05 January 2006

Lost My Sense (s)

The heavenly scent of rain upon newly-mown grass.

The intoxicating odour of wildflowers in bloom.

The mouthwatering aroma of Mom's cooking.

The one-of-a-kind smell that only new cars or new babies seem to possess.

The satisfying, peaceful scent found only at a campfire.

The unique smells of a day at the beach; salt air, seaweed, coconut oil, surf wax.

Just for a moment, pause to reflect on what your world would be like if you could no longer enjoy those scents.

While you grin and think that a loss of smell could be advantageous at times (like when you are Scoutmaster to a room full of 9-year old boys, or in an elevator crowded with sanitation workers), ponder not being able to smell a fire in a neighboring apartment, a gas or propane leak or a chemical spill. Imagine not being aware of imminent danger, a danger that only your sense of smell can identify.

Welcome to my world, courtesy of multiple chemical exposure and my work as a Navy avionics technician.

With a half-dozen grandkids and a penchant for catfishing, not having a sense of smell can have its advantages. Trouble is, the loss of your sense of smell is usually a gradual process. Your roommate might holler: "Didn't you smell dinner burning?!"; or, perhaps, you could be caught up in the $3-per-gallon price of gasoline when you find yourself jiggling the pump handle, just to be sure gas is pumping, because you cannot smell the fumes.

Silver, Antimony, Bismuth, Zinc, Copper, Chromium, Colophony (flux), polyurethanes, varnishes, epoxies, Teflon and PVC coatings all contribute to sensory degradation, in addition to being respiratory toxins.

I used these metals, chemicals and coatings every single day for three years, without being made aware of their potential hazard. Not one of the numerous and regularly-scheduled general training sessions mentioned the DETAILS of chemical hazards, nor did the various year-long avionics schools. Micro-miniature repair courses were a little more informative; i.e. watch out for that fiberglass dust as you solder because it will make you sneeze, thereby causing you to damage your workpiece. Oh, yeah.

If I had not been so intent on the Number One Goal of perfection, I might have stopped to realize that stuff irritating my nose just might be irritating my entire respiratory tract.

Safety training consisted of subjects like 'Don't Touch The Business End Of That Soldering Iron, Sailor!' and professional training stressed quality work in a timely fashion. Even if I had prior knowledge of the hazards involved, there was no incentive to follow strict safety protocols. The officers were worried about getting equipment back into fleet service, because they were not getting chemical hazard training. The enlisted technicians were all young, ten feet tall and bulletproof (well, we thought so). Certainly no worry there, right?

It was a common misconception, as evidenced by the new-found knowledge that each and every one of my duty stations is now a Superfund cleanup site. We simply DID NOT KNOW.