The Scent of a Woman... or a Man

A curious thing has started to become a problem on my unit. It was something that I often take for granted and never thought I'd have to be educating healthcare staff about--using cologne, perfume, scented lotions, or body sprays.

A curious thing has started to become a problem on my unit. It was something that I often take for granted and never thought I’d have to be educating healthcare staff about--using cologne, perfume, scented lotions, sprays, etc. It seems that suddenly there’s been a run on new scents that everyone wants to have Myself? I never wear anything scented to work because I’m very sensitive to perfume and cologne smells that I rarely even wear it outside of work. I do have one “signature” scent that I can tolerate, but I wear it sparingly. Hopefully others can tolerate it, too. I know that when I’m around someone who is wearing a stronger application of their favorite scent, it bothers me. I get headaches and sometimes even a little nauseated, and I’m healthy.

I learned early on in nursing school that you just don’t wear scents to work, but either they’re forgetting to teach that any more, or people are just forgetting what they’ve learned. As I mentioned, it seems to have gotten worse on my unit lately. At least as far as my nose could tell. There were often times when I’d be working with a nurse on chemotherapy, meeting about an educational issues, or just reviewing patients, and it was obvious that they had gotten ready for work and added their favorite scent. Now mind you, it’s not one of those instances that a person walks anywhere in the vicinity and you know they’ve been there because they’ve worn so much cologne/perfume that their scent lingers forever. I’ve worked with a few of those people, and I find it to be obnoxious. This was subtle, but still noticeable. Rather than single one person out, I sent a kind message to the staff reminding them that the oncology patients, are very sensitive to smells and, although we want to be at our best , it’s not a good idea to wear any kind of scent to work. I didn’t hear from anyone. Then suddenly we received a patient response on call backs that were sent out to the staff. The patient stated how they felt their care was good, but that the staff needed to remember how she was there because she was sick, and that every perso who walked in her room was wearing perfume or cologne.

So it wasn’t just me after all. It was a great example of how we need to be more aware of what a patient may be experiencing rather than our own. It’s not always easy to do. I am sure that not one person put cologne on thinking that they were going bring on a bout of nausea in patients, but it happens. We become so immune to our surroundings that we forget. I remember once my niece, who was in high school, came to visit and we went to see where I worked. Although she thought the hospital was beautiful and the people nice, the whole time she kept saying how awful it smelled. I just chalked it up to her being a teenager but I have to remember that we do get immune. We forget that what we experience every day, whether it’s certain diagnoses, procedures, or even scents, our patients may be experiencing in a completely different way. Awareness is the key.

How does our unit smell now? Much better I think. I have noticed a marked decrease in the number of staff that is going all out to come to work, but that’s just a small number of people. I have become much more attuned, since hearing it right from a patient, about all the support staff also. Transporters, social workers, dietary aids, and chaplains all play a part in providing comfort to our patients, and they all want to do their best. But if they don’t even know they are causing discomfort how will they change? I guess someone has to step up and make it known to everyone at the hospital, that for the good of our patients, our natural scent is usually the best.