It is difficult to fully comprehend the importance of taste and smell until they are gone. Prior to the pandemic, few people thought about the impact of these senses on their daily lives. However, since over 86% of COVID-19 patients report at least some loss of taste and smell, their significance has become increasingly noticeable.
When I tested positive for COVID-19 back in January, I was honestly a bit surprised. I had been home for winter break for a couple of weeks, but had barely seen any of my friends or been anywhere other than the grocery store. Thankfully, the virus did not hit me too hard. Unfortunately, I lost both my sense of taste and smell, but it didn’t really hit me until after about a week later. What if I would never be able to taste my mom’s cooking or smell her perfume again?
I vividly remember the moment when I realized what my life would be like if I didn’t regain these senses. I was making avocado toast one morning, and like every other 19-year-old college student in the U.S., I decided to add some of the holy Trader Joe’s “Everything but the Bagel” seasoning to it. I bit into the piece of toast, but instead of tasting the sweet and creamy avocado on the nutty bread topped with the salty seasoning, all I could make out was bitterness. I tried to replace the foul-tasting toast with a glass of water, but of course, that only made things worse. A couple of hours later, I decided to give food another go, and I cut up a red honeycrisp apple. To my surprise, the apple was even worse than the toast.
As the anxious, pre-med hypochondriac that I am, I did the one thing that is completely forbidden in the pre-med world: I Googled my symptoms. I read article upon article about people who had yet to regain their smell, despite not having any other symptoms of the virus. It made me worried, of course, and I couldn’t stop myself from spiraling into a dark hole of anxiety. I began to imagine how different my mornings would become without being able to smell the wonderful aroma of coffee, and how devastating it would be to never be able to taste my favorite foods again.
Smell, and thus taste, are two of the most important senses for people. Since smell is so closely linked to memory, it plays a major role in people’s lives; however, the majority of today’s society does not take the time to reflect upon this phenomenon. The sense of smell allows individuals to better engage in their everyday lives. It provides them with opportunities to find comfort, and thus subconsciously supports both their mental and physical health as well. Taste, on the other hand, can be described as being a close cousin to smell. When people chew food, it touches their nasal epithelium, so almost everything that people say they can taste is actually only a smell. True taste is what is described as sweet, sour, bitter, umami, and salty—or bitter, in my case.
As miniscule as it sounds, not having the ability to smell anything was a problem that basically took over my life for the entire month of January. I was constantly worried that I would never be able to reminisce about memories from my childhood as a result. Although I would not wish this virus upon my greatest enemy, I am thankful for what I went through. As I try to see the silver lining of everything, I recognize that this experience helped me understand how wonderful it is to be able to use these senses as a way to think back to memorable experiences, people, and places. Smell and taste are unique in the way that in only a few seconds, they are able to bring back memories from times that would otherwise become forgotten.
Cover Photo Courtesy of Nora Cooks.