Scents you’ve been gone…

April 17, 2009 | My Jottings

Okay, this might be one of those yawn-inspiring blog posts that isn’t asking for reader input, isn’t a tribute to a loved one (although I have one of those coming in the My Joys section very soon), and it isn’t about a book I’ve read and loved. It’s about my nose, and how it got sick. Why it got sick is another matter – I’m still thinking and praying about that one, because I don’t believe anything happens to us without a reason. No thing.

I’ll give you an out right here. If you’re the type who hates reading about others’ maladies, then try clicking on these links to (possibly) more interesting and lighthearted posts – about me wanting to swim a mile out to sea when I was little, about our two little dogs, about my cardinal collection, about why I love cardinals in the first place, perhaps a really terrific granola recipe, a wonderfully written piece on zip-lining by my friend Diane, a photo of the view I saw from my childhood backyard, or about an ongoing work God is doing in my heart, or maybe about the one post on this blog that is read more than any other.

But about two months ago, at the tail end of a cold, I got another sinus infection. In the last five-six years, I’ve gotten almost one sinus infection a year. From age 0-44, my sinuses never bothered me; they pretty much worked well in conjunction with my lungs to breathe in and breathe out, and filter air and produce moisture (can it really be one quart per day?!) and fill some of those large empty spaces sitting around in my head. I never had allergies, never knew of Neti pots, never felt sinus pressure, until sometime around the year 2002.

Well this last sinus infection was different, because it came to steal, kill and destroy. What it stole, killed and destroyed was my olfactory capacity. My sense of smell is gone. I don’t mean that I have difficulty perceiving smells, I mean I can no longer perceive them at all. If I hold the most pungent items to my nose and inhale deeply, it’s just a blank. Fresh ground coffee, my favorite perfume, bleach, sauteing onions, garlic, whatever. Nada. Zip.

At first I just thought this was a temporary deal because my sinus infection was bad, and held on and held on for weeks. After my Neti pot failed me, I reluctantly went to the doctor who prescribed antibiotics, which I am always loathe to take, because I don’t want to become resistant to them, since I want antibiotics to work for me should the day ever come when I reaaalllly need them. I was sick enough to take them for ten days, however, and they didn’t stomp out the infection. They put a lid on it and I felt a little better, but I could still feel something simmering under that lid.

So after two months of not being able to smell anything, I returned to the doctor. He ordered a CT scan of my sinuses to make sure I didn’t have some sort of growth near the olfactory nerves. Talk about fast drive-up service: I saw the doctor in the afternoon, had the CT scan at 6:00 p.m. that evening, and he called me with the results by 8:00 a.m. the next morning. I’m pretty sure with socialized health care this would not have been my experience, but as my daughter was quick to point out, I also wouldn’t have to pay the bazillion dollars for it that I will when the bills start making appearances in our mailbox. And yes, we do have medical insurance.

So the CT scan showed nothing remarkable in my sinuses, except that I have a deviated septum. Always nice to know. The doctor was inclined to refer me to a specialist, so yesterday I saw an ear-nose-throat surgeon who spent a lot of time with me, listening, taking notes, asking good questions, and he told me I was “a compelling patient.” Because I am so witty and entertaining? Probably not.

I think I saw the light bulb go on over his head when he asked me if I’d ever had any immune system issues and I told him about the nasty bout with Sarcoidosis I had several years ago. “Aha!” his thoughtfully raised eyebrows said, and soon he was explaining to me why what I am going through now, and possibly all the sinus infections I’ve had over the past several years, could all be related to the Sarcoidosis (sar-koy-DOE-sis) I thought had gone into remission (or disappeared altogether) years ago.

I didn’t tell Dr. G. that I distinctly remember when the Evil Sarc Beast finally tucked its tail and left me, running off into the woods after almost a year of torment, never to return. I didn’t tell him that with stance wide, one hand on my hip and the other arm outstretched and raised shoulder-level, with finger pointing authoritatively toward those dark woods, that I yelled in my most stentorian tones, “And don’t come back!” The Evil Sarc Beast left its marks from his visit with me — extreme light-sensitivity in my eyes and some large cotton ball-sized lymph nodes in my brachial area, but the medley of perplexing symptoms involving my shins, saliva glands, ankles, lungs and eyes that were my constant companion for almost a year have departed. I think I could even remember dusting off my hands and squaring my shoulders after telling the beast good riddance, and then resuming my life.

But I didn’t tell the doctor any of this. I don’t think he would have thought I was so compelling for all the same reasons. 🙂

So now I’ve just returned from my second CT scan with injected contrast dye, this one of the whole brain (only took five minutes – ha). I should get the phone call with the results in about seven minutes if I judge by the lightning-speed service they’ve provided up until now. The reason for the second scan is because Dr. G. informed me that Sarcoidosis often causes sinusitis and that perhaps I shouldn’t have been prescribed antibiotics, but steroids. And that I should have taken them weeks ago. The cause of my lost sense of smell could have been a viral infection alone. Or it could be related to the Evil Sarc Beast that I thought was long gone. And the doctor also said I needed a brain scan to make sure that sarcoid lesions (I will not explain because really, no one wants to know details like these) had not popped up in my gray matter. Even though I have not had any recurrence of Sarc symptoms for years? He was emphatic with his yes.

