Anosmia is the total lack of smell and can be caused by either injury, infection or related to a disease. Early on in the Covid 19 Pandemic, altered smell or taste was a common side effect reported by many people. As the variants evolved so some of the symptoms changed. I thought I had been doing very well to avoid succumbing to COVID for almost 2.5 years. However, a recent excursion on a train with a likely infected person (who had a negative RAT test that day), meant that I did came down with COVID, despite wearing a N95 mask and practising vigilent hand hygience. The symptoms were fast and furious, as many friends had reported. Even my son, aged 24 can pinpoint the moment he thinks COVID became resident, from feeling slightly tired, to completely laid up in the space of an hour, with the sorest of throats he had ever experienced. The sore throat did indeed feel like shards of glass, I had to sip water off a spoon and the headache was indeed like a vice of needles going into my skull. I felt like I had done 10 rounds with Mike Tyson. All my cliches were text book! I was fatigued, with
weird tender points on my body-the first night I video chatted with a friend and spent half the time croaking "look I am tender here, and here, and here" in places where bone and muscle met. It was like the virus was clustering itself in different locations just to trick and annoy me. Oddly my left shoulder joint was excruciating, which was the site of an old injury and I had had a steroid injection in it a few months ago. Was there a connection? Who knows but the right shoulder joint was pain free. I woke up feeling like a 15cm knitting needle was being inserted in the left sholuder- then that pain went the next day.
I did all the right things, reported my positive RAT test to the COVID site, got a blue tooth notification code, reported to my work (and a lovely colleague dropped off more RAT kits on his way home), and put my action plan in place with my neighbour. They knew I was positive, dropped off supplies while I waited for the online shop to arrive the next day ( of course COVID happened the day before I normally did my 'big shop' hence the Uber Eats junk), rested (well pretty much slept three days away- I have no memory of most of that time so sorry if I offended anyone), drank copius amounts of fluid, including fresh squeezed orange juice which gave a burst of flavour and goodness my body craved. I monitored my temp, Heart rate and oxygen sats (as the good nurse I am-yes I had a little TPR chart in different colours, in case I needed to give it to someone) so I could detect any trend. I had soft foods, soups, and munched my way through an exhorbitant number of kapiti vegan sorbet ice blocks, which also hit the sweet nutrition mark I needed as well as being cold, soothing and tasty. I popped some vitamin C even though logically I knew I was probably weeing most of it out. However there remains some evidence it does support recovery from a vial illess. I had a stash from my earlier pandemic kit version 1 March 2020 so it couldnt hurt to cover all my bases.
I dutifully inhaled some essential oils to help soothe and support my lungs- the steam and eucalyptus laden fumes helped clear my nose and I enjoyed the hit of eucalytpol to my tired brain. I gargled with my long standing blend of Kānuka and mānuka oils in warm water, along with salt water, which had been the focus of my doctoral research, albeit for a different reason (radiation induced mucositis). The essential oils had the desired effect of being soothing and reducing some of the pain I was feeling. Hot lemon drinks and paracetamol rounded off my self care, along with soothing baths with New Zealand grown lavender oil in it. Combined with dead sea salts, this helped ease my muscle aches and send me to a restorative sleep each night. My lovely neighbours made text welfare checks twice a day, and I got a text from my GP with details of what I needed to do if anything changed. My girlfriend group checked in daily to see if I needed anything as they had all recently gone through this and send words of encouragement. A funny moment was my neighbour sliding a packet of ice blocks down the drive towards me from five metres away. She wouldn't look out of place in NZ's curling team such was her accuracy to my front door.
I was grateful I was fully vaccinated and boosted as I felt totally miserable and knew it could have been much worse. I have no underlying health conditions except hayfever. My heart goes out to those who are in hospital or affected by long COVID.
After day three, I felt I was turning the classic corner of an illness as I woke up for the first time without those shards of glass in my throat. I was able to return to a work from home situation, catching up on things in snacks of time. The voice was still like I had a 40 day Benson and Hedges habit so I avoided all talking. The brain fog was real and looking at a computer for more than 30 minutes fatugued me.
On day five, I was now just feeling like I was at the end of a nasty cold, instead of the ten rounds with Mike Tyson feeling from a few days previously. I was doing some things with my essential oils and opened a bottle of oils I had premixed some time ago and sniffed to check the blend, I couldn't smell much and my first thought was it was off, so I grabbed another bottle to sniff, and still nothing. I then tried to inhale some pure cocoa absolute, which has the most intense chocolate aroma and there was nothing. The realisation hit me that I had anosmia, and it was total. It was not that I had a distorted sense of smell (or even a weakend sense of smell, I literally have no smell. I started to check all sorts of things- sniffing my lip balms, my lavender hand cream, a luxuorius berry and vanilla aroma which had knocked me out with its intensity a couple of weeks ago. I added drops of eucalyptus to a bowl of steaming water and inhaled deeply- I could feel the pricking of the aroma molecules up my nose but could not detect any aroma what so ever.
As an aromatherapist and perfumier, being able to smell is second nature to me. I can detect all sorts of aromas at distance, subconsciously hold my breath when going past fish and meat shops, and have aromatics infused into every corner of my life. I hold in my brain scent memories related to different people or experiences and if I meet someone I am more likely to notice what they smell like compared to how they look.
Being able to smell is one of our most primitive survival instiincts, to warn us of danger (animal poo), or infection, or when food has spoilt and is not fit to eat. in modern times we need it to detect gas leaks (I don't have gas thanfully), check if the milk is Ok to drink (I don't drink milk), or if there is a smoke (double checked the batteries in the smoke alarm and I cranked up the carbon monoxide alarm and put it near my room).
I now feel bereft by my inability to smell. On a personal level I use aromas to uplift and enhance my life- to not be able to inhale the pure rose oilI apply for perfume, or the fresh organic bergamot oil in the diffuser to wake me up, or the lovely vanilla and cocoa sugar scrub I use in the shower, which makes me feel like I am in the tropics on a cold late autumn day, or my late autumn fragrant garden, which I distil aromatics from. On a practical level for my business it means I can't use my aroma judgement when creating blends for clients. Even my car license plate has the word AROMA on it!
It seems that anosmia is related to the variant and hopefully it is temporary. As I did not have a PCR test I don't know which variant of COVID I have- maybe it isn't omicron. However anecdotally I have heard of people being affected for weeks. I really hope not. There is plenty of evidence to support the wide range of experiences and I have the right knowledge to see if I can coax it back to function using phytochemicals.
My food tastes dull, a peice of toast is like eating some chewy cardbaord, there is no joy in the food at all. perhaps not a bad thing as I want to lose my remaining stubborn 'lockdown kilos', which reassuredly (or not) has made its way into the medical literature.;
My nose isn't congested, the sore throat is all but gone, I have a very slight irritating non productive cough. However, I feel where my olfactory nerves should be, is a big black hole, a void nothingness, where previously there was so much joy for me.
I will be monitoring myself very closely and will celebrate the first glimmer of return of olfaction. If you made it this far- please do something nice and take time to smell that rose growing in the garden, or apply your favouriite perfume aven though it's a work day, or bake some home made spicy ginger biscuits and fill your house with the aroma, or make a fresh brewed coffee and enjoy. Keep healthy, wendy
Posted: Wednesday 1 June 2022