As summer approaches and residents flock to the beach as a way to cool off in the Chicago heat, lifeguards at North Avenue Beach anxiously await the first E. coli outbreak of the season.
“It’s always a treat. Some worried mother comes up to the stand, complaining about how her son is in the bathroom blowing chunks after swallowing a bunch of lake water. It’s like, if you didn’t want your son drinking the lake water, then why did you come to the beach?” said lifeguard Brandon Mullins.
Lake Michigan is no stranger to the pesky bacteria, and the hard-working Chicago Park District lifeguards know that an outbreak is almost inevitable as the swimming season rolls around. The vomiting, bloody diarrhea, and occasional kidney failure wreaking havoc upon beach-goers have been accepted as a fact of life for these lifeguards.
“I was infected with E. coli last summer after taking a dip in the lake,” said Chicago resident Sadie Wiseman. “I had to be rushed into the hospital because I was going into septic shock. It was pretty bad. Did that stop me and my friends from going to the beach for the rest of the summer? No. Should it have? Probably.”
In addition to E. coli, the water has been known to harbor other toxins.
“You know, the lake is kinda nasty when I really think about it,” commented lifeguard Keith Muir. “From the pollution, the occasional sewage, one year there was even asbestos detected in the water. I’m not sure why people swim in it.”
“Yeah, I’m just praying I never have to actually rescue someone from the water. You’d have to pay me to jump in that lake,” added fellow lifeguard Elaine Cowley, forgetting that jumping in the lake is in fact what she gets paid for.
While most beach-goers know the risk of infection, it is rare to see people abstain from swimming altogether.
“I mean, Chicago only gets like 4 months a year tops where the weather is this nice out. What’s a little E. coli here and there?” said anonymous.
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