Patient care fail – when allergies hit

First of all, for those out there following along, my surgery went well. I’m writing this now because I’m not ready to sleep yet and it is just slightly too soon for my next round of pain meds – which I want to take just before trying to sleep.

For the most part, my patient experience today went well despite the delay. There was one pet peeve of mine that I think it deserves a blog post. Shortly after having changed into my hospital gown, while having blood drawn, I had an asthma attack. Through coughs, I directed the nurse to where my inhaler was (in my bag, since I only had on a hospital gown). She complemented me on remembering to bring along my rescue inhaler. She also tried to get my bed relocated because the loved-one for the person next to me was wearing perfume – which is most likely what triggered the asthma attack. Unfortunately, things were really busy, so there was no spare space. The nurse validated I was OK and they left me in the spot.

Here comes my pet peeve and rant. At NO TIME did they ask the loved-one who was wearing perfume to leave – or move away. The asthma attack was treated as my problem, and not the problem of the person who caused it in the first place! In this day-and-age, why is it OK for someone to wear perfume in a hospital? And especially in the pre-operative area of a hospital? None of the patients are permitted to wear it – heck, you are required to shower twice with special soap and put no lotions or creams on your skin.

Until places like hospitals adopt zero tolerance policies on things like perfume, the practice will continue. And people like me will be the ones to suffer – not those who are doing the offending in the first place.

Please take note – <begin rant>  if you like to wear perfume – stay away from hospitals, concert halls, and expensive restaurants (where the food is meant to be smelled not the person next to you) <end rant>. And nurses, I don’t care how uncomfortable it makes you feel to ask the offending person to leave, you need to stop punishing the patient! Ask the offender to leave, perhaps ask them to use the restroom to wipe off as much of the perfume as possible … it may be a futile exercise, but it will send a message, and perhaps that person will think twice the next time.

  • Becky


  • I agree with the importance of letting visitors know, having a policy against perfume in hospitals (not sure i agree about expensive restaurants haha)

    But in the absence of such a policy…

    I have a gentler suggestion, because I am also thinking about the poor patient who needs that loved one beside them, neither of whom knows about the offense the perfume might be causing. It would be completely polite and acceptable i think for the nurse to explain to the visitor that their perfume can cause allergies to other people and that they did this to you (for all we know, the person in the other room might have been offended by something we inadvertently did) . A next step would be to ask them to move to another area (if possible).

    My point is, yes, hospitals should be stewards of this kind of thing and enforce it. But since they don’t, I would not want to make someone “leave”, shamed, if they didn’t know they should not have been doing something in the first place.

    Or maybe this is a really known thing in your part of the world, and most people know they shouldn’t wear perfume in hospitals (but even then, what if she came running from another commitment when she heard about some emergency? Had no time to shower first?) but in my part of the world, no one ever comments on use of perfume in hospitals (err including patients and possibly doctors, not sure). We have all sorts of looser regulations that favor social relationships over physical wellbeing (which in some cases is not a bad thing, but in many cases is problematic).

    Over here, I have almost weekly conversations with people who smoke RIGHT OUTSIDE the gates of daycare centers. I am NOT exaggerating. I talk to the daycare administrators. I talk to the people smoking. Then I do it again the next week with another daycare, or sometimes the same one.

  • I totally get your rant! As someone with chemical sensitivities somehow I always seem to be the problem. I’m the one who has to leave a meeting because of someone’s perfume. I’m the one who has to ask again for a meeting to be rescheduled in a different room due to some lingering construction smells from next door, or I’m the one who has had to ask again to have my class moved because of some fresh paint down the hallway, or who has to constantly fight to keep my office in a non toxic area of the building, or… Well, it goes on and on. I am seen as the problem and not the perfume itself of the toxic construction fumes or the fact that we have created those toxic substances to begin with… And when I’m not feeling very centered, which I often don’t when my sensitivities are triggered, it can feel really frustrating.

    Though I don’t have first hand experience of this, I’m told that in our local hospitals here in Cape Breton that there are what are called the “scent police” who wander the hallways sniffing. And if they come across someone wearing a strong scent they are gently offered two choices. 1. They can take a little shower bag offered to them and head down the hallway to a shower to remove the scent, or 2. They can leave and return later without it. I wish all workplaces could have such a policy in place!

    • Love the scent police idea and their approach!

      Strong perfume is so unnecessary and it is so sad it causes discomfort and even serious harm and yet the person harmed is seen as the problem.

      My mom has all kinds of allergies including to perfume BUT a strangely almost absent sense of smell – end result being she can’t always tell what’s causing her allergy.

      The point about paint made me think, though – isn’t it bad for everyone? Like smoking.

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