Earlier, this year, I wrote about ‘Doubling up on Chemical Exposures for the Sake of Convenience‘. Odd title, I know but—as I found out from that post—that’s just what so many of us do when there’s an appointment to go to: we double up, even triple up. (Wrongly, so wrongly, some of us can’t go out at all, even.) On that day, I didn’t want to drag myself anywhere, let alone somewhere where I’d be standing in a room with other people who would most likely be wearing fragrances and other spray type products. And I was right. They were! My eyes stung, caustically. And as I moved my mouth to speak, the 3M mask allowed fragrance chemicals through sides that don’t seal tight enough around my face: the shitty taste of Armani-like fragrance, followed by the smell, infiltrated my senses; but not before swiftly kicking three weeks of good health into the gutter.
The moment I got out of there, which turned out to be only thirty long minutes later, after walking out passed the building’s exit, passed the miniature chimneys of smoke coming from people sucking on cigarettes furiously giving head to their frustrations, I made a beeline for my car. While still parked in the disabled parking zone, I took off my mask, pulled a clean set of clothes, including an army jacket, from a bag I’d packed earlier, and proceeded to change clothes by pulling the new items over the top of my body, while sliding off the perfume contaminated ones underneath. (Talented, I know.) The best way to stop the exposure was to remove the clothing that was covered in the fragrance chemicals causing it.
Once I had a ‘clean’ set of clothes, I took a spray bottle of water kept in the car for times just like this, and cleansed my skin, wiping any fragrance residue away with tissues. I checked my face in the rear-vision mirror: Yep! The tell-tale red rash in the shape of a butterfly was stinging its wingspan across my face. Oh well, may as well make the most of this and head to the shops, I thought. As I grabbed a fresh mask from the old Weetbix tin that’s kept in the back seat of my car, the old thrill of going shopping cursed through my veins: I wanted to go to Target, even though I had no reason. (It had been more than nine months. And after finishing Part 1 of my interview with Kathryn Treat, where we discussed going to Target while chemically sensitive, I had been fantasying about such a trip!) No plan to buy anything in particular. Just allow myself to be carried along by impulsivity for a change. (A dangerous pursuit for someone with MCS).
My partner, Dan, used to be a typical male (Is that sexist to say?), not enjoying shopping unless there was method behind the madness, but now, things have changed: he encourages me because he knows that if I want to go into a polluted building, it’s because I’m either on the mend or not had a chemical exposure for some time (we’re not sure, it could be both, but we embrace this opportunity, anyway). Purely on a whim, we ended up in the Waurn Ponds branch of OPSM (an optometrist and glasses shop), instead of Target.
It’s been eight years since I last bought a pair of reading glasses, while also getting my eyesight re-checked. I’d been due for the last two years: my DKNY sturdy black frames had cracks along the ear pieces. They rubbed, scratching their way into irritation that I managed to ignore. I’d fantasised many times about going to the Optometrists but kept putting it off, all because I had to find a new one, doing the ol’ Will-you-go-fragrance-free-for-me? dance. My last Optometrist was in Rosebud, a whole boat ride on a diesel ferry away from where I live. You know when you have to go to the trouble of organising staff to be fragrance free so that they can attend to you by actually peering into your face at close range, it’s easy to ignore scratches behind your ears…
Well, no longer. Here I was in OPSM trying on glasses, while my partner was busy explaining to the shop attendant how I had fragrance allergies and it’d be best if she didn’t get too close. And guess what happened? No, she wasn’t dripping in Britney Spears or Charleze Theron, but she did tell us she wasn’t wearing any sprays because she didn’t like them. And, she was friendly, too; treating me as if I didn’t even have this weirdo mask plastered to my face. I immediately stopped being the freak I’ve succumbed into feeling like: a result of being teased, commented on and/or laughed at while shopping (another reason—although minuscule compared to an illness caused by chemicals—to avoid visiting the shops). I felt at ease, asking if they had any glasses the same as my old trusty pair of faithfuls. She had better than that: she had the same DNKY black-rimmed glasses but with bright pink accents running along the edges of the black frames. And the glass area was bigger, too, giving me a larger scope of peripheral vision!
