The Aroma of Terror
February 9, 2005 9:25 AM   Subscribe

Is the aroma of burning flesh putting you off your lunch? An Israeli company called Patus is marketing a new product called Odor Screen to EMTs, soldiers, cops, and medical staff who work at the sites of suicide bombings, combat zones, and other modern catastrophes. The Proustian link between smell and vivid memories is well established, and by displacing traumatic odors with a "calming vanilla aroma," the company hopes to lessen PTSD in first responders, and that's no laughing matter. [via medgadget]
posted by digaman (26 comments total)
AAAA+++++++ WAR SMELLS GOOD!1!1!1!1
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 9:35 AM on February 9, 2005

Actually dealing with the smell of death has been a consistent problem in those professions. My freind was a paramedic in NYC during 9/11 and worked in the rescue/retreival efforts afterwards. The gases from the corpes would be trapped in the spaces between the rubble and when it was moved the smell was unbelievable, he said. When I visited him just after, he showed me a tube of this vapo-rub type stuff rescue workers were given. I asked him if it helped and he said not really.
posted by jonmc at 9:39 AM on February 9, 2005

I love the smell of "calming vanilla aroma" in the morning!
posted by leftcoastbob at 9:40 AM on February 9, 2005

Way to kick off the thread, w-g p. Jesus.

Thanks digaman. I suspect the product would be very useful to crime scene investigators, morgue workers, and funeral home workers, as well.
posted by pardonyou? at 9:44 AM on February 9, 2005

There you have it. Only 9:45 AM and we have one sign of the apocolypse already. It's gonna be a great day!
posted by at 9:47 AM on February 9, 2005

Wouldn't the people who use this start to associate vanilla with horrible scenes of death?
posted by vorfeed at 9:47 AM on February 9, 2005

When you think of the scents that engender some soothing feeling or could potentially cover up something as horrible as this, does anyone put vanilla at the top of their list??
posted by j.p. Hung at 9:51 AM on February 9, 2005

vorfeed-- that's what I was thinking. Isn't it best to associate the smell of death with death? Is it possible to create "smell-cancelling" nosebuds?
posted by chaz at 9:53 AM on February 9, 2005

Pardon me, pardonyou? Let me rephrase:
It may be counterproductive to sanitize war or grief.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 9:59 AM on February 9, 2005

An interesting point, WGP, but I doubt that punishing soldiers or EMTs for the decisions made by the Bushes, Rumsfelds, Arafats, and Al-Qaedas of the world is a promising road of reform.
posted by digaman at 10:02 AM on February 9, 2005

It may be counterproductive to sanitize war or grief.

To people like cops, EMT's, CSI's, funeral home workers, etc. who have to experience it as part of their general working day, it's not a philosophical question but a pragmatic one. I wouldn't bedgrudge any of these people wanting to make their jobs more tolerable.
posted by jonmc at 10:04 AM on February 9, 2005

I bet the smell is really French vanilla.

I thought your first response was the best w-g p! How could anyone misconstrue such a statement?
posted by nofundy at 10:05 AM on February 9, 2005

On the other hand:

Emergency Worker goes to his Aunt Edna's. Aunt Edna is partial to vanilla-scented air sanitizer, and she serves EW a heaping bowl of vanilla ice cream. EW immediately curls into the fetal position from the recollected memories....
posted by Scooter at 10:09 AM on February 9, 2005

The mention of burned flesh reminded me that the sight of blood made Ulysses S. Grant violently ill. He was never able to eat uncharred meat after the Civil War, and stuck mostly to poultry.
posted by togdon at 10:16 AM on February 9, 2005

I worked for the Coroner's Office for a short time. The smells can be disgusting. First you try Vicks, and think it will replace death smell with mint. But it doesn't, it just mixes the smells so you have minty/menthol death smell. Vanilla would just be vanilla death smell. It really would ruin vanilla ice cream. The only thing that will make the smell disappear is a gas mask. For funeral home workers I don't think they'd use it, they have formaldehyde and bleach. Sanitation in the death business is very important and the smell of clean is fine by me.
posted by edmo at 10:19 AM on February 9, 2005

I agree with vorfeed. It doesn't matter what the smell is, it's going to be associated with the horribleness of whatever it is you've experienced, like I associate butterfingers with being violently ill as a child, simply because I had eaten one around the same time I got food poisoning.

I'm sure there's something to be said about the reason our noses and brains perceive rancid smells the way they do.
posted by odinsdream at 10:26 AM on February 9, 2005

Vanilla strikes me as an odd choice as well.
posted by agregoli at 10:35 AM on February 9, 2005

I imagine that people who work around corpses have at least somewhat reconciled themselves to the horrors of death, they might just want to give their noses a break. But vanilla seems an odd choice to me too.
posted by jonmc at 10:42 AM on February 9, 2005

I don't personally see why vanilla seems such an odd choice. If their goal was a simple, easily replicated scent, lot of people are allergic to more floral scents, and even citrus, so I'd think the safest bets are probably mint and vanilla.
posted by estelahe at 11:18 AM on February 9, 2005

Vanilla seems like a reasonable choice to me, if you are looking for a generic sort of "pleasing" scent.

But, what others have said. Better that the smell of death is unique (or that it has no smell at all). Granted, I understand that is probably a foul stench, but mixing those memories with an everyday scent (indeed, a comfort-food scent!) seems like a patently bad idea.

When I first went to college, I changed liquid soap brands (bought my own for the first time, while I'd previously used the family bottle). When I returned to school after my first winter break, the first time I took a shower the smell of it got to me immediately and made me terribly depressed. It doesn't matter that the scent itself was quite pleasing — it brought back unwelcome memories.
posted by rafter at 11:31 AM on February 9, 2005

Following up on vorfeed 's and Scooter's excellent observations : the "Sauce bernaise effect".
posted by orthogonality at 11:35 AM on February 9, 2005

Vanilla to me is strange because you WILL encounter it in the real world, as mentioned earlier - it's in baking, candles, air fresheners, lotions...seems like it might cause stress afterwards when you smell vanilla and think of the event you witnessed - whereas if you're smelling a generic "clean" smell mixed with death, it's unlikely to occur in your other life activities.
posted by agregoli at 12:17 PM on February 9, 2005

I am an EMT and I'd be glad to give it a try. If they ever issue me one I'll let you know how it goes.
posted by Vallenwood at 12:51 PM on February 9, 2005

A similar product has been sold here in the states for at least the past 5 years for use in homicide investigations:

Putriban Odor Perception Inhibitor
posted by fatbobsmith at 4:10 PM on February 9, 2005

I used to be an EMT, and we always used Vicks. But then I worked down at the WTC, and Vicks no longer helped. I don't know that I'd want to replace it with vanilla, though. I definitely wouldn't want that association. Bleah.
posted by Uccellina at 5:15 PM on February 9, 2005

Following up on vorfeed 's and Scooter's excellent observations : the "Sauce bernaise effect".

I'm quite familiar with it, myself - I got violently ill in a pizza restaurant due to a late-onset case of chicken pox, and I still can't stand the thought of ever eating there again, almost ten years later. I didn't know the phenomenon had a name, so thanks for the links.
posted by vorfeed at 12:28 PM on February 10, 2005

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