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A Canary's Eye View — Challenges
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Human Contact

I am unable to go to any kind of meeting or public place -- not only because of outgassing from building products and heating systems; not only from pesticides and cleaning products and "air fresheners" -- but even from normal laundry products and personal-care products. I'm isolated and hungry for social contact. If you showed up at my door, I would want to spend time with you. In order to do that, I need to take some precautions...


I wouldn't be able to let you in, or even stand and talk to you if you had on you (or your clothes)...

  • Most shampoos
  • Any hair conditioner or gel or spray
  • Most kinds of hand soap
  • Any prepared skin moisturizer
  • Scented deodorant (most are)
  • Any insect repellent (I can give you some herbs that help a little)
  • Many kinds of laundry detergent
  • Any kind of fabric softener

...not to mention

  • aftershave
  • perfume, cologne, toilet water, etc.
  • flower essences
  • aromatherapy oils
  • other natural fragrances

...or if you had been around these things recently enough that they were still clinging to your clothes and hair:

  • tobacco smoke
  • diesel exhaust
  • pesticide
  • incense
  • "air freshener"

Dealing with it

Now, imagine you have come to the door, and I have to smell you to find out whether you are safe for me to be exposed to, and if not, to figure out how we can deal with it:

I start back about six feet, sniffing; slowly I move closer. If I detect a problem, I need to figure out where it's coming from. Is it just on your hands? (I sniff your hand). Hand creams and moisturizers usually wash off pretty well. Your hair? (I sniff your head). Residual scent from shampoos, conditioners and hair colorings can be very difficult to wash out. I will ask you to shower using a product that will remove some scent, and in addition I need you to wear a hat or scarf that will completely cover your hair. Your clothes? (I sniff your shoulder.) That's easy, we put them in a plastic bag on the porch and you wear some of ours.

Now imagine you are me, trying to figure out how to tell you beforehand that we need to do all that. How can I be kind and compassionate, tell you in a gentle way that won't sound so weird you just decide to avoid me?

Advance preparation

If we have time to plan ahead, we can get you some of the products I use.

A gift

As you can imagine, I don't get many visitors. I don't go out to meetings, or church, or parties; with no control over what I'm exposed to in public, I just get sick. So I'm pretty isolated. When someone is willing to go through this for me, I appreciate it. It's a treasure to have real human contact.

© copyright Catherine Holmes Clark, 1999; last updated 25 July 1999