When You Can't Smell the Coffee
Updated: May 5
Essential Oils—are Wrung
by Emily Dickinson
Essential Oils—are wrung—
The Attar from the Rose
Be not expressed by Suns—alone—
It is the gift of Screws—
The General Rose—decay—
But this—in Lady's Drawer
Make Summer—When the Lady lie
In Ceaseless Rosemary—
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I knew that the dreaded illness was upon me when, one morning, I woke up and didn’t smell the coffee. I don’t drink vast amounts of my morning brew—one sizable cup. I never thought of myself as addicted to caffeine, but suddenly the thought of not drinking coffee begged me to question this.
Unsure if this was actually happening, I raced for the garlic, knowing that if I couldn’t detect that scent, it wasn’t a dream. No garlic filled my senses. How odd that I felt fine in my newfound scentless and tasteless world. I prepared my coffee as I usually would and carried on.
Not smelling was one thing, and not tasting was another. It felt like coffee, and it seemed like coffee. I wandered about in a daze, smelling various stuff—lavender mist, sage, chocolate, etc. Yes, I was doomed. I know people lose their sense of smell and taste from a sinus infection or other illnesses. This wasn’t the case. I had Covid.
I sipped my tasteless coffee and looked out at the freshly fallen snow. Perhaps this would be its extent, and all would be well. There was no need to panic or tumble into the deeps.
As time went on, the illness progressed, leaving me dangerously dehydrated and feverish. My initial experience with this virus went on for well over a month. I decided that over and above constant nausea, there wasn’t a point in thinking about coffee, let alone consuming it. Several weeks passed, and it seemed I was in the clear. My sense of smell and taste was very faint, and I was optimistic.
I had returned to drinking my one daily cup of java. It was short-lived when, right about the time I started to lose my hair, the disgusting scent of rotting onions, sulfur, and more washed over me. Once again, I was doing the smell test, and lo and behold, I added a new word to my dictionary: parosmia.
Unless you are experiencing this, you may ask, what’s that?
Parosmia (from the Greek παρά pará and ὀσμή osmḗ “smell”) is a dysfunctional smell detection characterized by the inability of the brain to correctly identify an odor’s “natural” smell. Instead, the natural odor is usually transformed into an unpleasant aroma, typically a “burned”, “rotting”, “fecal”, or “chemical” smell.The condition was rare and little-researched until it became relatively more widespread since 2020 (1).
Once I determined what was happening, I rolled up my sleeves and got to work. I spent several days researching. As one who has a direct connection with the healing properties of local wild medicinal plants, this is what I do. I follow my instincts, inhabiting the wisdom of my ancestors.
If we choose to acknowledge it, our bodies have tremendous healing capabilities. As natural beings, we always seek balance with or without our awareness. Once again, my time had come.
It was time to repair the damage to my olfactory nerves, aural pathways, and sensory receptors. I chose to undergo Scent Therapy, also referred to as Olfactory Training.
Again, because of my experience, and amidst what seems like a field of rotten onions, I regard this as a new adventure. Some foods are okay, while others are difficult to ingest. I am focused on a healthy diet. If I only ate what was palatable, I would be inviting additional health issues.
I created my own Scent Kit, consisting of the following essential oils: Rose, Lemon, Eucalyptus, and Clove. Essential oils are potent and should be used with caution. My method is to saturate a cotton ball with each of the scents mentioned earlier and place them individually in a spice jar.
I keep the jars in a cool, dark place and inhale the aroma three or four times throughout the day. Presently, the rose is faint, the lemon is onion-like, and the clove and eucalyptus are true to what I know.
It has been somewhat challenging to craft various balms and sprays. Until this time, I loved the smell of lemongrass—a common ingredient in my bug repellents. Now it gags me. However, I am aware that this is temporary. I relish the thought of when my senses return to normal.
As I often say, where is the lesson? The first is always gratitude. Yes, it could be worse. With proper Scent Therapy and patience, I will, in time, enjoy the aromas as they are intended. When this happens, I will be ever so thankful.
If you or a loved one has this experience, it may take a long time to heal, but we must never give up. Remember the possibilities of the miraculous human body. I might never eat onions again, but you never know.