My family and I got COVID in the last week of April when I lost my taste and smell completely. Now, this is something that has become common to our ears and eyes since 2020, but what is not common is losing your taste and smell, partially regaining them and losing them once again.
I wish it were just losing them like it was during COVID, but I started experiencing something bizarre this time. My taste and smell slowly got altered or rather distorted. Yes, welcome to my world where the scent of perfumes does not appease me but makes me want to barf.
I have always felt comforted when given labels to what my body is going through, perhaps because we humans enjoy control — uncertainty is the worst enemy.
In life before COVID, I could never fathom such things were possible and I did not even pay much attention to my senses. Indeed, we do not realise the value of something until it’s gone.
To explain my condition a little more, although I still struggle to find words that fit what I am experiencing, the internet and social media have been generous. My food does not smell or taste the way it should. This may easily qualify as TMI (too much information), but my poop smells different. All poop, by default, smells bad, but my poop smells a different bad.
When my condition was setting in, we were at my grandparents’, so my mind came up with convincing explanations for what started happening to me. It started with an odd taste in some of the dishes I was eating. While I thought it was perhaps the ingredients of the food, little did I realise that it was my tongue and nose.
When the smell of my hand wash changed, and Lifebuoy certainly became unbearable, I thought it was because of the henna on my hands. And as I started smelling a foul smell in the washroom, I assumed it was the drain and thought, “Voila! I am regaining my smell,” because all those days at my grandparent’s, I could not smell any smell in the drain that others could.
But realisation only kicked in as my taste and smell started to worsen after I came back home. I recognised the unfriendly smell in my kitchen that had followed me from my grandparent’s house and felt perplexed because all this while I had been fooling myself.
Two days after we returned home, most of the dishes that I could consume despite the unfamiliar taste and smell became unbearable, and I could not stomach any food.
I was not taken very seriously by many people around me because this is such a weird thing that even I felt embarrassed to explain or describe it to others. We visited our doctor, and I experimented with some medication but of no luck or help because these unfamiliar smells and tastes continued to flourish.
Due to a habit of frantically googling things, I read the word Parosmia in some articles and later on Instagram. Although I do not want to self-diagnose, what I was experiencing felt very similar to Parosmia that surprisingly many people are experiencing post-COVID, unfortunately.
It struck me that it was a less talked about term and post-COVID symptom. We hear about post-COVID weakness, headaches, body pains, and other problems, but I bet most of us are unaware of what Parosmia is, perhaps because nobody knows much about it.
I sometimes still wonder whether what I am experiencing is Parosmia because it has not been clinically told to me. But there is nothing else that explains my condition and symptoms better than Parosmia.
I tend to associate smells with places, people, and memories. Having those smells taken away from me took a hard toll on me. And being the foodie I am, I loved turning to my comfort food when I felt down. Now, my day involves exploring what I can eat and what I cannot.
As we know, food, especially our Indian cuisine, has strong aromas. All food smells the same to me now except for a few dishes that are forsaken. The smell can sometimes be nauseating and unsettles the whole system.
Although I am trying to eat all three meals and of good amounts, every meal is a mountain to climb. I have to force myself to eat and often ignore the smell and taste. I have tried holding my nose while eating or gulping my food without chewing, but they are not very comfortable and healthy practices.
I am unsure about what awaits me ahead, but all I can do is be hopeful that my smell and taste will return to normal one day. I have had my share of the “what-ifs?” and “why me?” thought spirals. But social media has been very soothing because reading about how other people are dealing with this makes me feel less lonely and motivates me to overcome my circumstances.
I do not know one individual personally who is having these symptoms post-COVID, but I am certain that there are fellow comrades experiencing this in different corners of the world.
I did not know that I would write about what I am experiencing, especially like this, but after reading some articles for What It’s Like to Live With series of The Swaddle, it felt just the right time to speak up and let more people know about this.
About doctors not giving a diagnosis and prognosis, I’d just say that even they are still learning because the novel coronavirus is undoubtedly novel and affects each individual differently.
There are still grumpy days and vulnerable moments, but I hope that hope lies ahead as they say that it is like a resting station on the way to the destination — destination being fully recovered taste and smell.
I read that Parosmia post-COVID occurs as a result of our brains relearning how to smell and taste. Although on most occasions I feel like not being able to taste and smell at all was easier to deal with, especially because I was confident it would come back. The uncertainty now looms fear of having to live in this distorted world of taste and smell for longer than I am expecting to.
I am not even sure what I am expecting because I just desperately wish to wake up tomorrow morning and relish a plate full of scrumptious breakfast without fearing each bite I take and tell the difference between my perfumes, creams and shampoo just by sniffing them.
While still unsure of what this is called, I would like to believe that it is Parosmia and urge people to read more about this because many people around us are perhaps not tasting and smelling things the way we are supposed to taste and smell them.
I hope this story reaches out to people, especially those experiencing anything as strange as this because you are not alone. I hope the future looks brighter for us and there is more research and empirical information to explain such a disabling situation.