I’m not worried about the CT scan results. I don’t have a presentiment of disaster or any feeling of dread. But I am really sad about something. And I’m feeling a little guilty that I’m so sad about it. Dr. G. told me kindly yesterday that I almost certainly will never regain my sense of smell. He said it usually just doesn’t happen. And he said my one hope (other than prayer, he agreed) was to begin taking high-dose steroids right away for one week. So I started taking the howitzer pills yesterday and now I will wait. And pray. And sniff. I will sniff in more ways than one, believe me.

In light of the problems and tragedies other people are facing, I know so well that losing my ability to smell anything is so minuscule in comparison. My own dear husband struggles with something each day that is so much more serious than my new diagnosis, which by the way is called anosmia (pronounced a-NOZZ-mee-a). A young man in our community severed his spinal column in a skiing accident recently and will likely never walk again. There are adulteries and divorces and cancers and heartaches that are so much more serious than this. I don’t want to lose sight of that fact.

But it’s shocking how much I need my nose. I used to be able to tell just by walking by a bathroom if it needed immediate attention. Not long ago I could smell a mouse in our garage, and when a trap was set, the proof was in the flattened pudding. I could tell when the vacuum bag needed changing, when the oven was set too high for the cake I was baking, when the comforter needed dry cleaning, etc. I miss smelling my husband’s neck, which has been a heavenly scent to me for twenty-eight years. I miss burying my nose in a grandbaby’s skin and inhaling that wonderful, heady fragrance. I miss smelling food. And I won’t know now if my house stinks. For those of you who visit my home, I’m seriously going to depend on you to tell me if I need to attend to something. I miss smelling the fresh air of night. I miss the smell of clean sheets pulled up around my nose when I get in bed. I miss the smell of coffee, even though I don’t drink it much. I miss so many scents already. Vanilla. Estee Lauder’s “Beautiful.” Soap. Flowers. Pine needles. It’s very disconcerting to inhale deeply and with anticipation, and get……nothing. And I won’t even start about how this has affected my ability to taste food. Also, in our part of the country we have the best tasting water in the world, but I can no longer taste it. Sigh…

So I called my friends Carey and Su. Carey promised to pray and was so compassionate. She had me laughing about all these physical things we’re dealing with now that we’ve reached our fifties. And Su reminded me that nothing is impossible with God, and said that she would go to battle for me in prayer. (Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”  Mark 10:27) She has her own list of physical challenges, none of which she would ever dream of posting on a blog for the world to read about, and she is going to pray for my nose. I thank God for friends.

So if you can stop and smell the roses today, please do. If you can smell pee that needs cleaning up on the bathroom floor, I hope you can smile about that, because that’s a gift. Not the pee on the floor, but the ability to smell it so you can clean it up. 🙂

If I am never able to smell anything again, I will trust God with that. And if I am healed, He will probably be thanked and praised for the gift of smell more than He has ever been. At least that will be my intent…if I can ever smell again.

That, and to tell you all about it here on the blog…

(Note added on April 18 – Dr. G. called to report that my second CT scan revealed a “grossly unremarkable brain” (I could have told anyone that!) with no bad stuff taking up residence there, for which I am very thankful. So my anosmia has been caused by the viral sinus infection, which most likely damaged the olfactory nerves. Still hoping and praying, though….)



  1. Sharon says:
  2. Just Julie says:

    Thank you for sending the links – I will watch them tonight!

  3. Dorothy Sooter says:

    Dear Julie,

    I am so sorry about your loss of smell, I know how important it is and I will also pray that you regain your ability to smell. Our God is so Awesome and I know He can heal. A little over six years ago when I knew part of my body was going to be gone, it was very troubling. I had watched your dad go through some pretty terrible stuff with no complaints and a wonderful spirit. I decided I had to be tough and with God’s help I was. He was amazed and kept telling me how proud he was of me for my attitude. Since that time I have thought of what would I do without a foot or hand and that really put it all in the right perspective. You have already crossed all of those bridges so you are okay but I still want you to be able to smell so I shall pray. Thank you Lord for healing Julie. Love, Dorothy

  4. Sue Raimo says:

    I grieve with you over this newest loss. It is a death in a way. You no longer have the direct link to the memories your sense of smell accesses so stongly. You still have the memories, but the path of pleasure they run on has been ripped up. The memories must walk unaccompanied on the side of the road.

    I pray that God will give you protection from the sources of any bad unsmellable (is that a word?) smells as well as many replacement pleasures to fill your days. I also join those who will pray for God’s resurrection power, the power of life and hope, and all things good, to touch this place of death.

    Love, Sue

  5. Carolyn says:

    Oh, no! I am so sorry about your nose! That’s a loss that needs to be mourned….but you never know, it could come back! Stranger things happen every day.

  6. Eric says:

    I am so sorry to hear about your situation. Having lost your smell, maybe your other senses will be enhanced. That might be a blessing. Wouldn’t is be neat if your sense of touch got so ‘super’ that you could feel things like cell structure or sound waves! It’s never too late to become an accidental super-hero, and knowing you, it will most certainly happen.

    I really don’t pray much, but I’ll give a shout out to God for you on this one. Maybe he’ll be able to pick me out since he’s not so used to my voice. I’ll try tonight on my knees and everything around 10:30pm. I suspect that you’ll be right as rain in the morning.

    I am sorry for your loss and I really will pray for you tonight. I’ll throw one in for everybody in the Balmer clan.

    Love you.


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