Monthly Archives: November 2011

Anosmia journal: my excursion into an aroma-free existence

Anosmia  (a-NAHZ-mee-ah), n.  The loss of the sense of smell, either total or partial. It may be caused by head injury, infection, or blockage of the nose.

Or, I might add, by flat-out carelessness.

It’s now two weeks since I sent all of my olfactory cells to the hereafter with one shot of nasal saline rinse that I accidentally mixed with white vinegar rather than distilled water.

Despite the fact that some of my former guilty pleasures (such as candy corn) now bring about as much pleasure as chewing on wallpaper paste, I find that old habits die hard, hope springs eternal, and whatever other cliches you’d like to throw at the situation. In other words, I keep trying, hoping some maverick molecule of vanilla or cinnamon or curry will find its way to that one cell that somehow, miraculously, managed to escape annihiliation.

It’s no use. I can’t taste a thing.

I can’t taste a thing because I can’t smell a thing. And I can’t smell a thing because, apparently, white vinegar is not a substance that most people would recommend shooting straight up your nose. It’s hard for me to know for certain, because with all the research I’ve done in the past two weeks, I haven’t found a single reference to anyone else ever having doing so, whether accidentally or on purpose. I seem to represent a medical first in that regard. Just remember you read it here first.

But I am learning, slowly, that without the glorious symphony of aromas and flavors that used to greet me with every whiff, every bite, pretty much all I can taste now are vague suggestions of general taste categories, such as mildly sweet, salty, spicy, acrid and so on. So there isn’t much point in overindulging these days. A nice bowl of plain oatmeal will suit me just fine if all I want is to stop my stomach from growling.

And it’s been kind of nice, when I see friends and family members chucking down some calorie-laden slice of pizza or chocolate cake, to know that the only benefit I will get from eating it is further expansion of my waistline. It’s not too hard to pass them by under those conditions.

I think there’s a lot of money to be made by some enterprising chemist who can figure out how to fool the olfactory cells, to throw them off the scent if you will, without causing permanent damage. We’d never again need to consider such drastic diet options as addictive pill regimens, gastric bypass surgery, stomach stapling, liposuction or (most drastic of all) exercise and sheer willpower. Just think how easy it would be if you could buy this product in a squeeze bottle at your local pharmacy.

Got your eye on a sizzling plateful of rib-eye steak? One sniff and your temptations are over.

Made it through all day on vegetable soup and fruit, and now your spouse is baking cream cheese brownies in the oven? Sniff. They’re gone!

The beauty of such a product would be that you yourself could choose when to use it, and when you’d really prefer to savor the smells and let the chips fall where they may.

Because I’ll be perfectly honest with you: I would be sad if my sense of smell never came back. If I could never again inhale the richness and sweetness and spiciness that life offers up to the nose, I would feel as if a part of myself were gone. The sense of smell is one of the most powerful conjurers of memory. The aroma of turkey roasting in the oven evokes countless warm family holidays. The briefest whiff of diesel takes me back to my grandparents’ apartment in Washington, D.C., where the bus stopped every morning. Many people dislike the smell of diesel; to me it is heaven because it reminds me of them.

On the other hand, I don’t miss the constant sabotage and betrayal my keen sense of smell used to put me through constantly. I like being able to develop a sensible food plan for the day and not being thrown off track by someone else’s delightful meal.

So I’m hoping my sense of smell kind of takes a while in coming back.

Say, about 30 pounds’ worth or so.

Stay tuned. I’ll keep you posted as things progress.

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