I Can’t Smell Sh*t… literally

One year after getting covid, my sense of taste and smell still haven’t fully returned. Here’s how this last year has gone…

When they first vanished, I wasn’t too worried. I knew it was a symptom of the virus and the fact tastes were distorted was a little bit funny. Sweet foods tasted sour and sour foods taste sweet; a packet of those really vinegary hand-cut salt and vinegar crisps tasted like I was tucking into a pack of skittles and sipping a glass of extra dry of pinot grigio was like drinking a cheap, super sweet chardonnay. Blander foods such as egg mayo had no taste at all and I couldn’t smell a thing. I was what that Frebreeze ad – I had gone nose blind

But as I said, I wasn’t worried. It was like that period after a cold where you’re still recovering and expect your senses to return soon enough. Ha ha haaaa, how wrong I was. 

I can confirm the novelty has now definitely worn off.

I’d gone nose blind

The weird distorted tastes subsided within a couple of weeks but the complete lack of smell persisted. 

I’m sure the loss of your sense of smell would not be welcomed by anyone, but for me, this was a big deal because my sense of smell was a staple part of my personality. I joked that I could have been a truffle dog because I could smell a mushroom a mile off. I hated the things (mushrooms, not dogs) and could tell when someone had opened the fridge if there was a packet in there. If someone was cooking them I had to leave the room, or even better the house/town/island. 

I could always pinpoint the smell of niche things and would come out with stuff like ‘why does this top smell like a Premier Inn lobby?’ or ‘ew, this room smells like the House of Manannan’. 

To give you an example of this extremely yet useless talent… One day, my office had a ‘bring your dog to work day’. I was sitting at my desk, minding my own business, when this overwhelming smell hit me. I turned around to my colleagues to exclaim ‘Jesus Christ! It smells like a wet labrador in here’. I kid you not, less than 2 seconds later, a wet labrador that had just been walked across Douglas beach walked past our office door. So yes, you could say the loss of my sense of smell was a rather big hit for me, yet I don’t actually feel like it’s been that traumatic. I think the idea of losing your sense of smell is worse than the reality. Having them slowly return is the hard bit.

When everything smelt like rotten apples 

About six months after having covid, my sense of smell started to pick up and I was able to smell ‘something’ all the time, unfortunately, that smell was rotten apples. It was like my brain was picking up on the different scents floating around but I could only process it as a rotten sweet smell. This started off mild and became pretty full-on. At its peak, petrol, coffee, and toothpaste were the worst for it, to the point where they’d make me gag.

One day I was eating a sandwich and all of sudden I was retching. It tasted like something had died inside it. Turns out it was a piece of cucumber. I didn’t like cucumber before getting covid, I’d pick it out of salads and sandwiches, but now I can’t stand it – it smells like manure. 

Another new thing is that now I’m really sensitive to salt. McDonald’s chips taste like I’m licking sweat from someone’s brow and I can even smell it in clothes if they have been washed in detergent with salt. So maybe my sensitivity to smells is returning, just in new ways.

It’s like my brain has forgotten all the things it knew about smell. The associations it used to make are gone and I’m smelling things for the first time. It’s recommended for people who lost their sense of smell from covid to do training exercises, which I must admit I haven’t kept up with, but it’s like I’m having to retrain my brain to like things I used to. Sometimes it seems pretty useless and I just think maybe I should accept my senses no longer like those things. Which is weird because in my head I can still remember them how they were.

Flashbacks 

In the last few months, I’ve been having what I’d call smell/taste flashbacks. I’ll just be going about my day, doing something mundane, and BANG a smell hits me. But it’s not really there, it’s my brain remembering it. A few examples of these I’ve noted are:

  • Wet dog
  • Twister ice lolly
  • Cigarettes on a cold day
  • Christmas tree
  • Saltwater

A real eclectic mix.

They’ll hit me for a second then be gone, but for that second I can fully remember what they were like to smell and/or eat. 

In the last 5 months (so 10 to 13 months after having covid) things have slowly gotten better and the rotten apple smell has almost gone (or at least I think it has. I may have gone noseblid to that too). I am no longer having to add excessive amounts of XXXtra hot hot sauce to everything and I can smell and taste a lot more, but it’s still very limited, and smells and tastes are still really warped. For example, freshly cut grass smells like orange juice. 

I have been living in France for the last 9 months and I just put the taste of unenjoyable food down to a lack of availability of home comforts and the presence of meat and cheese in nearly every meal, however, since coming back to the UK and having been reunited with my favourite lunchtime delicacy, meal deals, I fear it’s not foreign cuisine, it’s all pretty much all food. My absolute favourite (and often controversial) combo of an egg mayo sandwich, salt and vinegar crisps, and a Diet Coke is no longer what it once was. The sandwich is so bland that I have to add sriracha and the crisps are way more salt than vinegar (note above mentioned sensitivity to salt) however, the one saving grace is diet coke is still exceptional *chef’s kiss*

Have I just matured?

The thing I’m most disappointed by is the fact I can really taste when things have artificial flavours and sweeteners in them. It’s like I’m no longer fooled that they’re ‘strawberry’ or ‘blue raspberry’, instead I taste a chemically sweet thing. But they do say that you grow out of your sweet tooth so maybe this is how much my taste buds would have matured over the past year but because I’ve not experienced them for so long, the transition is more drastic.

It’s not all doom and gloom, some things have changed for the better. I never used to like sweetcorn (I used to think it was like eating little balls of salvia) but now, I can’t get enough of the stuff! And I no longer run and hide when someone pulls out a mushroom because they have no scent anymore. But no, I won’t be eating one any time soon. So I may have lost out on a career as a truffle dog and I might not have my beloved meal deals to give me the same midday enjoyment they once did but now I have extra mature cheddar and garlic to obsess over, both of which I used to like but now they’re some of the most flavoursome foods out there. So here’s to eating cheesy garlic bread for the rest of my life. 

P.s: the title is misleading. I can smell poo. There was a point where I couldn’t and, as a nanny to a toddler, this wasn’t ideal but I can confirm I am now able to detect a fart (still not sure if that’s a good or bad thing?) 

Katie Banks

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