Parosmia journal, 2021--
'forgetting to eat', etc.
Tested positive for COVID-19 on Aug 3rd, 2021.
1 week: No taste/smell effects, just flu-like symptoms (rough: but grateful to have had 2 vaccines).
8 days: Now comes the complete loss of smell, and of taste. Nothing tastes, or smells, of anything at all. It hits very suddenly one afternoon. It is very weird.
10 days: Intense chemical smell, perhaps ammonia, or yoghurt burning onto a ceramic hob. Not connected with any real-world input, just a constant smell. Taste, or smell: somewhere in between. Already by this time I am forgetting to eat.
~3 weeks: Burning chemical smell at last fading. Occasionally the odour of a can of Bouillon which I once found in my nan’s cupboard, looking for jam, with a ‘best before’ date 3 years before I was born.
4 weeks: Certain jars of herbs/spices if inhaled at length smell as they ought to, very faintly. Burnt chemical smell becoming more metallic, like fingers which have been fondling a set of keys, or the palms of hands immediately after sliding painfully down steel guy-ropes from wooden telegraph poles. (They don’t look like they should have so much friction.)
5 weeks: I discover one morning that braeburn apples taste heavenly: just as they should, and quite as intensely as they should. The juices which drip, likewise. Genuine joy for a while until I discover the same is not (yet?) true, sadly, of other food. Coffee for instance smells, if anything, of envelope gum, and tastes like the paint round the end of a yellow-and-black-striped Staedtler.
6 weeks: Senses have returned essentially to normal, everything just less intense. As if your nose has the soft pedal down. Only remaining problem is greasy food, which smells (not tastes) like licking inside the packaging of a Wall’s Solero long past its best, one that’s melted and hardened several times. Sometimes the vivid smell of a charity-shop sewing machine.
4 months: Suddenly, a small number of specific and unrelated things, unfortunately including myself, all smell powerfully of rotting red onion. This is distressing and I need to shower 4 times a day. Burnt chemical smell appears at random every few hours, faintly; it now seems mixed with flavours: anchovies, or sometimes over-roasted chestnuts.
6 months: Reckless return to greasy food backfires as Co-op ‘Meat Feast’ pizza tastes like the smell of the contents of a half-full bottle of Lucozade Original which a Grindr hookup pissed into in 2013 and hid behind a box in my room for me to find 3 months later. I say 2013 to remind you Brighton was flooded with mephedrone at the time, and so, as a consequence, were we: just for that extra tang. Absolutely foul: never eating pizza again.
7 months, 2 weeks: No further experiments, not after such a catastrophe; just a gentle improvement and some curious new changes. Smells which are necessary for true happiness — freshly ground coffee, chopped parsley (basil, if parsley is not available), tomato plants in a greenhouse — still alas very weak. However, the brief aroma, on entering any room, of Harrison Ford circa Raiders. 8/10, I don’t mind it.
9 months: Too late, it occurs to me that it could just be that I have forgotten, or lost the knack, of how to make a decent curry. It’s been an unprecedentedly weird year, and skills can be lost as much as they can be gained. Ingredients now tend to smell perfectly normal, albeit weak; and it’s not that my meals taste bad: merely boring. Decision: probably both. Of course you get worse at cooking when your smell and taste is fucked.
369 days since positive lateral flow test: All food tastes like our dearly-departed Brannigan’s ‘Beef and Mustard flavour’ crisps. Sadly, this heaven only lasted a few hours. Perhaps the number 369 is significant. I would appreciate hearing from anyone else who experiences this effect, that we may find ways to recreate it. Life might become worth living again.
1 year: Tunnocks Teacakes, which taste normal — by which I of course mean delicious — unfortunately also smell of Ilfracombe seafront, or sometimes of Roy Orbison. Tap water smells tantalizingly like coffee, but tastes like flat Carling swigged on a replacement bus service. This latter makes me incredibly angry.
1 year, 2 weeks: I remember being warned that recovery from parosmia is not linear: still, it is upsetting that things have suddenly got worse again, so far in. Everything is just hot new tarmac and chewed cardamom pods. Even when trying to sleep. I realize it’s been months since I tried fresh coriander, and warily bite a leaf off in a shop. It tastes foul, truly rancid: I cannot even swallow it, and need to run home and rinse my mouth. The only unaffected taste is blood.
1 year, 2 months: After six weeks on board, the entire crew are dead, I smell worse than the dog, and the weather when we arrive in Whitby is atrocious. The salt air tastes of keen electricity and I feel fortified in my instincts, unstoppable in my desires.
1 year, 4 months: Deep, rich red blood loses most, but not all, of its appeal. This perhaps a little too late, but still a good thing. Now, cruising one night, back in Brighton, I discover by chance a pleasant smell, at last: the vivid hum of of the public lavatories in the Pavilion gardens. They are locked until early morning, but I habitually stand there all night with my nose jammed into the crack in the door. If this can smell nice, then maybe other things can too. It is good to feel hope. In the morning, the police often arrive in a stench of bad mussels; and the arresting officer when I lick his face tastes of Copydex.
1 year, 6 months: Well. Here we are. ‘Here’ is Waterloo East, where between the arrival boards and the branch of Upper Crust is a smell of stereotyped home: baked bread (which makes some sense), freshly-mown grass (which doesn’t) and — at last! — a smell of coffee. I have no explanation for this as the coffee place is always shut. Nevertheless I pitched my tent this morning and have resisted all attempts to move me on. The smell of coffee is as strong in the tent as petrol is on a forecourt: but gorgeous, and rich, and deep, as dark and as golden as molasses; like velvet made audible; like the cosiest memories made visible and tangible. However, in an absolutely dismal twist, what coffee now tastes of — and I had to walk back to Waterloo to find this out — is herbal tea. On that cruel bombshell: report ends.