Pectoriloquy |


Jack Coulehan, MD, MPH
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Editor’s Note: This poem was inspired by a patient who presumably developed Multiple Chemical Sensitivity as a result of catastrophic exposure to perfume. Jack Coulehan, Emeritus Professor of Medicine and Senior Fellow of the Center for Medical Humanities, Compassionate Care, and Bioethics at Stony Brook University, is the author of five volumes of poetry.

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Chest. 2013;144(3):1080. doi:10.1378/chest.13-0149
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Your life selling the stuff of romance
crashed on concrete the day you tripped
on that step at work, and your tray of perfume
shattered, a burst of intense magnolia,
jasmine, lavender, orange. Their aromas
combined to twist and close your throat
so tight you turned blue The paramedics
called your case this close. Epinephrine.
Oxygen. Intubation. All those years
working with Mandragore, Kiss Her by Kiss,
Eau de Cartier—naturally your cells,
bathed in illusion so long, were bound
to rebel. Samsara, Gardenia, Chanel
are not without consequences.
Workman’s Comp, followed by a series
of doctors whose unbending faith
in x-rays and spirometers
were outrageous. Whether they tiptoed it
or gave it to you straight, There’s nothing wrong.
Finally, you found a book about the problem,
Chemical Sensitivity Syndrome,
a massive response to the tiniest dose,
it told you. A mere hint of aroma
blocks your breath. Step outside without a mask,
you’re down all day. Spores from a heating duct
are deadly, but the bastards don’t want you
on disability. They have no faith in you.
To succeed in being sick from molecules,
you must abandon this world and find your own.




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