Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Helping Others Understand

I had an experience last week that I'm still puzzling over. I'm just not sure if I handled it in the best way. It happened in a small local fabric store.

I know; I know. A fabric store is NOT the best place for a person with MCS--way too many chemicals in those brand new bolts of cloth fresh from the factory. But I really needed a spool of thread and a couple of other things, so it was to be just a quick in and out. It was just after opening, so there weren't more than three or four people in the store, including clerks, and I was doing just fine, rushing around to get what I needed, until I got to the check-out.

As my purchase was being totaled a woman came up behind me. I hadn't even noticed she was there when I could feel a bad reaction coming on--head spinning, sinuses swelling, panic setting in--you know the drill. Then I smelled the intense perfume she was wearing and knew I needed to get out of there. I tried to maintain my composure (a hard thing to do in the middle of such a reaction) as I told the clerk what was happening and that I needed to get out of the store immediately.
"Are you having a reaction to me?" the clerk asked.
"No," I said. "It's something this woman behind me is wearing." At which point I turned around and looked at the person behind me. She looked back at me aghast mouthing, "Who, me?" just as the clerk insisted that I had to sign the receipt before I could leave the store. I quickly signed it, mumbled something to the effect of "keep my copy" and ran out the door.

Neither one of these women was in any way rude to me. I don't know if they were apologetic, because I didn't stick around long enough to see. I do know that they both had a very visual example of a person with MCS having a reaction. I was clearly having difficulty breathing by the time I left the store. I hope they took the reaction seriously and didn't just chalk it up to "a crazy old lady." And I hope they learned something from the experience (other than to stay away from crazy old ladies).

Since I get so mentally spaced out when I have a reaction, maybe it would be helpful if I had something pre-planned to say in such a situation. Of course, that would require me to remember what I had pre-planned. I could carry a pre-printed script that I could read--sort of a cheat sheet. Better yet, I could just hand it to them. Hmmm. That's a thought.


Barbara said...

That is a sticky situation. You could buy pre-cut blank business cards at the local office supply and print your message on those.

Becca said...

Don't worry, I don't think you're a crazy old lady. I think the business card idea is a good one - maybe just something that says "I'm chemically sensitive and have just had a reaction - please forgive me if I left abruptly" or something a little better said than that. I wouldn't worry too much about this particular situation though. Maybe it at least made the ladies think, you know?

celia said...

after I was sick for so long (and new that it was MCS-affected, though began by a virus) . . .

I was literally afraid to go to stores--

I have had some strong reactions; I couldn't breathe/smell well--and I was afraid I would get sicker without my senses to help me--

it was "funny" how I KNEW that someone was strongly perfumed; I sensed the chemical while being really congested . . .

and I felt "Trapped" as I completed my transaction; it was really hard for me not to see that otherwise nice woman standing behind me as an "enemy"--

I got out quickly; I didn't say anything to the clerk, but it was a close call--


celia said...

sorry about the typo; that is "knew", not "new" in the first line--