Authors Note: I wrote this post a year ago but I never posted it. With all the wonderful smells of autumn coming back to me I remembered the great deficit I had last fall. This is about how, for a few months, I completely lost my sense of smell. Or, if you are familiar with my writing, it could be about something else.
I didn’t notice anything was amiss until I made the teriyaki chicken.
I got my recipe from a native Hawaiian who introduced me to The World’s Most Wonderful Ingredient: fresh ginger. Fresh ginger is amazing. It is like a lemon dressed in a kimono. Fresh and exotic and mysterious. Whenever I cut up ginger I like to take a chunk and find the nearest child and give them a whiff. I can tell by the way they close their eyes that for a brief moment they’ve been transported to the East Indies.
But on this particular day, when I held the ginger up to my nose, I smelled nothing. Weird. Must be a bad ginger.
My teriyaki chicken recipe also calls for fresh garlic. I’m pretty sure you all know what that smells like. . . like a lemon wrapped in three or four decaying animal hides. I took several cloves, smashed them under the broad side of my knife and chopped it up. (I don’t take chunks of garlic around to my children and hold it under their noses because I want them to trust me.) But, out of curiosity I smelled my fingers. Nothing.
Ladies and gentlemen, this is garlic.
I smelled it again. Nothing.
Maybe . . . bad garlic?
Mystified, I tossed it into the teriyaki sauce anyway–along with the odorless ginger–and poured the mixture on the chicken, put it in the oven, and set the time. Forty-five minutes later my daughter comes into the house from cross-country practice and exclaims, “What is that wonderful smell?!”
“I don’t know,” I said. “What is it?”
“It smells like . . . teriyaki chicken!”
It was then that I first realized something was wrong with my nose. It is true that for part of September and October I had been sick, but I didn’t think I was that stuffed up. Now it dawned on me that I couldn’t smell anything, and I hadn’t for a very long time. I couldn’t smell if the rag at the sink is too old or not. I couldn’t smell the pizza my friend brought into the house. I couldn’t smell the candle at the party I went to. And worst of all, I couldn’t smell any of the fall, Octobery smells I love, including pumpkin bread or apple pie.
As the days went by and my sense of smell did not return I realized I had lost one of my most trusted tools. How would I tell if the meat in the fridge had gone bad? How would I know if my bread was done? Or burning?
When we carved out pumpkins I made special efforts to clean and dry the pumpkins seeds, and then put them in the oven. After a while I checked on them and they were burnt to a crisp. I hadn’t even noticed.
In the past I prided myself in my sense of smell. I could be upstairs and know what kind of cereal my child was pouring down in the kitchen. I could smell honeysuckle from 50 yards away. When I was pregnant I had an even more powerful sniffer. I could walk into the house and tell wether or not my husband was wearing his retainer. I was that good.
And now that tool was gone. I could smell absolutely nothing. You would be surprised how often a mother needs her nose. Ninety percent of the tasks I do during the day involve the eradication of bad smells of one kind or another. Now what was I to do?
After weeks of not being able to smell anything it starts to wear on your mind. You start to think things like, Perhaps all those smells I had once smelled were just figments of my imagination and I’ve never really smelled anything at all? Or perhaps odors don’t exist? Or perhaps everyone else who can smell things is crazy and I am the only one who really understands that there were no smells, there has never been smells and there will never be smells!
Think deeply about that for a moment.
This is definitely a sense which I took for granted. And the biggest loser was my youngest son.
One Sunday I sat with my two-year-old on my lap all during church. Afterwards I dropped him off in nursery and then skipped (inwardly, at least) to class, only to have the door open and long arms hand me my son with the message that he needed a diaper change. Immediately. When I went to change him I discovered that he had LONG been in need of a diaper change.
This happened two more times over the next few days, simply because I could not smell that he needed a change until the damage was done and a rash had appeared.
I realized that, at least for the present time, I would have to rely on the noses of others to help me smell. I had my daughters smell the dish rag to see if it needed to be washed. I had to have my kids and husband let me know when my two-year-old needed to be changed (because he wasn’t going to tell me.) Other things I had to be more vigilant about like making sure my 5-year-old son got a bath every three days. At least.
There might be some of you out there that may have lost a “sense” that you relied on in the past. If so, don’t fret. Just because you can’t smell it anymore, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Just because you are surrounded by people who can smell and you can’t, doesn’t mean you are crazy . . . or that they are. It is just temporary. No need to do anything drastic. Sooner or later your sense will come back to you and you will smell it all again: the good smells, the iffy smells and the smells who need to be sent to the tub.
Two days ago I smelled pumpkin cookies . . . and the chili at our ward party . . . and my son’s dirty diaper. And it made me grateful that most lapses in judgement, peace of mind, or faith don’t always last for very long if we are willing to hold out. One must recognize when one is in an abnormal state and be patient for things to settle back in place. And when it does you will be wiser, more grateful, and more aware than ever of whatever it was that you lost.
For what it is worth.
But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear. For verily I say unto you, That many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them. Matthew 13:16-17