A particularly great email from a reader:
Thanks for your post on anosmia, or loss of smell. This really hit home for me. I completely lost my sense of smell following a sinus infection a few years back. Mercifully, it was a temporary loss that lasted a couple of months. But I can honestly report that that was one of the darkest periods of my life, and it nearly drove me insane.
In this state, life becomes flat and inescapable in a profound way. I had no idea how central this sense is to our well being. Everything big and small loses its luster. My anosmia nightmare would begin every morning with my coffee tasting like nothing more than hot water and would continue to torture me throughout the day. Beer tasted like carbonated water. Food? Well, I was lucky if I could get a hint of cardboard out of any of it.
People whom I would confide in would casually respond, “yeah, I had a cold once and food tasted weird.” “No!” I would snarl. That didn’t begin to capture the experience. There was NO taste. Zero. There isn’t any flavor or any sense that you’re addressing your hunger. I actually gained weight, since the failure to get that emotional satiation drove me to stuff more food in my mouth.
Additionally, as your post highlighted, intimacy really suffered, as I couldn’t smell my girlfriend’s skin, perfume, or hair. And the simple pleasure of walking outside was considerably dulled by the fact that I couldn’t smell the fragrance of grass or leaves or flowers. Yes, I had the benefit of not smelling auto fumes, but they were killing me regardless.
The only consolation was that I didn’t have to smell my cat’s offerings in the kitty litter (nor my own in the toilet). But I’ll tell you this: the first time I noticed my sense of smell coming back was while taking a dump, and to paraphrase Hitchens, the odor was like a breath of fresh air. In all my life I had never imagined that I would be so excited to smell shit! I was ecstatic.
To this day, I relish scents no matter how foul – garbage, kitty litter, my kid’s diaper, rotting cheese in the back of my car (don’t ask) … it doesn’t matter. It reminds me that I am alive and that good smells and flavors are to be had just around the corner. I thank my lucky stars for the return of this sense and have no shortage of empathy for those who never regain it.
Again, thanks so much for this post and your blog!