You Got to Stop and Watch the Roses Along the Way

Besides my odd pronunciation of “wh-” words, one of my other oddities is that I have no sense of smell. Although some people lose their sense of smell, usually temporarily, I don’t ever remember having smelled anything. I am, and always have been, 100% anosmic.

The causes could be many. It can be caused by head injuries and I took a trip down the stairs and smacked my head pretty hard when I was only two years old or so. Also, I was allergic to pretty much every animal and every form of pollen that flies in the air and sinus inflammation can effect the sense of smell.

The funny part is I didn’t realize this until I was almost in my teens. I used to play along. When people said things like “smell that baking bread” I inhaled and said “Yeah, smell’s great” partly because I didn’t know any better. I did the same when there was a skunk near our house. That, however, was the first time I remember my reaction being significantly less dramatic than everyone else’s and that got me thinking.

Finally, I went to a Boy Scout camp and part of the fun was a game called “What Miserable Disgusting Stink is This You Fools?” (something like that). The object of the game was to identify, by smell alone, the contents of several paper bags. I tried them all and couldn’t detect any scent from any of them. They all smelled the same as the gym we were sleeping in. After a while, and it wasn’t easy, I convinced my mother that I couldn’t smell

Part of the problem is that people who can smell believe you lose your sense of taste when you can’t smell. Because I could taste food, my mother was convinced I had to be able to smell. In fact, from what I’ve read, much of what people consider taste is in fact sense of smell confusing taste. People who could smell who suddenly become anosmic perceive a loss in the sense of taste. For me, perhaps because it’s been so long, no matter how stuffed up I get, food always has flavor. I do not know if it tastes different to me than others, but it always has flavor, and I’ve been told I’m a pretty good cook (By people who can smell, for the record.)

On the other hand, my reaction to entering a restaurant is the same that someone watching a restaurant on TV has. it’s all visual.

There are advantages and disadvantages to having no sense of smell. I’ve never smelled body odor, which makes me great on long trips. My travel mates hand me a shirt and say “do you think I can still wear this? ” I inhale and say “smells great to me.” I have not problem using public toilets or cleaning up after infants. In church I never had to smell a TURPF (Toxic Unattributed Reverberating Pew Fart) although it is, ahem, entirely possible that I delivered a couple, which was, of course, not a nice thing to do but the consequences were not my problem.

It’s not necessary to gussy yourself up with cologne or perfume to impress me. Hell, with me you don’t even need deodorant or a shower.

On the other hand, I’m always worried about the olfactory signals I’m sending out. I’m always overstocked with deodorant–especially in Japan where deodorant is of questionable quality. I also don’t wear cologne and try to get scentless shampoo, conditioner and soap.

I’m not able to smell gas leaks until the gas makes me dizzy and about to pass out so I’m very diligent about making sure the gas is off and the gas lines well maintained. I make sure our gas leak sensor is working. I also can’t smell smoke, although that messes with my eyes and nose, so I keep the batteries in our smoke detectors fresh. I have to be careful about food, especially milk, for which I use a visual check and the TV detective pinky drug taste test.

The worse part is, I can’t stop and smell the roses. I can only watch them. The world around me is basically a movie because a field of roses in front of me and a field of roses on a movie screen smell exactly the same to me. I’ve never smelled baking bread or the air after a rain storm. I don’t know what my own wife and children smell like.

I once tried getting treatment, but nothing took and for various reasons I wasn’t able to continue with a second or third round. Someday, if I can get enough set aside, I’d like to go back in for treatment. Oddly, I can probably earn the money for that by selling myself as a guinea pig to psychologists who study the influence of scent on communications.

Until then, let me just say, you smell marvelous. Then again, so does spoiled milk.

(On a side note: This New York Times video gives you sense of what anosmia is like. My experience is more like the guy who can’t smell popcorn. Unlike what one man says, I CAN distinguish ice cream flavors.)