One night after my first surgery my parents ordered in. When the pizza arrived my dad opened the box and exclaimed, “Shew! Smell that garlic. That’ll have your breath kicking all night!”
I looked up at him, puzzled, “it’s not that strong dad I can’t even smell it.”
“Oh my gosh how can you not? It hits you in the face as you walk through the door.” My mom wrinkled her nose as she walked into the room.
I walked quickly over to the box of pizza, picked up a slice and placed it under my one nostril that wasn’t filled with packing and started sniffing it like one of the beautiful people bent over a mirror on a coffee table at Studio 54.
I dropped the pizza back into the box and started balling. Dr. M had told me that some of his patients lost part or all of their sense of smell after this type of procedure but he had mentioned it along with a laundry list of much scarier things. I had not taken the time to prepare myself for this. Of the 5 senses, smell seemed like the easiest one to cut from the team if you had to make the choice but now that I couldn’t get a whiff of anything I was panicked. I wouldn’t be able to smell flowers, or fresh cut grass, or cookies baking in the oven. Most importantly I wouldn’t be able to tell when I pulled my dirty jeans out of the laundry hamper if they smelled “ok” enough to wear one more time! Sometimes I run late in the morning and skip the shower if I feel like I can get away with it. Now I wouldn’t be able to tell. I had a vision of myself walking around my office in a cloud of dust like Pigpen from the Peanuts cartoons.
I also associate smell with people. If you asked me to tell you about my parents I would tell you what they look like but in my mind I would also be thinking about the fact that when I was a kid on Sunday mornings I would run and jump up on my parents bed and watch cartoons while my dad was in the shower. When he came out we would lay side by side on the bed and read the paper. Well we read the comics together anyway. It was all I was really interested in as far as current events. He used Pert Plus shampoo, Coast bar soap, and wore Stetson cologne. The juxtaposition of clean crisp scents with spice sticks out prominently in my mind when I think of him. My mother used ivory soap and Vidal Sassoon. A mild soft smell that was faintly floral and feminine. I used to use her shampoo when I would take showers as a kid because I wanted to “smell pretty” like her. Johnson and Johnson was for babies, I wanted to be a beautiful woman like my mother. My brother wears LaCoste sport, my granddad wears Polo mixed with the smell of his old sweaters, and the thought that I would never be able to breathe in this defining characteristic of another human being as I hugged them was almost too much to bear.
Word to the wise, do not cry like a child when you have four inches of packing and five gel packs in your face. There’s nowhere for any of those tears or snot to go. And of course once my nose was stopped up I couldn’t even breathe in to continue to try and smell the pizza. Evidently I was convinced that if I just kept inhaling it my sense of smell would come back. I believe some therapists call this denial.
I remember everyone in the room looking at me in shock as I had my meltdown. Crying openly was not a luxury that I allowed myself very often. I usually reserved it for when I was totally alone or occasionally in front of my mother. I remember that I had a variation of a kind of out of body experience. Inside my head I was telling myself to calm down. That my olfactory sense could come back. Yes, this was not ideal but I could manage it. Normally when I reason with myself I can pull it together but today something was different. I wanted to stop crying but I couldn’t. What was this? Was this what it was like to be “emotional”? I didn’t recognize the blubbering mess that was trying to snort a slice of pepperoni up her nose and she was definitely getting on my nerves.
I would find out much much later that extreme emotion and anxiety is a symptom of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. I had seen lots of doctors and surgeons over the past two and a half weeks who had performed countless procedures and prescribed an unbelievable amount of meds but it never once crossed my mind that I might need a psychiatrist. And nobody else thought so either. No doctor suggested it, no friend or family member. To be fair I would not have gone even if someone had brought it up.
I was fine.
Just shaken up and tired. I didn’t need a shrink. Those were for weak people who couldn’t deal with their problems.
I was just crying all the time because I was tired.
All I needed was a good night’s sleep.
Except I couldn’t sleep without having nightmares that I was laying on my back with a mask on my face drowning in my own blood…
So I stayed awake watching “Property Brothers” on HGTV until the wee hours of the morning.
Which made me tired.
So I cried all the time.
I remember I used to read the labels of my mom’s Vidal Sassoon bottles when I would secretly use them in the shower as a child. Along with the long list of ingredients that I couldn’t pronounce were the instructions for use…
“Wash, rinse, repeat.”