Unscented (#353)

Out of all the senses, smell is the one I thought about the least about the least.

Until I lost it completely.

Thank you, COVID.

Only then did I realize how much I relied upon my sense of smell. I was always the first person to say, “Is something burning?” or leap up and close the windows at the first hint of skunk (we have many skunks in our neighborhood). No sneakers that stepped in dog poop ever made it into my car or house. Baby D never sat in a dirty diaper, and no one ever wrinkled their nose when I was working out next to them at the gym. (I, on the other hand, wrinkled my nose a lot. Sometimes I carried Vick’s VapoRub and dabbed a bit under my nostrils.)

When I was pregnant, my already sensitive sense of smell went into overdrive. I became hyperosmic, unable to stand most strong odors, gagging and fleeing if Andy cooked meat. My carnivorous husband was offended at first, but eventually gave up trying to feed me anything but bean and cheese burritos.

If I’d had anosmia when I was pregnant, I’d have thrown up a lot less.

Quesadilla surrounded by three different hot sauces
Trying all Andy’s hot sauces in a desperate attempt to taste ANYTHING.

Without a sense of smell, I discovered that food has very little flavor. Coffee was merely bitter. Chocolate was sweet (unless it was that nasty, super dark kind). My favorite chips were salty, but I could taste no vinegar. Spicy food felt hot, but again, it had no flavor. My tongue and mouth sensed the coolness in mint and menthol, but that was it.

Andy would ask, “What do you want for dinner?”

I’d glare at him and grouse, “IT. DOESN’T. MATTER.”

Andy wisely stopped asking about menu choices.

Baby D, on the other hand, had endless commentary/ suggestions regarding my anosmia. “You should eat an onion, Mom!” (We both hate onions.) “You should enter one of those ghost pepper eating contests!” He’d stand next to me, fart, and protest when I reprimanded him: “But, Mom, it’s not like you can smell it!”

While I didn’t miss smelling Baby D’s farts or soccer cleats, I worried about missing other smells, especially dangerous ones. Like gas. What if there was a leak, or someone accidentally hit the knob on the range? What if Andy burned up something in the kitchen or nearly set the house on fire again?

I read up on anosmia and learned that my sense of smell might return in weeks, months, years, or never.  My father either got COVID or a terrible cold back in 2020—last month he could finally smell fabric softener for the first time.

That was not promising.

Some articles suggested “retraining” your nose. I sniffed at everything from cinnamon to sharpies to rubbing alcohol (and never got high, damn it). Sometimes, I thought caught a whiff of scent, but it could easily have been a memory. One of my favorite parts of spring is the scent of the freesia planted all around my house. The freesia bloomed; I could smell NOTHING.

I whined to Lawyer Sis, who was also a super sniffer. “What if I never can smell again? Or what if I can never smell as well as I used to?”

“Would that be so bad?” she asked. “I’d kind of like something to take the edge off. People get super offended when you walk into their house and gag.”

At least, thanks to all the vaccinations and boosters, I never had a fever with COVID. I was, however, fatigued and irritable. (Addendum from Andy: “Really irritable. Especially after I got Paxlovid and tested negative within 3 days and Baby D never tested positive at all and you tested positive for like two weeks and coughed and had a sore throat FOREVER!” Addendum from author: “Everyone now realizes my irritation was fully justified, honey. Thank you.”)

COVID also gave me the worst, longest stuffy nose of my life. It lasted four weeks. Do not recommend.

Once my nasal passages finally cleared, though, faint scents followed. I could smell Vick’s! Cinnamon. Even freesia.

No doubt everyone in the Costco gas line thought I was unhinged as I inhaled mightily and smiled at the pump. Repeatedly.

My sense of taste took a week longer to return, but once I could smell coffee, I could also taste it.

The one surprise was a missing smell: the dog didn’t reek of skunk.

Skunk eating out of dog's food dish.
Spicy Squirrel helping itself to dog’s food.

He’d tangled with a spicy squirrel back in January. Baths of hydrogen peroxide, dawn dish soap, and baking soda had gotten the stench off his skin and fur, but the skunk-laden exhalations from his nostrils and mouth were still incredibly noxious when I got COVID in February.

“Do you smell skunk on the dog?” I asked Andy in mid-March.

“Not anymore.”

I asked Baby D, “Does the dog’s breath still stink?”

“No.”

“Huh. I didn’t expect it to disappear so fast.”

Andy gave me an incredulous look and said, “It’s been two months, honey. That is not fast.”

About ten days ago, as I clipped the dog’s leash to his collar, I smelled skunk. I muttered to the dog, “Damn. I hope that skunk isn’t lurking outside the gate.”

