I Have No Sense Of Smell: 5 Insane Realities
You have to lose one sense: hearing, sight, or smell. What do you choo- wow, you didn't even need to think about it, did you? Everybody ditches smell like it smells funny. This isn't just a hypothetical scenario: Some folks, like Joe, are born with anosmia, which is an inability to smell. Others, like Savannah, lose their sense of smell as a side effect of nasal surgery or a tragic bottle rocket accident. According to them, it changes your life more than you would think. For example, you find out that ...
Farts Change Everything
People who have anosmia dread bringing it up for one very simple, bizarrely consistent reason:
"Without fail, anytime I tell someone about this, what they say is, 'So, if I farted RIGHT in your face, it wouldn't do anything?!'" Joe says. And they fart. They fart right then and there.
"Take THAT, basic social contract!"
You do have the upper hand when it comes to revenge, though:
"A bunch of my friends would always have a laugh after holding something to my face and asking, 'Can you smell that? Oh wait!'" Joe says. "Well, one night, we were driving my parents' golf cart back to the house (because that's how we roll in small country towns), and I noticed something lying on the side of the road at the last second and tried to avoid it. I ended up hitting the rear end of it with the tire, and it happened to be a dead skunk, which then engulfed the golf cart in a cloud of misery (for them). Everyone starts coughing and gagging, to which I proudly asked, 'HEY, GUYS!!! CAN YOU SMELL THAT?!?!?!'"
Also helpful for ensuring no one tries to play through for a good six months.
Savannah's all too familiar with the phenomenon, commenting, "People are definitely not afraid to fart around me," but she takes a more positive outlook: "My family tends to be more of the, shall we say, silent but deadly variety, so that only benefits me as far as that's concerned, and my husband is a gas machine, so, if anything, this has been really good for our relationship."
We're suddenly starting to come around on the "there's someone for everyone!" idea.
Still, though, sometimes she "accidentally" forgets that not everyone is so fortunate: "I am sure that my coworkers think I am just the most tasteless human being because I don't even try to hold back at this point. It just doesn't occur to me. Maybe that makes me a horrible human being, but my coworkers and I are on somewhat tense terms, so I don't really care."
It's like somebody got their wish granted by the Twilight Zone: They never have to smell a fart again, but they always smell like farts.
Hygiene Becomes A Problem
It's not just farts you have to worry about: With anosmia, you're the last person to know if you surreptitiously stink.
Joe and Savannah enlist two strategies for dealing with this problem: The first is a strict schedule of showering ("Oh my god, shower every day, don't be the smelly kid," Joe tells himself), and the second is a trusted ally to help them out. "I have my husband pick out all my body washes, deodorant, all those things, because I figure if I can't smell it, I might as well pick something that smells good ," Savannah says.
"Bratwurst and scotch?"
Navigating the smellier parts of Joe's life is practically his girlfriend Rhea's second job. "Sometimes when I come over, if something in the trash is starting to smell, the whole apartment will smell like it," she says. "It can be quite overwhelming at times, and he has no idea."
Until she mentioned to us that she occasionally has to remind him to close the bathroom door, Joe actually didn't realize that pee has a smell. It was pretty special to bear witness to that breakthrough in their relationship.
Asparagus at your own risk.
Food Becomes An Even Bigger Problem
"Without a sense of smell, you lose like 75 to 85 percent of your ability to taste," Joe says. Unless a food has a very strong taste, it might as well be Styrofoam, which leads to some pretty strange eating habits. Savannah relies on hot sauce and vinegar to feel feelings, while Joe is one of those assholes who puts ketchup on everything ... except French fries. That's because French fries are already very salty, one of the few flavors Joe can taste.
Depending on your outlook, this can actually have advantages. Savannah says she's probably lost 10 pounds since that fateful surgery. "I've kind of lost interest in food," she says. "Usually, throughout the day, you'll smell something that will remind you to eat, but since I lost my sense of smell, I wasn't really being reminded and I would forget to eat. I would have to set alarms."
"Ugh. Pancakes o'clock, already?"
But, for Joe, it's become a hindrance to healthy eating. "I've tried to enjoy eating salad, but most of the lettuce is crunchy water to me," he says. "I'll have to drench it in salad dressing, and that ends up more gross than anything ... I'm trying to get better at fruits and vegetables because my girlfriend is vegan, which is good. That inclines me to eat a little better."
