White coat syndrome. That visceral, heart thumping, anxious, nerve-driven reaction that predictably pops up the second you see that tell-tale while lab coat. But wait, it starts before that doesn’t it? More like the second you first detect that smell. Just what is it about medical disinfectant? It just smells so, well, medical. So like it’s covering up sick, and bringing you along with it, pulling you under its odourous spell.
Hackles of a sort go up. You’re immediately on the alert, wary of anyone coming at you with any tools of the medical trade, or heaven forbid, even just asking you questions. You feel that heightened sense of fearful awareness. Even a benign little greeting of “How are you feeling today?” doesn’t feel so benign anymore. What are they going to find? What are they going to do to me? It’s funny though, when you already feel really lousy and are sick, it seems then there’s almost less fear and more just relief that help is on the way.
But I’ve noticed something, even just walking into a medical office to wait for someone who’s having a regular checkup, that can elicit the same precise and familiar feeling of foreboding. Like you’re visiting the ill side of life – where things go wrong, where lives are changed, and where if you’re lucky, you get to bounce out with a spring in your step when given an all clear. You get to rejoin the part of the world, the part of life, where you can forget that health is fragile and sadly, all too temporary. You get to live again forgetting about that smell.
An idea occurs to me. I seriously wonder if reactions would be different if they could use something else to disinfect the medical world. The one we hope to only temporarily visit at most. Why can’t a doctor’s office smell like freshly baked chocolate chip cookies? Oh wait, better make that oatmeal and hold the nuts, in consideration of those with allergies who might understandably tense up at the smell of their allergens. So how about the aroma of pizza? Of course food scents might not work so well for those with stomach complaints. So how about flowers then? And I don’t mean those sickenly artificial chemical sprays, but then the real thing could pose their own allergy concerns. And while we’re at it, we better be careful with our choice of flowers – lest we make people feel like they’ve jumped ahead to their own funeral.
I’m open to ideas. But maybe the most innocuous, widely pleasing choice, the least offending scent would be a nice citrus one. A happy medium, not a clinically associated odour, but still one associated with cleanliness. Like the kind we may find in the comfort of our own homes. Yeah, we cold use a comforting scent instead of that doctor’s office smell. Be better able to focus on the matter at hand, getting checked out, being able to answer questions calmly, normally – for who of us ever feels completely normal in a medical cubicle? Maybe blood pressure readings could actually resemble actual pressures, and not be inflated by that white coat.
If only these offices could feel (and smell) more like an extension of our normal lives. Just like we go the grocery to get food, we could go to medical practitioners to get (or keep) well, all without scary odours. Thankfully my first line choice of homeopaths, naturopaths, and other complementary/alternative medical professionals all tend to smell less medicinal already. But I can think of no other place we go but the standard medical facility that smells so foreignly ominous. So distinctive in a bad way.
They say our sense of smell triggers the strongest memory reactions because it’s closer to the brain or something, shorter distance to travel than other kinds of memories. Seems all the more reason to try to get rid of that smell at the doctor or dentist. Talk about getting off on the wrong foot, especially if you’re at the podiatrist I would imagine.
Maybe you get used to the smell if you smell it often enough. Maybe I’m lucky I’m not used to it. No offense meant in any way to all the wonderful and invaluable medical people, but I don’t want to have to see you, or smell you.