We didn’t see a skunk by the gate.

We didn’t see a skunk anywhere on our three-mile walk, in fact.

But when we got back, I smelled skunk again. The penny finally dropped.

“It’s you!” I told the dog, hugging his stinky face. “Your breath is still foul! You DO smell like skunk! Andy just can’t smell it. Even Baby D can’t smell it! ONLY I CAN SMELL IT!”

I was back, baby.

Published by

Autumn Ashbough

WF writing about the humorous perils of life with Chinese-American significant other.

26 thoughts on “Unscented (#353)”

  1. Many years ago, my brother who has asthma, had a really bad case of bronchitis. He couldn’t smell or taste for a year. Repeated rounds off steroids did not help but it finally came back. Then he had trouble because he couldn’t stand how bad people smelled. Glad you got your sense of smell back. It’s better to smell the bad stuff.

    1. People do stink. I’m not ready to go back to the gym. My sense of taste is a bit supercharged right now, too–having a hard time with foods I didn’t used to think were spicy!

  2. It’s interesting how the lost-sense-of-smell symptom disappeared with the first omicron variant (luckily I had that one) and has now come back. Anyway, glad your smell has returned. Thorsten lost his sense of smell with the delta variant and I was selfishly worried he would never get it back, and then eating together would stop being fun. Luckily for both of us, his came back too.

        1. I always think of how David Beckham loves food and can never share anything yummy with his wife because all she will eat is fish and vegetables. He even talks about how sad that makes him. Luckily, he has millions to console himself with!

  3. Thank goodness you got your smell back! Oh man not being able to enjoy food sounds god awful.

    And I’m sure the family is also happy to have the super sniffer back….!!!! Although smelling skunk on dog does not sound fun

  4. I have written many an article on anosmia, even before Covid reared its ugly head. As a foodie, losing my sense of smell has always seemed like just about the worst punishment I might ever endure. Luckily, my bout with Covid never affected my sense of smell or taste. It’s weird how the damn virus so indiscriminately singles out victims with different maladies.

    “Spicy squirrel.” Ha!

    1. It was pretty sucky. And I would say that I lost weight or it made me healthier or some other silver lining BS, but anosmia meant I would eat more salty, crunchy items and my blood pressure went up!

  5. My daughter got COVID about ten days ago, losing her sense of smell at about the same time. She’s finding it very unpleasant and also unsafe. She doesn’t feel like eating anything. And when she did eat, she ended up eating some fish that should have been thrown away. I hope she’ll get her sense of smell back soon. It was bad enough that they had to cancel their trip to Europe.

    1. Exactly–I told Andy I was nervous about cooking because I could no longer smell or taste when meat or dairy might be off. He was skeptical, then remembered that when he’s cooking, he always calls me over to sniff and check if chicken has gone off.

  6. I had a bad chest & sinus infection once that robbed me of being able to smell things. I laughed about your “I could smell Vick’s!” I recognize that kind of joy which sounds crazy but means so much. I’m glad you can cook now with confidence, not to mention enjoy what you’re eating.

  7. So glad you got your sense of smell back! My husband’s sense of smell is far more sensitive than mine. Him: “Do you smell that?” Me: “No.” Also, you can send me all of your dark chocolate; it’s my favorite!

  8. Losing your sense of smell sounded like a big inconvenience. Great you got it back. I am one who has quite a few allergies and when they get really bad, I can’t smell very much. So I guess you can say my sense of smell is not that sensitive. When I was younger and these allergy times flared up, my parents liked to combine both Vicks and Kwan Loong oil – the latter which they claim can relieve almost anything, especially combined with Tiger Balm. It never really worked to relieve most allergies or bring back my sense of smell completely.

      1. Kwan Loong oil burns. I think Tiger Balm also burns. Put either on yourself it may make you breathe a little easier but the smell lingers for ages. And not everyone likes it.

  9. Hilarious! The story about Andy & D’s nose blindness with the whiffing of skunk I mean, not your suffering. My daughter still finds cucumber doesn’t taste right – and she loved cucumber before Covid. It’s downright weird.

    My nose is hypersensitive during hay fever season, but certain perfumes/aftershaves can have a dramatic impact. I can be a snotting sniffing mess in mere seconds… It’s an attractive look I tell ya 😉

    1. I’m like that after I eat something…something unknown. It’s generally an ingredient at fancy restaurant. I have no idea what it is, but my nose is swollen and stuffy before the check arrives and for a while afterwards. It could be Indian food, French cuisine–doesn’t seem to matter. At least it isn’t life-threatening?

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