If you've begun sniffling and sneezing, there's a reason for that. Spring has sprung, and with it the annual barrage of pollen and mold.
Monday was the first day of the allergy count for the Chicago area, which means it's back to work for veteran doctor who has been doing the count for the last 20 years.
Every morning from March to October, allergist Dr. Joseph Leija, 86, climbs the stairs at Gottlieb Memorial Hospital in west suburban Melrose Park at 5 a.m. On the rooftop sits a little machine that determines whether thousands of us will be sneezing and wheezing.
For 20 years, Dr. Leija has been the person who tracks and counts the pollen grains and mold spores that get trapped on a tiny glass plate inside the machine. And on the first day of the 2016 count, Dr. Leija had some bad news.
"The winter was very mild and it's something that creates more problems with the weeds growing, everything else is going to be double," he said.
That's critical information for people who depend on Dr. Leija's daily allergy count, which is posted by 8 a.m. every day on the web and via Twitter.
Dr. Leija takes each slide to a lab inside the hospital and places it under a microscope, then counts and identifies each grain of pollen, which sometimes runs into the thousands.
Dr. Leija, who immigrated from Mexico more than 50 years ago, retired from his allergy practice in 2013. Yet he continues to get up at 4 a.m. to do the allergy count without pay.
"Now that I'm getting old I'd like to pass it around someplace, but nobody wants to do it," he said.
"He's vitally important to Gottlieb and to those who have allergies because as you know we've done this for many years and it's because of him that we're able to do this," said Lori Price, President of Gottlieb Memorial Hospital.
"I like it. I enjoy it. People need some help.This is something that's very essential to the patients," Leija said. I'll keep doing it as long as I could. My wife says I'm crazy."