When little kids want to punish their parents, they sometimes hold their breath. Fortunately, most parents know that the little buggers will eventually let go and breathe on their own. Most children don’t try that tactic after they figure out that, 1) it’s uncomfortable, and 2) they really can’t keep it up long enough to make it an effective tool of persuasion.
But what if you develop a condition that causes you to occasionally be unable to get the air you need? What if this condition doesn’t have a well-recognized name like asthma or emphysema? What if someone wearing perfume or other scented products can walk into the room, and you can no longer get the air you need to breathe?
Say hello to Reactive Airway Disease, a condition that can come on suddenly and render you helpless in the presence of some chemicals. A person with heavy application of hair spray, cologne, or even scented lotion can cause airways to swell up and stop functioning. Sometimes the application doesn’t have to be heavy, depending on the underlying chemical component of the product. When this happens, you have to get away from the source of the chemical. After that, a swift application of an inhaler or even an emergency injection of epinephrine is needed.
I’ve become very familiar with this problem recently. It’s not something I’m personally afflicted with. Instead, I have to watch my daughter suffer. It’s a bad situation, no question about it. But perhaps the worse part is other people’s reactions.
Working in an environment where the people around you don’t understand the situation is one thing. Most people, once they realize what’s at stake, will do what they can to help. When people become hostile and openly uncooperative after having been educated about the condition, the act of going to work each day becomes dangerous. A pulmonologist has given her instructions and prescriptions for care. He even supplied information to pass along to her co-workers and supervisors, explaining this condition, and the steps necessary to help her avoid having a breathing crisis. And yet people who come into her workspace multiple times every day have not been persuaded to leave off the scented products while on the job.
I’m not sure when women (and a considerable number of men) became intent on dousing themselves with fragrance each day. Even a hundred years ago, that may have been necessary in order to cover the fact that daily bathing was not yet in vogue. But certainly, in today’s world, the morning or nightly shower is the norm.
I suppose it’s a mindset. A petulant insistence that “It’s my right to wear fragrance if I want to!” attitude. I don’t know what that says about our society in general, but I know what it tells me about a small group of people in my daughter’s workplace.
I wish people were kinder and more sympathetic. Maybe someday, if something like this happens to them, they will understand. When that happens, I hope they remember and feel a bit ashamed.