think my insistence upon being treated like a human being is starting to rub off on people.

So, to no-one’s surprise, or at least, not mine, and following even more employees calling out sick, the sign was back up a week later, for the same reason. There was now a sign on the upstairs water cooler in the kitchen, as well. I was in the kitchen eating lunch when I heard the one member of the housekeeping staff who speaks English explaining to other members of her staff – in Spanish – about why the water coolers were out of commission. Now, mind you, my Spanish sucks, but I was able to pick out the words “beber” and “agua” (“to drink” and “water”) and infer the rest by sneaking a glance over to where she was gesturing and pointing to her own water bottle.

I don’t know what pisses me off more; the fact that this did not result in an immediate, same-day rectification by my employer, or the fact that it did not occur to anyone to put the signs up warning against using the coolers in Spanish as well as English.

In any language, after another week (???!!!), a new water cooler – from the same company – appeared downstairs. I don’t know what we have upstairs, but it doesn’t matter since I now bring my own water in plastic jugs.  My stomach still hasn’t fully recovered from the bacterial invasion from before July, and I’m not drinking any water from a water cooler at this hospital again until we change companies, for two reasons. One is that I now don’t trust any of the company’s products, water, cooler, or otherwise. The second is because just because it looks all shiny new, there’s no evidence that the new water cooler is actually new.

And why is that?  It’s because we don’t get anything truly new at this hospital, ever, unless it’s a loaner while they repair our old, busted equipment to send back to us. It would not surprise me at all to see the old water cooler, supposedly no longer teeming with god knows what, back in its customary place in another couple of weeks or so.  Another example:  we currently have new computers in both radiology suites while they fix the extremely buggy and annoyingly unreliable old ones. The new ones work beautifully. I don’t want the old ones back. The day I see those ancient things running Windows 97 or whatever it is back in the x-ray rooms I may have to actually quit in protest.

OK, that’s probably not true. But I’m not talking about peevish but generally operable equipment here. It’s water, for god’s sake. Does no-one else think it might be worth shelling out a few more bucks for a reputable company that provides some sort of product guarantee? We have hundreds of employees drinking out of these coolers. I can’t speak for other departments, but I know about a half a dozen people from our department have gotten sick from that water. Not just ew, this is gross, but so ill they had to miss work.

How is this OK? Why are we still allowing this company to provide water to us?

Does no-one care about the human toll? Because it’s not like we got extra sick days to make up for this; people had to use their own hours to cover for when they were out sick with whatever bacteria got a free pass to their g.i. tracts courtesy of some decidedly not-pure spring water. Moreover, there was no mention of people getting sick in any of the relevant emails about not using the coolers, nor whether someone would be taking the company to task for it. I’m certain if I were to suggest that we be compensated for days missed from drinking the bacterial swill these coolers were dispensing I would be laughed out of someone’s office. (And probably reprimanded for behaving inappropriately, although that’s getting to be so common that it barely merits a mention any more.)

Is it too much to ask that someone at the hospital demand recompense from a company that supplies supposedly safe drinking water to its entire staff? Just get rid of the damn things if you care so little. (And oh, by the way, our clients only get bottled water, and their pets get water from the tap, both of which are apparently just fine.  Hm.)  If you’re not going to make the investment in time and money to ensure the sterility of our water supply, why bother spending money on supplying water at all? I’d rather it was used for, oh, let me pull something out of a hat, better x-ray equipment.

Instead, the powers that be at my workplace have apparently turned a blind eye to the fact several of us were more or less poisoned due to the water company’s negligence.  And not only did our supervisors demonstrate a frustrating nonchalance thereof, they didn’t even bother ensuring that the non-English-speaking members of the staff were thus informed.  Words fail to fully express the disgust I feel at this entire situation.

I hate being in a position where I need this job too much to quit, or even make a fuss about what’s been happening. But to all the higher-ups who bristle at the suggestion that this place treats people horribly need look no further than this latest travesty for proof. It’s not the first. I’m willing to bet won’t be the last.

About SeeMorrigan

I'm a woman in her early forties who was beset in October of 2013 with a nerve entrapment due to an abnormal conformation of my shoulder blades. I was in constant, unrelieved pain for fifteen months, until, after countless misdiagnoses and mistreatments, a surgeon correctly diagnosed the issue and performed two surgeries to remove pieces of my shoulder blades. Along the way, I also discovered I am high-functioning autistic. I started this blog in March of 2014 as a way to try to process what was happening to me. It is my hope that by sharing it with you, we can both gain something, or at least learn something, from my experience.
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