Out of all the senses, smell is the one I thought about the least about the least.
Until I lost it completely.
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.
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.
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.
I asked Baby D, “Does the dog’s breath still stink?”
“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.