Learning to Smell Again
after losing my sense of taste and smell from Covid.
It’s been three months since my Covid test came back positive.
In an attempt to write about the experience of having Coronavirus, I have been reviewing my journals. And dear goodness, there were some dark moments in there.
I don’t think I am quite ready to go back into that darkness,
but I can talk about one aspect of Covid which is still affecting me daily:
The loss of my sense of taste and smell.
I started to get a little bit of my taste and smell back after about eight weeks. It was wonderful to be able to even sort of taste anything after having zero ability to taste (or smell) for so long. So I stopped worrying so much about when I would regain the full spectrum of my senses.
Then last week I burned a pot of soup on the stove really badly. Of course one shouldn’t ever walk away from something bubbling on the stove, but I think it was due to the fact that I still can’t smell things that are burning that I let it go for so long.
So now I have returned to asking friends (and the internet) about how to get my smell back. All the way back.
And several studies say that you can re-train your brain to smell using these four scents: eucalyptus, rose, clove and lemon.
My mom has also been doing this with me and an expert told her to put these four scents (via oils) onto cotton and then to put them in jars and smell them four times a day.
Picture what you’re smelling each time.
Conjure a vision of the scent as you put your nose in a jar.
So that’s what I’ve been doing.
I really can’t tell if it’s working. There are still plenty of things I can’t smell.
But in an attempt to really go with the process of my “smell training,” I have been remembering places that I associate with each of these smells, which has been a fun way to armchair travel in this time of being mostly at home.
And here is where these four smells are taking me.
EUCALYPTUS >>> The Camino in Spain
Do you remember when we walked under the eucalyptus trees?
We were walking in a world that was strangely bright that day.
The heat a bit relentless, but
we had plenty of water and bodies that love the sun.
I had never seen eucalyptus growing wild.
We smelled it before we saw it.
I had no idea they grew so tall.
Thin long figures
with their blue-gray leaves
kind of like aspens in how they twinkle in the wind
and make sunlight splash and glitter.
We had miles still to go
but struggled to move on from their mesmerizing scent
and continue on
taking with us the memory of the smell –
so that always
when I smell eucalyptus oil,
Spain and sun
and a dusty road
and stopping to wonder at trees with friends.
ROSE >>> Castle Gardens and City Parks in Scotland
Of course I had seen roses before we moved to Scotland.
I had smelled the roses of anniversaries and lovers’ offerings.
I had seen a rose bush in a neighbor’s yard and even an arch of roses in a sunken garden.
But not until I walked in Scotland did I see
so many roses,
So carefully tended for
so long or
so many varieties.
In castle gardens and in town parks and in front of row houses.
In the walled garden near the River Don and in the city park where the kids played.
So. Many. Roses.
When we walked in gardens and parks together,
always I was behind, stopping to stick
my face in the bushes
to wonder if a red-striped rose smells different from
a small white tea rose
or a bright orange pink rose.
However far behind I am,
I will still pause
to extend even further the distance between myself and
those who don’t have time to stop and
greet the roses with their noses.
CLOVE >>> My Mama’s House
The smell of cloves is only familiar to me when mixed with cinnamon and nutmeg into apple pie spice.
It might not make sense to some, but for me the progression is
cloves > apple pie spice > Mama’s apple pie.
Around the holidays, my mom used to make several pies.
Pies to take to my grandparents’ house.
Pies that lasted all through Thanksgiving weekend.
A slice at midnight and another for breakfast.
But before the holiday arrived,
a pie just out of the oven made the whole house smell heavenly.
And we sat impatiently in the agony of wondering
when can we cut it open and eat it?
LEMON >>> Tuscany, Italy (Fattoria del Colle)
The first kitchen gadget I purchased for myself was a wooden lemon reamer from a fancy kitchen shop.
I don’t remember cutting into fresh lemons as a child, so maybe the first time I chose a lemon from the market
and took it home to my little apartment
to cut it in half
was to make a simple lemon vinaigrette.
I learned the art of coaxing out all the juice and pulp and even the seeds with my new tool,
then swirling it all into a puddle of olive oil with a wire whisk.
Lemon juice stings a little,
pleasantly sharp in my nostrils,
but painful to the little spot on my finger
where I was careless with a knife.
A pile of empty lemon halves on the counter,
cut and squeezed out
often means T has made me my favorite drink,
a long loved cocktail,
always more tart than sweet.
But a whole lemon, not yet cut,
reminds me of Tuscany where
the lemon trees grew outside my room
greeting me with their round yellow faces swinging from green branches.
How do they stay suspended in the air that way?
Every time I went in or out of the ancient villa,
I paused to look and listen.
Bright hellos in the morning
and gentle welcomes in the afternoon
and a fragrant farewell when it was time to drive away.
Even now I picture them there,
not anxious for the traveler’s return but
adorning the estate and being beautiful for no one.