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November 1, 2010

Oh, The Humanity (Part 2)

I'll never forget the value of the first lessons I learned as a massage therapist about close contact and human smell. I will be sharing some of the lessons that I have learned, some obvious, others not so obvious, about what we can learn about our patients from our nose. Some of these lessons, of course, will require humor, others will yield useful information, but hopefully all will be shared with a gentle respect for our humanness.

One of the most powerful senses is our sense of smell. It's our first impression of the world. It is primal. And it is strongly associated with emotions and early memory. From the olfactory bulb, information is sent to several areas of the brain including the visual cortex, but most significantly to the amygdala. The amygdala plays an important role in emotion. This may be why whenever I smell fresh hot coffee grounds and Palmolive dish-washing liquid, I am transported in my mind to a simpler, happier time: early summer in my grandmother's kitchen, sunshine streaming through eyelet curtains, her tuneless whistle as she finishes her kitchen chores.

Research indicates that a dog's sense of smell is estimated 100 to 10,000 times better than a human. And new mothers can tell which baby is theirs if they are presented several while blindfolded. Familial smell is imprinted early in a babies brain. I can tell you that one of my sisters smells like my Dad, the other two, like my Mom. My sister-in-law's daughter smells like my husband. So clearly our scent is inherited.

How is this important as a massage therapist? Well, it isn't, necessarily, but it was just something I noticed about my clients. All throughout the years of my massage practice, I did my own laundry rather than send it out to a cleaning service. Call me cheap! I could have a full day with 6 to 10 sets of sheets to wash; that's three wash loads in an evening. I could easily distinguish the sheets of my regular clients from the others because of their scent.

I'm sure my animals got to know my clients by their scent, as well. Rarely, did a night pass that my black tom cat didn't examine my arms, my shoes, or the sheets I brought home in the evening. This was often useful because if the cat was smelling me, it meant I missed someplace that I needed to wash.

The lesson here is that cleanliness is paramount in a safe massage practice. This is something every professional knows. If in doubt, read a recent article about staph infections in ESPN magazine (caution - some pictures not appropriate for sensitive viewers). And the same applies for physical therapists, too, especially ones who work in hospital settings. We're required to implement standard precautions with every patient we encounter.

More on "smells" next time.



Posted by linda at November 1, 2010 9:23 AM

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