Getting My Nose Back

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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.


  • Patty says:

    This is such happy news! I know it’s a ways back still, but it sounds like it’s moving! My mom is still working through smell returning. She got enough back that her sense of taste came back, but a lot of things are just a big mush, some things are more discrete. I’m so glad you’ve found things to work on to get it back. It will be there, I just know it!

  • Sarah says:

    Oh March, just weepin for joy here. All is forgiven patchouli! (Had been my least favorite scent-now I’ll smell her differently). Thank you for sharing your small blessings. Your grateful heart warms mine.

  • Koyel says:

    I am so happy to read that you’re getting your scent back! Also, thanks for introducing me to the term parosmia, which led me to phantosmia, which I think all of us have experienced at some point, but which I experienced rather significantly and unhappily a couple years ago. In fall 2019, my father died after 17 days in the CCU. His room bore a lot of smells; I don’t even know what they all were, and I never really bothered to disentangle them. I assume it was some combination of body odor and cleaning products and medications and synthetic fabrics being taken out of sterile packaging. In any case, for many months after his death, I would get whiffs of his CCU room everywhere–on my own skin, on my then-fiance, in rooms of my house, in my cubicle at work. I couldn’t escape it. Eventually, it faded; I hardly ever get that smell now, thankfully. My then-fiance insisted that the smell wasn’t real, but honestly he didn’t really manage to convince me. Seeing the term phantosmia, though, does convince me; if it’s a common enough phenomenon to have a name, then it stands to reason that he was right. There’s no reason why my entire world should have smelled like the CCU when it never had before.

    • March says:

      So, I absolutely think this is a thing … I don’t know if it’s manufactured in our heads (by trauma?) or a physical issue, but either one is real. The two times my kid was in the hospital in traumatic circumstances, I caught whiffs of the ER/ICU smell for weeks after. And after surgery in 2018 aka the first time I jacked up my nose, I smelled this not-terrible-but-unsettling meaty smell, which I thought was ME after surgery. After a few days I realized it wasn’t “me” — that smell was everywhere. Took months to go away.

  • Pattie says:

    I’m so happy for you. I had a trip to Santa Fe planned and had to cancel because I got a breakthrough Covid case!! I was so upset – love santa Fe in the fall.
    I am now about 2 weeks out. I lost all sense of smell and taste. Smell seems to slowly be coming back, but all I can taste is super salty or spicy – no flavor. Its such a strange sensation. I’ve been doing the essential oil training, and was so happy when I could finally smell something (even though the vanilla smelled like salty, smelly feet). One of the strangest things is realizing how powerful your brain/memory is when it comes to food. If I see a chocolate chip cookie or something I love , I know it wont taste any different than a plastic bag, but I still crave it. Once I eat it, it does nothing for me and I stop, but boy those memories are strong!! good way to lose weight though.

    • March says:

      Oh no, breakthrough COVID! I hope you continue to recover … many/most people do. I SO hear you on the taste memory. I’d bite into something that I KNEW should taste a certain way (a cookie or treat I’d had many times before) and … nothing. Really diminished my sweet tooth; what’s the point of eating it if it’s flavorless? Most of my food now is spicy because at least it’s SOMETHING. I lost almost 30 pounds.

      • Musette says:

        Don’t faint… but that happened to me with… MALLOMARS! I think it’s connected to my anorexia-adjacent eating disorder, though. Once I got away from eating a lot of chocolate/refined sugar I just couldn’t resume the habit; I’d equated it with Something Bad. Now Peach Kefir and honey-roasted peanuts are my ‘treats’ and both seem to fill that need without me feeling that I’m eating something ‘bad’. The mind is weirdAF, innit?


  • Zazie says:

    I am so glad to read this! Hope your sense of smell continues to improve.
    I love reading your musings, they are always so beautifully written, interesting and often so poignant, but I would be so incredibly happy to read a perfume review again soon – for all that it entails. Keeping my fingers crossed! Meanwhile you have me daydreaming about the amazing smells of Santa Fe.

    • March says:

      Thanks! I know I’ve said this before, but I decided, well, this will remain a writing outlet for me, even if it’s not about perfume, and people can read or not. But I miss my sense of smell, obviously, and the community. I hope I’m on the mend.

      • rosarita says:

        Your writing is wonderful March, no matter what you are writing about, it’s evocative and beautiful.

  • rosarita says:

    Oh March, that’s such wonderful news! Enjoy every little bit, hugs.

  • Musette says:

    OMGOSH! That is EXCELLENT news! I want to go to your herbalist doctor!!!


  • Dina C. says:

    I had the biggest grin while reading this post! Hallelujah! So tickled pink that your dormant sense of smell is finally waking up out of extended hibernation! So, so happy for you! And I love the scent descriptions you included. Looking forward to many more!

    • March says:

      Thanks, honey! I’ve tried to keep my hopes nice and low since it’s been more than a year of … mostly nothing. But I really do think it’s improving!

