Saturday, November 19, 2005

Scents and Sensibilities

Mary and I have both developed chemical senstivities over the last few years, and as is common with such conditions, it gets worse with each exposure. It seems that our society is in love with masking natural scents, filling the air with every manner of chemical and smell. Scented candles, deodorants, air fresheners, "Plug-Ins" (which I think are evil and should be banned), and the ubiquitous Windex which cafe-workers spray with such abandon on tables throughout the land. Just tonight, we had to forcefully ask an earnestly hardworking young man to not spray down the table next to us with his huge bottle of Windex. They always seem so taken aback that we would object to the spraying of ammonia not two feet from our faces (and coffee cups!).

I am asking my supervisor at work to institute an official "scent-free" policy in our new office. I have fears of scented holiday candles and the like beginning to infiltrate my work environment, my throat closing and eyes watering in reaction. It's a difficult thing to ask , and many people just have no idea what one is talking about. ("You mean you don't like Febreze?"---as if it's un-American to not fill one's home with unnatural chemically-induced scents).

Unfortunately for Mary, I have an allergic reaction to one of her favorite scents--rose--even the most natural essential rose oil. I love the smell itself, but my throat closes faster than you can say anaphylaxis. And Mary has her own group of senstivities, some of which I share, but some which I do not. Neither of goes so far as to wear a mask in public, but there are individuals who must do so, and it is a stigmatizing and difficult cross to bear.

It's a lonely and threatening world for those of us conscious of the fact that chemicals in the environment cause us harm and duress---and it can be an uncomfortable but essential experience when one must confront and educate those in one's family and workplace. Working in healthcare, one would expect some acceptance of such a notion, but colognes and perfumes permeate all classes, professions, and socioeconomic strata. Just as allergies to peanuts have become widely accepted (such as "nut-free" tables in school cafeterias), perhaps some day environmental sensitivities (sometimes called "Multiple Chemical Senstivity" or MCS) will be as widely accepted, understood, and accomodated. Until then, those of us who experience such suffering in the wider world will need to continue to speak out, educate, and inform those for whom such a sensitivity is beyond comprehension.

Here's to sense and sensibility vis-a-vis scents.
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