Coming (back) to my senses

After living without smell or taste for six years

Heather McLeod


I haven’t been able to taste or smell anything since my son was an infant. They call it “dysgeusia” and “anosmia,” but what it means is that THIS is how I experience a rose:

(Photo by Shannon Ferguson on Unsplash.)

Isn’t it pretty?

Try pressing your nose to the glass of your screen and inhaling. Smell anything? Nope?


I was able to smell and taste for most of my life, so I remember the sweet smell of roses. A few summers ago, I even commented on how great some frying sausages smelled when I passed by someone’s campfire … before realizing that I was remembering the smell of frying sausages.

What happened?

I have no idea how I lost these two senses. I’ve never smoked, I brush my teeth and I’m healthy.

But my son’s birth seven years ago was traumatic: I got eclampsia and my organs starting to fail, until he was delivered early by Caesarian weighing three pounds, two ounces. We lived in hospitals for a month, until he was big enough to bring home.

A year later, my husband was diagnosed with terminal kidney cancer.

So when I told the doctor I wasn’t able to smell my son’s poopy diapers, he diagnosed my anosmia as a symptom of stress.

Fair enough.

My new normal

Over the years, not being able to smell or taste became normal for me. Food was still interesting: instead of flavour, a “good” meal had a variety of textures.

And I could still pick up on very strong saltiness. One night at a restaurant, my mind was blown by chewy baguette slices spread with olive tapenade, drizzled with olive oil and a sprinkle of rock salt.


One day, my toddler farted, and — after years of not being able to smell anything — I smelled that fart for days on end, from the time I woke up to my last moment before sleep.

This is “phantosmia,” or olfactory hallucinations: smelling smells that aren’t there. Nose ghosts.

I scoured our house for the source of this rancid, nasty odour, washing all clothes…