Monday, January 08, 2007

Small Victories

At long last, my immediate supervisor sent out an email to everyone in our office today, advising us that a "fragrance-free" policy will begin to be enforced beginning tomorrow. As I have mentioned in the recent past, my increasing sensitivity to chemicals---and especially fragrances---has exacerbated over the last year and become a marked life challenge in this scent-soaked society. While I cannot request that the rest of the world conform in order to increase my comfort and lessen my distress, now my home and my office can be sanctuaries for me within a culture that has become overpowering in its addiction to fragrance.

It seems not a day goes by wherein I do not come home with clothes carrying scents which I would rather not have absorbed: perfumes, colognes, those ubiquitous scented candles, hairsprays, cigarettes, deodorants---even the strong scent of some laundry detergents wafts through offices and homes, literally emanating from individuals' clothing. Walking by a neighbor's home, I am accosted by the sickly smell of a "fabric softener sheet" flowing out of the exhaust from someone's clothes dryer. In the summer, neighbors' charcoal fires spew smoke that drifts into our dining room and bedroom. In public restrooms, those so-called "air-fresheners" emit their noxious flowery spray periodically, sometimes actually spraying while I'm standing nearby.

There is little escape, and as I mentioned, sometimes home isn't even safe, especially when the windows are open for what we would hope is a breath of "fresh" air.

Having this sensitivity as it gets worse, we now need to caution friends and family before they come over, hoping that some chemical doesn't trigger one of us to have a reaction. Visiting others' homes now becomes problematic. Prior to a recent holiday party at a colleague's home, I had to ask her to not light any of her scented candles which can send me into a physical and mental tailspin. Nonetheless, the potpourri of perfumes worn by all of the women that night was stiflingly debilitating.

While I have spoken with several colleagues individually, I finally was forced to request that an offical policy be put in place or I was going to consider resigning my position. I know that some people may feel that being told not to wear their favorite cologne seems like an immense invasion of privacy, it really is no more invasive than a dress code, when you think about it. Come to think of it, it's really just an extension of a dress code. Now, if I could only "extend" that dress code to the rest of humanity, I'd probably be OK.

So, even the nurse is a patient, and even the nurse-patient can be compromised. It's a lesson in humility, in vulnerability, and in self-preservation despite the odds. Thankfully, there was one small victory today, and that is something to cheer about.
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