Tuesday, November 08, 2005

"The World is not a Fragrant Place." Raymond Chandler 

Image hosted by Photobucket.comI got to see one of my cousins this weekend while she was out here for a wedding. Her grandmother, my grandmother’s sister, was famous in medical school for being able to diagnose various illnesses solely by her sense of smell. While a resident on her diagnostic rounds she would pronounce a patient sick with yellow fever or tuberculosis to the amazement and often outright disbelief of some of her hostile male peers. She was never wrong. Now that dogs are being used to detect cancer, it is obvious that there is some odor component to disease. From my exposure to the mentally ill at the library, I am convinced that schizophrenics carry a distinctive odor, a sort of oniony, metallic smell. Another cousin who is doing a psychiatry rotation out here is dubious.

"Yes. They do have a distinctive odor, and that odor is urine and sweat, and it's caused by not bathing."

Odor is a gauge of well-being - when an animal stops grooming itself and begins to stink as result that is one of the first indicators that it is sick. But I still believe that it’s not simply unwashed body odor that I smell on my patrons. I suspect that some of my patrons exhale their biochemical disorders on their breath and excrete them through their sweat and it is possible to detect and recognize this odor. Some of these patrons make me feel unbalanced and uneasy at a core level, even before I realize that they are mentally ill, so I wonder if this odor is one's frontline sentinel, your natural defense to warn you something is seriously wrong with this person. Or perhaps their unbalanced, haywire pheromones are sending out conflicting, confusing signals that alarm me. Pheromones can have a powerful, often subliminal effect on a person I was discussing my odor theory with one of my colleagues who told me about a homeless man sitting near her desk. She confessed that, to her horror, she had had the sudden urge to walk over behind him, move his greasy pony tail aside and start nibbling on his neck. She said that this was the first and only time anything so strange like that had happened to her and surely that was the work of some powerful pheromone malfunction. In any case, a powerful sense of smell is a handicap in this profession.

It was not your grandmother's sister but your grandmother's sister's father-in-law who said he could tell what disease his patient was suffering from by smelling the air in the sickroom.
My grandmother claimed her sister Nancy could. I never heard this about her Burton father-in-law, but how interesting.
I talked to Grandmother tonight and she confirmed that her sister did use to astonish and amaze when she used it as a medical diagnostic tool. Strange that her father-in-law had that ability to. I'm surprised that all of their descendents are not part bloodhounds.
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