L'Association pour la santé environnementale du Québec / Environmental Health Association of Québec

Your Voice Matters

One of the Lucky ones!

Debra Aronson

When I was a little girl, I woke up in the morning feeling fine. I would get ready for school but started to feel sick when I went into the kitchen for breakfast. Every morning my mother gave me cream of wheat with white sugar and milk while she read the newspaper and sipped her coffee. After a few minutes I would feel nauseated and complained that I was too sick to go to school. The pediatrician diagnosed me with school phobia and referred me to a child psychiatrist. But I loved school and the talking doctor couldn’t help in the least!

As I got older, breakfast was on the go and my morning symptoms improved. I never really wanted to eat in the morning, and my mom probably waited until I was at school for her coffee and newspaper time. Eventually I figured out that certain smells could make me sick. I needed to leave the room when a newspaper was lying around. But I kept it mostly to myself because I was just laughed at. As I got older, I noticed more odours making me nauseated, sometimes to the point of vomiting. My father wore aftershave, my mom loved cologne. My grandmother sprayed the bathroom with “air freshener” – I tried to hold my breath if I had to go at her house. It was so gross! Friends and family thought I was crazy or making symptoms up. Brain fog was a major contributor that got me into trouble in school – lack of concentration and a wandering mind. Because I never knew where we were when I was called on to read or answer questions, I was accused of daydreaming!

I had many allergies, a well-recognized medical problem treated with antihistamines and allergy shots. But if there was no itchiness, swelling or hives, no one understood why I said other things could make me sick too! Food sensitivities also made me feel moderately gross. Moderate is what makes me lucky. A reaction to scents makes it harder to tolerate foods that don’t always bother me.

Some products give me a worse reaction than others. Laundry and house cleaning products, bath and hair products, soaps and perfumes really set me off.

I recall a few years ago taking my mother to an appointment at a large cancer center in Toronto. The doctors were running late and the waiting area was crammed with people. There was a thick confluence of scents in that room and I became so sleepy, nauseated and bloated.

I realize that I’m lucky. When I find myself in those situations, if I can remove myself from the culprits, have a brisk walk, or substitute the smell that is in my olfactory memory with an odour that I can tolerate, and then the symptoms fade away quickly.

I realize how fortunate I am that I recover fairly quickly from these episodes and really sympathize with my fellow MCSers whose symptoms are worse, more frequent and persist longer.