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Sinusitis Experience #006
Loosing a Job Because Of Sinusitis

I have been a clinical social worker for 16 years. For the past 4 years, I worked in a Southern California State Mental Institution. I began experiencing an exacerbation of sinus infections having to miss work when I was moved to a chronic unit. I had a small windowless office where I could smell odors from the staff and patients' bathrooms. The unit had to be closed about a year ago because urine had soaked into the concrete foundation. The units sat atop a basement that had mold problems that were difficult to eradicate. I then got an office off the unit, but it flooded every time it rained and afterward would emit a musky smell.

Last October, I began to experience increased fatigue going home to go to bed, increased pain in my joints, increased vertigo, wheezing, and coughing. After Thanksgiving, I suddenly experienced something that looked like "pink eye" at the same time I seemed to be having an onset of a sinus infection. The doctor gave me drops and had me stay home a day or two. When I returned to work, my sinuses were draining; I had the sinus pressure between and around my eyes, and an increasing productive cough. The cough became worse and went into bronchitis. What I experienced was diagnosed as sinusitis and bronchitis.

By the middle of December, I developed a painful rash/bumps in the roof of my mouth, around my upper lips (including swelling), inside my right nostril, and in my right eye. The doctor diagnosed me with Shingles, prescribed an antiviral medication and took me off work. Between the sinusitis and bronchitis, I was going into coughing spasms to where I could barely breathe. I was not able to sleep at night. The shingles in the mouth prevented me from eating solid food. I was prescribed a broad spectrum antibiotic on Christmas Eve. By the first week in January, I returned to the doctor who changed the antibiotic as there was no change, and I could barely walk. By the end of January, he prescribed two antibiotics and felt I had a bacterial sinus infection. He referred me to an ENT for a culture. The culture came back with Staph, two different types of Pseudomonas, and a fungus. The bacteria were 90% resistant to most antibiotics and I was switched to two different antibiotics. It was noted that I had a deviated septum. I took two courses of the antibiotics before I felt better.

Because I had had recurrent and chronic bouts of sinusitis since 2003, I made a practice of obtaining FMLA [Family and Medical Leave Act] to cover absences relating the illness. 2005 FMLA was obtained which covered this illness. Upon my return, my employer began action that lead to my being fired despite the fact I had turned in 12 doctor's certificates, the culture report, and information about the serious nature of the illness. They arbitrarily denied my FMLA and fired me although I was a permanent state employee.

Currently I am awaiting an Appeals Hearing and have used this time to learn more about FMLA, my hospital's employment practice, and the use of grievances. One interesting fact to note is that since I have been away from the hospital, I have not experienced any sinus related symptoms that use to plague me.

I wanted to share this story with you because my doctor took the conservative approach and let several months lapse before referring me out to an ENT. The ENT only saw me three times and said he was not going to treat me further. I had to return to my regular doctor for the last culture. Now I am very reticent about finding another ENT because the first one dismissed my case as being "too much trouble".

Sinusitis can be very debilitating and devastating both physically and to one's quality of life. While I am confident I will be restored to my position, I hope to transfer to another job away from the hospital, as I believe I am sensitive to the toxins, smoke, and other environmental smells that exist. My point is that anyone who finds themselves working in such an environment and who experiences respiratory problems, don't just dismiss them and hope they will go away. Learn and use FMLA, and don't be afraid to appeal or grieve any adverse action. Those of us who are committed to our jobs and quality of care of others don't use sinusitis as a way to dodge work.

~ M.S.


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User experiences should not be considered medical advice. Always seek the advice of a physician for proper medical diagnosis.

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