I didn’t think going to a friends for dinner would turn out to be a life changing experience, (yes she’s a great cook, but not for that reason!) It is a day that has been burned into my memory for the rest of my life. Saturday 7th February 2015 – the day my life came crashing down, or should I say I came crashing down, quite literally!
I had been at her house for all of five minutes when I bent down to get something from my bag. I stood up too quickly, went dizzy and fainted. As I crashed towards the floor I hit the back of my head on the wall. Not just a little knock, a large thump.
When I came round again, I had a major headache and a huge bump on the back of my head. But other than that I was perfectly fine. Or at least I thought so at the time. It seems that may have been a little naïve.
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It wasn’t until a short while later that I realised things were not quite right. The curry that my friend was lovingly attending to was bubbling away, but I couldn’t smell it. The scented candle burning on a side table next to me looked pretty, but yet again, I couldn’t smell it.
But that wasn’t all. As we sat down to eat and I raised the ‘scentless’ curry to my tongue, I discovered that not only was I missing its heady aroma, but I couldn’t taste it. At all.
That was when my nightmare began.
My little fainting turn had caused me to contract what the professionals call ‘Anosmia’.
I’m won’t bore you with the ‘science bit’ but in a nutshell, Anosmia is a complete loss of your sense of smell. It can be congenital, meaning you are born with it or, as in my case, acquired. This can happen for a number of reasons, a severe sinus infection for one or (in my case) a severe head trauma!
Unfortunately for me when I fainted and hit my head, the impact was so hard that it rattled my brain, (yes I do have one) so violently that my Olfactory Nerve Fibres were severed.
These tiny delicate fibres are attached to my Olfactory Bulb. A structure in the brain that processes information about odours. So as they were no longer attached to it, they couldn’t tell my brain what things smelt like anymore.
But to add insult to injury, as smell is very much interlinked with the taste receptors, (think about when you have a bad cold, your taste is often dulled or almost non-existent, isn’t it?) I stopped being able to taste as well. It is important to point out that this isn’t always the case but is a common occurrence.
The next few months were excruciating. I didn’t feel like myself anymore. At least not the me who used to relish the smell of freshly cut grass when I was out running in the sunshine, or the me who liked nothing better than to bury my now bloody useless nose into a bouquet of scented flowers – honeysuckle, lavender. I could bore you with a list, but the fact of the matter is that you never realise what you love the smell of until all of a sudden you can’t smell it anymore.
My perfume for example. I would stare at the bottles and think “may as well chuck that out now” and my scented body wash “I should probably just use unscented soap.”
Even my husband’s aftershave. The one I buy him every year for Christmas. That’s the smell of ‘my husband’, isn’t it? That special smell we associate with the ones we love?
Right I need to stop reminiscing or I’ll cry all over my keyboard.
My whole life changed and it was devastating.
I was unhappy. Resentful. Angry.
Oh yes and let’s not forget the food thing. Ever since I was a kid I loved my food, but what is the point of eating when everything tastes like… well… nothing!
It didn’t taste anymore!
The ‘flavour’ has disappeared from my life and Anosmia had robbed it from me.
I hate that word. Anosmia. It’s like that mean girl at school whose very name makes you frown and growl.
If I was blindfolded and food was put in front of me even now, I couldn’t tell you what it was unless certain obvious textures gave it away
I had to force myself to eat, and sometimes I just didn’t bother. Cue the lovely little added side affect of this condition – yep you guessed it… the weight started to fall off. Slowly at first, then as I got increasingly defeated and unhappy, more quickly until I pretty much stopped eating altogether.
This is when the doctors started to worry! Protein supplements were now the order of the day, and yes I was ordered! But it wasn’t until I collapsed at work and ended up in A&E with such low blood sugar that I could have fallen into a coma, that the severity of my condition really hit me.
In a crazy way this was a wake up call for me. I now try to eat sensibly, or at least try to eat enough! I’m still a skinny little wimp, but better than I was and no longer at death’s door, yes it sounds melodramatic, but that is how bad it became. Who would have thought losing my sense of smell could result in me almost losing my life? It seems ridiculous to those on the outside, but trust me, walk a day in my shoes and you quickly realise just how much you rely on this under appreciated sense.
Almost a year and a half down the line, I’m still here. Still fighting and still Anosmic. There is no cure, you see. Sometimes the nerve fibres can heal, (for instance, I can now tell you if it something is sweet or savoury – that in itself is a massive leap forward) depending on the extent of the damage.
It seems my nerves are as determined as me to get back to their normal self. They have been trying to reattach themselves to my Olfactory Bulb, and I battle with the positive and negative repercussions of that every single day!
But that’s another story, if the lovely ‘Glass House Girls’ will have me back I’ll tell you more about Parosmia -ghost smells.
Have I whet your appetite? Oops bad choice of phrase!
(Note from The Editor: Many thanks to Debbie for opening up about her experiences with Anosmia. Many people live with conditions that most would never see, experiance or understand but to read about them allows us to open our minds to situations we cant comprehend. To read more from Debbie you can visit her personal blog (icantsmellathing.blogspot.com) or check out her author page here.)