So, March … are you ever going to write about perfume again on your perfume blog? WELL. I started to not write this, thinking I might jinx it, and my next thought was that’s just silly, so here we are. I think my sense of smell is improving! Maybe someday I’ll get to smell all the perfumes again, and write about them! Wouldn’t that be exciting?!
For two months I’ve been using this science-backed but cockamamie-sounding compounded theophylline solution, carefully mixing and atomizing it up my nose daily. That also means I’m irrigating my schnoz regularly, which if nothing else is supposed to help with allergies, which I have in abundance. There’s also the fact that I’m doing my smell training with essential oils every day, which gives me something concrete to measure progress. That daily work is giving me hope. My orange essential oil now smells like orange instead of a general citrus (or nothing), my clove oil is … much spicier and rounder, and I can almost smell my beloved majmua attar’s heartbreaking verdancy. The biggest, most morale-boosting change is a tiny vial of patchouli oil, not one of my favorite solo smells but recommended by my Chinese medicine doctor. It smelled like nothing when I bought it. For weeks, I got nothing. Then it smelled vaguely like dirt, which was progress, I guess? Now, holy cow, it smells … like patchouli! Never thought I’d be so happy to smell patchouli in my life.
And there are signs as I walk around: past a chamisa in bloom, they’re shrubs and everywhere here. Visually, their blooms are yellow. Nasally, they’re … sweaty socks with a side of celery? I didn’t realize what was happening at first, just whoa what a funky smell, followed by hey, waitaminute! This was followed shortly thereafter by a pause outside a “lifestyle” shop that sells really expensive carved rock bowls (among other things). They keep their doors propped, and I’ve walked by there dozens of times. Only this time I smelled a fancy spa smell (very on-brand) emanating from indoors. I almost cried. And for the past week or so, as autumn is settling in here, I’m getting more than just rare, evanescent wisps of Santa Fe’s amazing smell – pinon from all the fireplaces, the evergreen shrubs everywhere, the smell of restaurants I pass. It’s not yet at the smell-volume I remember, but it’s much more noticeable and frequent than it used to be, and it is heaven.
“Normal” folk who don’t follow their noses all their waking hours — they don’t get the vague, depressing, unsettling, constant sense of what’s missing, that devastating blankness where the world used to be, in all of its glorious mundane smells – the smell of a grocery store, the gas station, the woods. The … nothingness where everything used to be.
And pre-COVID, medical science’s interest in smell was laughable. If the same were true of vision, you’d go to the doctor, concerned your eyesight was failing, and the response would be Hmm, that’s too bad, you don’t seem to have a brain tumor, be careful crossing the street I guess! Non-smell-oriented folks can’t grasp what this loss means to some of us. Many of my (otherwise lovely) friends and coworkers shrugged, because they don’t live their lives dreaming about the fabulous cornucopia that is the world of smells. But y’all know exactly what I mean.
I remind myself it could be worse, having read multiple articles about people whose livelihoods depend on their sense of smell (sommeliers, chefs, perfumers) who’ve been devastated by their COVID anosmia. Also, even worse, several articles about people with post-COVID parosmia, phantom scents where everything (including themselves) smells like the most terrible smells you can imagine. I don’t know how I’d survive it, frankly – for those people, smelling nothing would be a godsend. That slapped some sense into me.
What’s that saying — in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king? In the land of the nose-blind where most folks apparently live, I’m thrilled to be a one-eyed king. I occupied a privileged spot for decades, all those moments of wondrous smells. I may never be the Perfume Queen – I unpacked a few bottles when I got here and the results were so depressing I tucked them back in their storage cooler – but this progress gives me both joy and hope. One of these days, when I’m feeling lucky, I’ll open that cooler again.