Chew On This

My stomach clenched like a fist, causing my muscles to cramp across my midsection. My hand flew to cover my mouth and I fought the nausea that blossomed from my gut like  slow motion explosion. I stepped back from the pharmacy service window and turned away praying that I wouldn’t begin to projectile vomit. I was filling a prescription at the Spokane VA where the pharmacy worker, a twenty-something, raven haired lady was chewing exceedingly aromatic gum, flooding the air with the sickly sweet smell of spearmint,

I have always hated mint, and especially spearmint. I assume because the odor of it acts as a strong emetic and has always affected me very negatively. Even the odor of skunk is preferable to me, compared to the smell of chewing gum. There is a mental image that always accompanies my olfactory discomfort; I am aware that our sense of smell is triggered by molecules of the matter we smell. As gross as it is, when we detect the odor of dog doo, it’s because small particles of fecal matter are being taken inside the body to contact the membranes which detect odors. When I smell gum, I know that small particles of that gum are entering my body, carrying along with it the various and many bacteria that exist in the mouth. Some of that bacterial is coliform, meaning, again, feces.

So a combination of the odor itself –and the mental imagery of bacteria riding upon saliva and oozing its way into my nose and mouth disgusts me to the point of physical reaction. Just as it is considered bad form to sneeze in the faces of those we interact with, it should, in my opinion, be just as bad form to exhale spit, bacteria, and bits of spearmint gum at those around us. (I also dislike the strong odors of perfumes that both men and women see fit to bathe themselves in, especially in closed spaces like elevators and airplanes and the like, but that’s just discomfort. It doesn’t make me physically ill. But I know people who it does have that effect on, and for my own sensibilities I have great empathy for them.)

It’s long been known that personal interaction between people is one of the most common ways we spread illnesses. This happens because, as I explained above, the bacteria, gleefully bathing in saliva, is kept comfortable as we spread them from host to host. As such, I believe, and quite strongly so, that this vehicle for passing bacteria should be shunned, and especially so in hospitals where the air is already rife with the combinant armies of disease. Most hospitals prohibit the use of any odious products, some even making it a firing offense. I agree wholeheartedly with these policies. People come to hospitals because they have medical problems, not because they want them..

Adding insult to injury, this particular worker was harried and speaking intolerantly (and even rudely) to those unfortunate enough to present themselves at her window. Most are appreciative and considerate of we veterans, and I can understand having a bad day and being occasionally snippy for it. But there also seems to be a lot of mix ups with the pharmacy system, with drugs that are supposed to be picked up at the counter being mailed instead, and drugs that are supposed to be mailed end up sitting unretrieved at the counter when they should have been mailed. No matter which, it inevitably means that a vet goes without needed mediation for a few days unnecessarily.

I appreciate the changes and improvements that the VA, or at least the VA facilities serving me, have gotten tremendously better in the years I’ve gone to them. I don’t want to come off ungrateful, but some things just have to accommodate the veterans, and my sensitivity to unnecessary odors should be in this category. It doesn’t make sense to offer me services and then make a part of the environment virtually toxic and repellent. Something so odoriferous, and obvious shouldn’t require a complaint from a patient; the supervisors should be aware already –and quick to eliminate the issue before a veteran is exposed to it.

As a society, it seems that we have lost a lot of the ideas of polite society, people’s momentary whims taking precedence over reasonable behaviors. As a people, we have always been seen boorish and egocentric to other nations, and now we are beginning to offend one another. Like the way that celebrity roasts have replaced honoring ceremonies as absolute strangers celebrate someone’s merits by immersing them in insults and rampant profanity. In my estimation, all this does is further separate us from the idea of solidarity; it’s hard to say United We Stand when we can’t employ simple kindness and politeness with our own fellow Americans.