Post by Ainslie Walker
I recently learnt a friend of mine lost her sense of smell 2 and a half years ago. I find the subject fascinating so wanted to share. Here is her story;
“It wasn’t until the day after I fell and hit my head that I realised that I had totally lost my sense of smell. At first, all my senses had been dulled so it was not obvious to me but as I found myself struggling to enjoy food I realised it was because without smell, I couldn’t fully taste – the two are inextricably linked. It’s a weird sensation holding an apple to my nose and sniffing with no response coming from my brain (but I remember what it smells like which confuses me). Not to mention, hugely frustrating being unable to experience the full sensual onslaught of my morning coffee. I was in tears when I first realised. It’s like a plug has come loose and I can’t locate it.
It’s also amazing how disruptive it is to my full understanding and appreciation of the world around me. I find myself craving the smell of petrol fumes as I cross the road or dreaming of cigarette smoke as I stand drinking outside the pub. Perhaps it is because it’s the most primeval and instinctual of the senses – without it, I feel like I can’t sense danger, I can’t quite feel safe, something’s not right and my brain won’t let me forget it. It’s like I can’t actually see properly because in many ways, I’m not getting the full picture.
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Certainly it’s the most evocative of the senses, strongly tied to memory and place. And as the days wore on without a sense of smell I found myself experiencing “phantom” smells – memories of smell rising from the backwaters of my mind and overwhelming me at unexpected moments: bike grease, camembert cheese, suntan lotion, shitake mushrooms, lager and lime, orange ice lollies. Some of these you can probably taste as you read but they were definitely aromas in my mind – and strong ones – showing how symbiotic the two senses are. A lot of the time I get what I can only describe as a warm, organic chemical smell. I imagine this is what molecules smell like, or molecular fusion – the reforming of my sense of smell.
It can take three months for the “olfactory bulb” to restore itself and occasionally, when I’m not thinking about it too much, I notice that I’m picking up the subtleties of scent: I can smell soap on my skin or strawberry jam on my toast, and I can’t help but feel gleeful, giggling to myself. Being able to smell is truly wonderful. I hope it comes back fully and if/when it does I won’t ever take it for granted!”
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A book about this subject: Season To Taste by Molly Birnbaum – she was an aspiring chef who got hit by a car whilst jogging and lost sense of smell and taste.
Photo Stolen Book Depository
Another on the science of smell, with much more links to perfume is Luca Turin’s Secret of Scent. Fascinating!
It’s amazing that scientists still don’t understand mechanics of smelling or even its full purpose!
Luckily for my friend her sense of smell is returning and she can FINALLY begin experimenting with new perfumes again. (she stuck with the same perfume because there was no way to choose new ones) Needless to say she went a bit crazy on perfume purchases once it was coming back!