Don't worry bud; that ketchup still qualifies.
As long as she does the cooking, that is.
"Whenever I cook something for Rhea and I, the possibility of making it taste awful from adding too much of an ingredient is always on my mind," he says. He avoids that problem by sticking strictly to recipes, but cooking for other people when you can't taste what you're cooking is kind of like doing mystery shots: You have no idea what you're going to get, and someone is probably getting puked on. "I cooked for my husband a couple times, and it seemed perfectly fine to me," Savannah says, "but I kinda noticed this look on his face, and he started eating slower and slower, and I was like, 'Well, you know, you don't have to finish it if you don't want to.'"
You Can't Sense Certain Dangers
Being unable to smell or taste anything means someone with anosmia is at risk of getting sick -- we're talking "firing from every cannon" sick -- if they don't keep a close eye on expiration dates. "I used expired coffee creamer for a week without even noticing," Savannah says, entirely too casually. "You don't taste that it's off; you just taste the sweetness of the creamer. It didn't occur to me to check the date until it was making me physically ill."
"This cottage cheese looks kind of yellow. Can you check the expiration date?"
"That's leftover eggnog."
Aside from an urgent case of shitzkrieg, there are tons of other ways that your sense of smell keeps you out of the hospital. Think about fires and gas leaks:
"I always joke that if I get famous and someone wants to take me out, they could just cause a gas leak, cut my electricity, leave out some candles and a match, and just wait," Joe says.
"Luckily, I haven't been in too many situations where a gas leak could be an issue, but I'm always prepared to ask someone to give my place a smell test, just in case."
Basically, if you have anosmia, you have to be on top of your shit 24/7. A moment of forgetfulness can be downright fatal. One time, "I left a pizza in my oven," Savannah says, which "wasn't too bad, but it did burn to a crisp, of course. Luckily, my husband came home before I could light my house on fire."
A Surprising Number Of Things Do And Don't Depend On Smell
It turns out there's some truth to the old saying "when you lose one sense, your others become stronger." Even if you didn't know the others existed in the first place:
"You don't really think about it, but you still sense when you're using, say, bleach cleaner to clean your house or when you're using paint cleaner without a mask," Savannah says. "You can still kind of sense that there's something off about the air you're breathing." She can also "sense" concentrated minty odors, because "you can still sense temperature inside your nose, which is pretty off-putting, like if you get a sudden blast of cold air," she says. So, when she gets a whiff of an extra-strength mojito, "it gets kind of tingly."
Of course, that is sort of the point of a strong mojito.
"It's interesting the things people think are only smell-based," Joe says. For example, people are surprised that he still gets all teary chopping up onions, because it's actually not the odor that's making your eyes water, but the gas.
The jury is still out over whether humans produce and detect pheromones, but all Savannah knows is that, once she could no longer smell her man, her sex drive left without her. "I thought that was weird," she says. "I would think I would still be attracted even without that manly aroma but, for me, I think it's more scent-based than people realize."
No number of missed farts makes up for that.
Another way your sense of smell plays with you is by messing with your memory. You've probably experienced this before -- you catch the smell of mothballs or bacon-flavored lube and, suddenly, you're right back at Uncle Jerry's house -- but, you don't realize how much it affects you until it's gone for a while:
"Occasionally, will work for one second, and then whatever I'm around will give me huge flashes of memories, even just to the last time I smelled it," Savannah says. "There's particular -- I think it's like a scented lotion or a kind of perfume that one of my coworkers was wearing one day -- reminded me of an off-Broadway show I had seen just years earlier. Somebody near me must have been wearing that same lotion, and I suddenly remembered so many details about the show. It was interesting because it was such a nondescript memory. I hadn't thought about that show in years. I do really miss that ability to associate memories with smells."
Not everything is roadkill and flatulent road trips. You lose the good ones, too.
There are hacks you can use to get around this, though, as Joe discovered. "What I do instead is I try to remember a sound, like play a song or something," he says. "It seems to work exactly as strongly, if not stronger, than someone who has all of their senses intact."
So, you can have your pansy "smell the roses; remember the garden" moment. Joe will be listening to Zeppelin and remembering way cooler shit.
Manna is all too aware of how she smells, which she often describes in loving detail on Twitter.
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