Dan found a pair of sunglasses that could have my script fitted into them. I would never have chosen this particular brand, not just because of the price (although, we got them discounted due to a health fund) but because they are Prada: almost too Milano-I’m-dripping-in-Armani looking. And bug eyed! However, the shape is extraordinarily special because they wrap right around, blocking out not only the sun, but also any wind. And, they can protect my eyes from getting fragrance in them when I walk in public spaces. When that happens, they dry, they sting, and it’s just another level of exposure I have to put up with if I want to go somewhere.
I settled on those two pairs, and made an appointment to see an Optometrist during a time when it could be arranged for them to not be wearing any sprays or scents. We made it for first thing in the morning so that I wouldn’t be in a cloud of another customer’s cologne or hairspray. The staff also attached a note to the technicians so they could give me brand new glasses rather than the ones from the shop that had been tried on by Who Knows wearing Who Knows What; and, most thoughtfully, they wrote instructions on the paperwork for them not to be cleaned with fragrances or any sprays or any cleaning solutions. I hadn’t thought of this.
The extra trouble they went to meant that I didn’t have to air out my new specks, and it negated the possibility of not being able to use them, ever!, because they had become contaminated by known airway and eye irritants.
So I went back a week later, had my eyes checked, finding out that there’s no change to my prescription: Still a slight astigmatism, and a little bit of scar tissue from some old sun damage. The last optometrist said this scar tissue was caused by irritation from inhaling chemicals that caused inflammation, but it’s good to know it’s actually caused from the sun but it’s chemical exposures (particularly fragrance) that flares it up. I get a red line going across my eye that stings like crazy. It’s always the left eye that cops it worse. And, often, it’s only the left eye that’s left stinging and burning like someone dragged a hot knife over my eyeball from side to side. It’s great to know I can prevent this from getting worse by wearing sunglasses when outside.
(Speaking of being outside in the sun: I have some awesome news, I’m able to spend time, like hours!, out on my front balcony, in the sunshine and fresh air (Hello, Vitamin D that’s not in a capsule!). This is a breakthrough because when I first moved here, I couldn’t sit outside for long because each time a car or truck went passed (400 metres away) the fumes would come up and totally gas me. Now, I can’t even feel it, nor can I smell it. Sometimes it might be one of those (polluting-scum-bag) cars or trucks that blow out dirty exhaust and then, yes, I have to move inside. I know from previous experience, this is a sign of healing. I’ll share some more about my success and what I’ve been doing asap…)
You know, I found the Optometrist and staff at Waurn Ponds OPSM to be really friendly, fragrance free (upon request) and willing to go out of normal procedure to accommodate my needs. (Check out their use of cotton gloves for handling my goggles; their idea, not mine.) I’ll definitely be going back, in possibly about another eight years when it’s time to get new specs!
Things You Can Try to Do This Too:
- Ask for an appointment with an Optometrist who is willing to go fragrance free
- Wear a mask if you need to, even two! (Or one mask with a cotton scarf layered over the top like I did!)
- Tell them not to clean with any sprays on the day of your appointment
- And not to clean your glasses with any cleaners with any ingredients that could impact on your health (for me, I just say: fragrances, solvents and petrochemicals)
- Take cotton gloves for them to use to handle your glasses with
- Ask them to include the gloves, and instructional note, to the laboratory where they will go to
- If you face any resistance, explain that they are blocking your access to goods and services based on a disability; or, just go somewhere else (can you really trust someone who finds it such a pain in the rectum to have to help others, especially when they are being paid to do so?)
- If you are house-bound due to having environmental controls in place (practicing chemical avoidance as your main treatment) and already have a prescription for your glasses, then you could possibly buy them online (see links below)
Share: do you have any handy techniques for getting items like reading glasses from buildings polluted by fragrance chemicals? When was your last eye check up? Can you access appropriate care (a basic human right) that we all need?