Monday, December 28, 2009

The Woes of Public Restrooms

Living with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS), it can be an enormous challenge to be in a public place and simply need to use a bathroom. These days, public restrooms in the United States seem to have been permanently inoculated with so-called "air-fresheners" that make relieving one's self an adventure in being actively poisoned.

For me personally, my struggles with public restrooms are exacerbated by the fact that I have an underlying medical condition (enlarged prostate) that necessitates fairly frequent urination, and this, my friends, can lead to some exceedingly challenging scenarios.

Just the other day, I was in a Trader Joe's store here in Atlanta, where we're visiting for the holidays. Feeling the urge, I sauntered warily towards the men's room, hesitant to open that door but feeling that I had no real choice in the matter. Pushing the door open, I was hit with that disappointing, maddening and altogether overwhelmingly frustrating sensation that I had discovered---yet again---another public rest room that is simply verboten for my use. Sigh.

While I have no problem with peeing outdoors (which, in fact, is altogether preferable on so many levels), there are numerous situations in which doing so could lead to embarrassment, dirty looks, and---worst of all---a permanent label as a sex offender. Bearing in mind that many states do indeed prosecute public urination as a sexual offense, I frequently find myself at a loss as to what to do in order to heed nature's (increasingly urgent) call.

You may then be led to ask, "Why not just use the stinky bathroom anyway, Keith? What could possibly happen to you?"

And I would reply, "Well, first of all, the clothes that I'm wearing can very quickly become saturated with the toxic smell of the substance in question. Although I do not develop respiratory symptoms like my wife does, I will find myself incredibly irritable, often with confusion, dulled mental faculties, and a difficulty finding words when speaking. A secondary and unfortunate sequela of my exposure to such a substance is that my wife will then react to the aura of chemical toxicity surrounding me, and she will then begin to have bronchospams, headaches, and a host of other symptoms which would have been otherwise preventable had I not entered that rest room in the first place."

As you can see, the fallout from a simple visit to a men's room can have far-reaching health consequences for both myself and my wife, and now that we are traveling, it is even more crucial for us to continue to use the toilet in our chemically safe mobile home when we can. Still, we often find ourselves in situations where we are far from our mobile haven, in need of a rest room, and unable to do what so many other people take for granted on a daily basis.

A "rest room" should truly embody the literal meaning of its name---a place for rest, to relieve one's self and emerge refreshed and ready for the next chapter of one's day. For those of us who are canaries in the coal mine of the toxic world around us, they are far from a restful place of repose. From the scented sprayers on the wall to the deodorizers in men's urinals, public rest rooms are dangerous, exasperating, poisonous places to be avoided at all costs. When a safe rest room is found, it is cause for celebration and relief (both mental and physical). But when one needs to go and there's nowhere to do so, it is a maddening moment of living in a toxic world.


This post has also been featured on The Canary Report.

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