The Horror of Losing Your Sense of Smell on COVID
I guess it was just a matter of time until I contracted COVID. Some are saying, nobody will be able to avoid it completely and they may be right. Regardless of the vaccine and taking precautions, I fell ill at the beginning of November with Delta strain. Thankfully, my symptoms were such that it didn’t become apparent it was COVID until almost a week into it. My initial symptoms were nothing more than those of a head cold. And then it happened. I lost my sense of smell.
Losing my nose
One day I noticed it was difficult to smell anything, but my nose was stuffy and when it cleared a bit it got easier to do so. However, the next day, my nose was clear, but scents were eluding me more and more. By the evening, it was evident I am suffering from a common Coronavirus symptom I was dreading all along.
It didn’t take long for both my smell and taste to disappear and soon I could only distinguish between salty and sweet and not much more. Tea, coffee or soup were like hot water. For more solid foods, I went by texture. It is tricky to live without smell. Few days after me, my wife also lost her “nose”. She would go to the refrigerator, take for example some ham out, showed it to me and asked: “You think this is still good?”. We’d have no way of knowing if the food smelled off. We’d just smile and usually throw the thing in the garbage if it was in the fridge for more than a few days, just as a precaution. On the positive side, cleaning out cat’s litter box was never easier.
What is it all about?
Of course, the true horror had nothing to do with these everyday problems. It was in the fact I work with wine. November and December were supposed to be two months during which I do more wine tasting and wine writing than during the six preceding months. My nose was going to get a lot of practice and I needed it to be on point. Horror stories I heard from my friends about not regaining their sense of smell for months after the illness did not help. As all of us do, I immediately turned to the internet and started reading up on this. Apparently, the loss of smell due to COVID has to do with the olfactory neurons that are located at the back of the nose and react to the molecules of odour. I’m not a health expert, but basically, the disease cuts the connection between your nose and your brain. Anyone who did any sort of sommelier training will know, that is exactly how we identify aromas. Our nose detects them and our brain compares them to the database of scents we’ve accumulated throughout our lives.
Some people never regain their sense of smell. The prospect of that was truly horrifying. I love experiencing the world through my nose. That is one of the reasons I got very interested in the world of wine. The experience of wine, which we get through multiple senses, is diminished immensely without the sense of smell. Writing about wine without it is impossible.
All the subtle nuances that make up the aroma profile of a quality wines are the most alluring thing about it. Aromas of fruit, flowers, spices, earth, stone, leather, herbs… it all makes up for a symphony of smells that make the wine such a unique beverage.
Some recommend training your nose to regain the sense of smell quicker. Try to smell individual items or food and imagine the aromas you were supposed to detect. I did this throughout the day. It took five days to get the first hint of an aroma. It was from a tangerine rind. I literally squeezed it and sprayed the fragrant juice from the rind into my nostril. I felt the most subtle hint of tangerine essence in my nose. It took me by surprise and I quickly repeated the process just to make sure I was not imagining. Oh, the excitement of that moment. It felt like heaven. This did not mean everything was back to normal though. The following two weeks brought tiny daily increments in my ability to detect scents. All together it took about two months to get my nose back to its regular sensitivity.
Ultimately, it wasn’t that bad, considering other stories I’ve heard. Still, those few days without the use of my nose and the incessant worrying about what to do if it never recovers were very unpleasant. It made me appreciate my health which I regularly take for granted, but also reminded me, just what a special experience enjoying wine is.