Opinion | What Good Is Springtime When You Can’t Smell the Flowers?

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By Pamela Paul

Opinion Columnist

Like any other vaxxed and boosted human, I didn’t look forward to getting Covid — not when it was life-threatening Alpha, not when it was Delta-variant dreadful, not when it was Omicron omnipresent. I had enough brain fog already, thank you very much, and wasn’t kindly disposed toward the uncertainties of long Covid. But I was confident that when I did succumb, as perhaps we all must, there was one thing I didn’t need to worry about: anosmia. Though I might wind up coughing, feverish and as clogged as a frat house toilet, I just knew I’d be spared my sense of smell. My nose was too darned sensitive and persnickety to capitulate.

I may as well have placed a custom order. Just as when I once said, “As long as it’s not a C-section” and “As long as it’s not bedbugs,” the fates knew precisely what to do.

The loss of smell and taste remains one of the most confounding aspects of Covid. One study found that, pre-Omicron, the loss of smell or taste respectively affected around 38 percent and 30 percent of its participants. For some, it’s a minor inconvenience amid more dire consequences, but for others — especially people who rely on their noses professionally or whose other senses are compromised — it can be a profound shift in perceiving the world. We don’t know for sure why it happens or who is susceptible, nor do we understand completely why the rates dipped with the latest variant. Omicron anosmia also supposedly lasts for less time: approximately two or three days, down from a much longer average for previous variants.

But as with all things Covid, to paraphrase one doctor, you’ve seen one case of Covid, you’ve seen one case of Covid — nothing is assured and my nose chose to go its own way. Throughout the pandemic, the loss of smell has served as a bellwether, leading many to sniff their way to the coffee maker on waking for the first sign of infection. In my case, it wasn’t until Day 8, right as I was feeling fully recovered from my springtime rendezvous with Omicron, that my nose called it quits — just like that. One morning, holed up in my isolation chamber, I plunged my face into a bag of Dunkin’ Donuts Original Blend and smelled exactly nothing.

Normally, I’d know right away if I’d accidentally picked up a bag of Midnight Dark Roast. Smell and taste are two things I’ve always been good at. I can smell from someone’s sweat if the person has eaten red meat or worked out in synthetic material. I can walk into a room and smell when a TV has been on. I am fully convinced that I can smell static. When I reveal this, most people look at me like I’m a lunatic, but a rare few will nod in recognition. One of us. My grandfather was a chemist and a professional nose, and I’ve always liked to think that while he held on tight to his chemistry skills, he did pass down his acute sense of smell.

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