Wednesday, July 8, 2009


I had a great two weeks with my daughter and her family and the new baby. The day before the baby was born, my mother-in-law fell and broke her femur. It was healing well and she was receiving rehabilitation therapy until a few days ago, when she started having severe pain in that leg. She is back in the hospital now, going through a myriad of tests to determine the source of the pain. And here I am with her, watching her, listening to her, talking to her, helping her navigate the electronic bed, communicating with medical personnel and giving my sister-in-law (her daughter) some badly needed personal time to catch up with her family and her business.

Generally speaking, I go to great lengths to avoid hospitals, both as a patient and as a visitor. Between my chemical sensitivities and my dietary concerns, hospitals just aren’t very hospitable to me. But I have to say, as hospitals go, this mega-medical-complex in the middle of the Salt Lake Valley is not too bad. (Sorry, that’s the closest I can come to an actual complement.)

For one thing, all of the almost 1200 patient rooms are private rooms with views of the mountains. The floors are a light wood-grain laminate and the cabinetry is pine and oak. Artfully framed color photographs of Southern Utah’s redrock country adorn the walls of rooms and hallways, and with the door closed, it’s almost silent (except for the rhythmic hum of medical equipment, of course).

Being a hospital, cleanliness is of utmost importance, yet the typical antiseptic aroma I had come to expect is strangely absent. When the housekeeping person came in yesterday to mop the floor and clean the bathroom, I asked her what kind of cleaning products were used. She was happy to show me that they are environmentally-friendly and fragrance-free. Then, last night, when I helped my MIL change gowns and get fresh bedding, I was pleased to see that the laundry was also fragrance-free and the bedding is all made of cotton.

All day yesterday a parade of people—nurses, aides, social workers, chaplains—came in and out of the room, and not one of them carried any fragrance along with them. By evening I had forgotten to even be concerned about a chemical reaction, which allowed me to focus on my MIL’s needs, rather than my own.

Then, at 7:30 pm, the night shift nurse walked in to introduce herself. The waft of strong perfume that came with her left me feeling like I had run into a brick wall. All I could do was back away as I gasped for breath. As she gave me a questioning look, I very bluntly told her that I have chemical sensitivities and I could not be in the same room with her because of her strong perfume. I then expressed my surprise that she, a registered nurse, would wear a heavy scent, especially in a facility that I had deemed to be fragrance-free and working with people whose immune systems have already been compromised by injury and illness.

The nurse did not give me a verbal response, but the look on her face was not one I would describe as friendly. My MIL was oblivious, fortunately, and, since I was just preparing to leave for the night anyway, I made a quick and convenient exit. I only hope that if I am still here this evening, the same nurse will not be on duty.

Most hospitals have a public relations person, patient advocate or ombudsman. So one of my goals for today is to find that person’s name so I can send a written letter of concern after we are done here. Of course, I will also register the many positive aspects of our experience, which surely outweigh this one negative. I hope I can be more tactful than I was last night, but still find a way to drive my point home, that this one nurse’s behavior poses a danger to patients (and their visitors) and is so incongruous with the rest of the institution.

Since my experience with hospitals is very limited, I would love any suggestions of how to approach this one.

1 comment:

Barbara said...

I stay away from hospitals whenever I can. I always wind up with a HUGE migraine. A few years back, my husband fell, hit his face on the street and we had to got get stitches. Waited for hours, so by the time we finally were seen I was miserable. A nurse came in totally REEKING. I left the room and my husband told her why. She actually left and found someone else to help us. We never saw her again. Not all stories turn out so well.

Funny thing (or is it sad?), I know a lady who taught nursing students for years. She taught her nurses to NEVER wear perfume. We could use that now!

On further thought, I think I'm going to move to Utah to be near that hospital. It would be nice to be in a hospital that is (mostly) fragrance free.