Thursday, July 1, 2010


I’m amazed at how smell triggers memory. Often good memories…old lotions that you used to wear that take you back to 7th grade or being pregnant…or sometimes painful memories. The smells I’m thinking of actually cause me pain. Think of the agonizing face you make when you see or hear of someone hurting, like someone just hit you in the gut. The painting, The Scream by Edvard Munch? Yep, that’s the face.

The Pink Grapefruit scent by Bath & Body Works…specifically the handsoap. It reminds me of my mastectomy and the days after. The long, exhausting, painful, scary days after. 

I had three drains when I came out of surgery: one on each side (underneath my armpits) and one on the right front chest. The hospital only has to keep you for 24 hours after a mastectomy. Doesn’t matter to them if it is a bilateral or a single, you get 24 hours. I’ll admit that I hate staying in the hospital as much as the next girl and that I wanted to go home, but I don’t think I was ready to go home. If my mom wasn’t a CNA (Certified Nurse Aid) who was going to be with me 24/7, I don’t know what I would have done.

The drains! They were horrible. They were scary and awkward and I kept forgetting about them when I got up to go to the bathroom and gravity would take control and they would fall towards the ground yanking the tube and the stitch around it with it. Awful. And we had to suction and empty them multiple times a day, measuring the accumulated fluid to report to the doctor. How do you suction them? Well my amazingly intelligent mom knew that they used alcohol foam at the hospital to do this. You put a little on your hand and start at the top of the drain tube (which are close to two feet long, on the outside. We won't mention how long they are on the inside.) and you slowly pull the fluid down the tube and into the little bulb that it empties into. They didn’t send us home with any alcohol foam, and it was already excrutiatingly painful to suction the tubing with some lubrication, so we certainly weren't going to omit this step…so my mom pulled her handsoap. Her Pink Grapefruit Bath & Body Works handsoap, to be exact. At the time it was a refreshing smell. It took my mind off of the gag reflex inducing moment when she was suctioning those drains.

I hadn’t really remembered the soap until the other day. Bath & Body Works was having their semi-annual sale and I needed some handsoap. I decided to get Pink Grapefruit. I remembered when I was buying it that I liked that smell, but couldn’t remember when I had used it.

It was the first bottle of soap I opened and put in the upstairs bathroom. I went to wash my hands the other day and I smelled the soap. It all came rushing back. The fear, the anxiety, the pain, the loss, the exhaustion. It took me nearly eight weeks to be able to stay home alone and care for myself after the mastectomy. EIGHT WEEKS. That’s two months. I had set backs and infections. I was exhausted and so scared. I couldn’t mother my children. I couldn’t even bathe myself without assistance.

All from a little bottle of hand soap.~

Rubbing alcohol. Rubbing alcohol is cancer. It’s the oncologist’s office. It’s the wipe down before the blood draw, or the IV needle. I’m amazed that after all this time rubbing alcohol has such a strong effect on my memory that it can begin the subconscious process of me blacking out from the needles…the fear. The last time I went to the oncologist for just a regular ole blood draw, I smelled the rubbing alcohol and I started blacking out. I’m amazed that I still subconsciously have so much fear over needles because, my gosh, I’ve been stuck so many times that you’d think my subconscious would get the memo! I don’t feel nearly the anxiety that I used to about needles, but apparently my brain thinks otherwise. Or maybe it’s the whole weird compartmentalizing thing I do. I tend to shelve things I need to deal with, but don’t really know how to in the “I’ll come back to that” file in my brain. That is how I typically deal with loss. I don’t do it willingly or intentionally, in fact I often wish that I would just be “normal” and breakdown like everyone around me. But I don’t. In fact I don’t think that I can. I feel like I don’t have time to breakdown when everyone else does, because who will get anything done? Who will take care of the others? I like being the strong one. I don’t know what to do when I’m weak. I don’t know how to be weak, even though I am weak, if that makes any sense.

Smells…I’m sure there will be others.

Do you have any smells that trigger strong memories? What are they?

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