Ask me anything about my unusual impairment.
Except ‘What’s that smell?’ by Cara Pulick
As a little girl, I used to imagine myself not in ballet
shoes or silver tiaras, but in physically challenging dilemmas. Would I rather face a grizzly bear or a mountain lion?
How long could I survive on the North Pole with only a
beach towel? If forced to choose between my sight and
hearing, which would I pick? But in my active (if morbid)
imagination, there was one physical challenge that never
once appeared: anosmia, or loss of smell.
Even now, I have to admit that loss of smell is not the
sexiest of topics. It is not a topic at all for most people. For
people who can smell, that is.
I cannot. Thanks to some combination of allergies, overseas travel and an unfortunate encounter with nasal spray,
I haven’t been able to smell for more than two years. Every
once in a while I detect a fleeting fragrance—a hint of mint or a
smidge of spice—but for the most part my nose is out of commission. For better and for worse.
It’s pretty easy to imagine the “for worse” part. Name an
appealing aroma and I simply can’t enjoy it. Gardenias in bloom?
Nope. Freshly laundered sheets? Forget it. Hot mulled cider? I
wish. Cooking, eating, nature hiking, even buying shampoo is simply a lot less fun than it used to be.
On the flip side, I am now impervious to offensive odors. When
those around me hold their noses at the stench of sweat, sewage
or skunks, I just smile smugly and say, “Can’t smell it!” At times,
it’s almost like having a superpower. The Olfactory Oppressor! No
smell on Earth can bring me to my knees! Poop scoop for the dog?
No problem. Clean the toilets? I’m your girl. Hot yoga with 20 students in a cramped studio? Bring it on.
After a few weeks with anosmia, I settled into a reasonably
content acceptance of the pros and cons of a smell-free existence.
I decided that it was like watching a movie in black and white: The
gorgeous parts are a lot less gorgeous, but the revolting parts are
a lot less revolting.
That, however, was before I realized having no sense of smell
was actually dangerous.
First, I discovered that I couldn’t tell good food from bad. I
needed a proxy nose to determine if prospective fare was safe or
risky. (“Dad, smell this! Is it rotten?”) I charred a few dozen brus-
chetta to ash—and then melted a couple of pots right onto the
stove—without ever realizing they were burning. It occurred to
me that I’d be equally oblivious to cars overheating, gases leaking,
chemicals spilling and houses blazing.