  • Leigh says:

    I never got Covid and I’ve been vaccinated 3 times now, but over the past year plus, I’ve noticed my perfumes, although I smell them initially, fade almost immediately to my nose. I’ve wondered if the vaccine may have caused that. On the plus side, I’ve lost over 30 lbs because food is not so interesting. Any thoughts?

    • Musette says:

      Leigh, chiming in here to say I’ve had something similar, post-vacc and have also noticed that during allergy season my interest in food wanes to near-nothing! Of course, I eat to keep myself alive but other than that, eh.


      ps. congrats on the 30-lb weight loss (if, indeed, it is a congratulatory situation)

    • March says:

      So, this was/is what happens for me, a fair amount of the time — I can smell something reasonably well for about 30 seconds (if I didn’t get nothing to start with.) I am HOPING it starts to stick around! I also lost almost 30 lbs, because food is less interesting and I didn’t have goodies at home during COVID (my source for goodies before that was at the office, constantly, which is how I gained the weight in the first place!) Since other viruses can blow up our sense of smell, I do wonder whether however the vaccine works also effects smell receptors.

      • Musette says:

        yeah – like when I got sick off my first cholera vaccine. Guess what? I got cholera! A deliberate, controlled version of it – but cholera just the same.

  • Portia says:

    MARCH! This is wonderful news. Even this little bit is so much more. So happy to read this post.
    Portia xx

    • March says:

      Yep! Whenever I start to get frustrated, because of course I want it ALL back, IMMEDIATELY, I remind myself this is more progress than I’ve had!

  • cinnamon says:

    Hopefully this means that you’ll see slow but steady progress. It is a strangeness that smell is given short shrift among the senses. It keeps us safe in certain circumstances, it brings pleasure. I mean fragrance is a huge industry. Just weird that smell is only recently receiving serious attention.

    • March says:

      It IS weird. I thought it was weird before, but I think until I lost my sense of smell, I didn’t really understand how … fundamentally indifferent a lot of people are to their sense of smell (or lack thereof) unless it’s complaining about a terrible smell. And medical research was so limited.

  • shiva-woman says:

    I am so delighted at your progress–and yes–we get it! I got Covid in January–and honestly, the fear of anosmia was up there with my fear of death, and I was pretty sick. My sense of smell was blunted for a week or two, but not lost. The rest of my body took months to recover and I do have “long haul Covid.” My fear was doubled by the fact that my spouse cannot smell or taste at all due to a prior head injury years ago. He can “sense” tasting a lemon or “sense” a teaspoon of honey–but wow, the dangerous situations he’s been in because of the loss. Doctors DID NOT GET IT for years. If there’s one “bright light” in the darkness of Covid–it’s that now “sense of smell” is gaining more importance around the world and more research is dedicated to examining “how we smell.” To me, my olfactory sense is a lifesaver in so many ways–and also a world of joy.
    And then there are the little things. We have nine (9!) indoor cats. And they’re stinkers. There is no way my husband could “rely” on what the litterboxes “look like” (hope my frankness here does not offend). There’s litterboxes, and musty air, and couches that need fluffing–food that goes bad, tea and coffee that one inhales first through the nose, spicy lovely cooking scents, and fusty-musty oil ones. There’s just a world of smells–of mouldering sinks that need cleaning, to the fantastic amber-scented fur on my cat Zane Grey. One of the most loathsome aspects of C-19 (aside from the killing part) was that it would would steal this important sense.
    So, I’m really glad that your dedication to smell training is paying off. I’ve tried to get my husband to do it, but he’s resigned to his “fate.” On the upside–I drench myself in perfumes and while I never hear a compliment, I also never hear a complaint. So there’s that.

    • March says:

      Ugh, yeah, we haven’t even talked about the risks associated with no sense of smell — spoilt food, gas leaks etc. And I’m so sorry you’re so ill! Long COVID sounds dreadful; hopefully research will present some options. That’s part of what’s been so maddening and you described it perfectly — I “sense” that there’s a smell there, but I can’t smell it! Also BTW I read a lot of Zane Gray when I was younger, my father introduced me, great name for a cat.

  • Maggiecat says:

    This is happy news, and, recovering as I am from two major spinal surgeries within the past ten days, I will take all good news I can get!

  • Taxi says:

    Progress! Hope you’re soon back to full/normal.
    Neural pathways can be very strange. Since heavy-duty chemo meds several years ago, I sometimes “smell” the color pictures in magazines, mostly single note fruits or vegetables but occasionally tobacco, forests, etc. Weird.

  • Filomena says:

    I am happy for you that you are starting to get back your sense of smell and hope it completely returns. Most people don’t use their sense of smell unless they smell something repugnant. It is the most overlooked sense that people appreciate, except for we perfume aficionados.

    • March says:

      Yep! Almost always when I hear someone talking about smell it’s a complaint — the garbage, etc. What about all the rest of the time, people?!?!

  • Jennifer S says:

    Yay! You’re feeling better?? 😉

  • Pam says:

    This sounds hopeful, March. May you continue to improve. ?

  • Janet Hoover says:

    I am so happy for you! ??????