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Pique ’n your interest

The fifth sense


Thanks to advances in medical science some people with visual impairments can now get surgeries or transplants that allow them to see again, or in some cases to see for the first time. Ditto for the hearing impaired, through the use of Cochlear Implants and other medical procedures.

While hardly as dramatic or life alternating, a little over a month ago I received a surgery (and corresponding cycles of antibiotics and anti-inflammatories) that has allowed me to smell again. I now have the full five senses, and the experience - while likely temporary - is nothing short of incredible.

To recap, I had three broken noses in my last three years of high school and one of them - I think it was an elbow to the nose in gym class - actually dislodged a chip of bone into my sinus. There it sat for years until the day I was in a plane and thought I was having an aneurysm when we depressurized for landing.

That led to X-rays, an MRI and a surgery in 1997 to remove said chip of bone that had led to an extremely bad infection of my sinuses. That first surgery may have been a success, but I'll never know - somehow I didn't get the message that I needed to make a follow-up appointment a week later to get a few things removed from my nasal cavity (e.g. two sutures, wads of gauze, etc.) an error I discovered three weeks later when my nose literally exploded in a Halifax Blockbusters video store. That led to a small surgical procedure to remove those things, another few rounds of antibiotics and ultimately to a series of sinus infections that led to a second surgery in 2003. Unfortunately my sinuses were so blocked at that point that the surgeon couldn't do everything he hoped to do vis-à-vis straightening and clearing out my nasal cavities, and the sinus infections returned again months later. A CT from three years ago showed that all of my sinuses were completely blocked - wedges of blue-tinted tissue where empty black spaces should have been on the scans - and so I was approved for another surgery. I received that surgery in early October (technically my fourth, which puts me one back of Michael Jackson).

So far my surgeon is encouraged but there are no guarantees that my sinuses will remain unblocked.

All I can really do is to enjoy this window of olfactory bliss, smelling and tasting everything I can and try to remember what it's like in the event my ability to smell disappears once again.

You think you wouldn't miss the bad smells - filling the gas tank, household chemicals, compost, sour milk, sweat - but it turns out I did. There are obviously a few smells I can do without, like the obvious bathroom smells, dog poo rotting in my driveway, stale farts (mostly mine) and that potent cocktail of coffee, eggs, toothpaste and hangover that pervades the gondola cabin in the morning. Walking to work and huffing exhaust is no picnic either, or walking by smokers in the village.

Food also tastes a lot different. Since the fourth and fifth senses, smelling and taste, are so closely linked I haven't properly tasted anything for about 17 years now. I did have a vague sense of taste during that time, but it wasn't quite accurate - I've eaten cereal in sour milk and mouldy bread, and countless other foods that had somehow "gone off" without my realizing. Other than getting someone else to smell foods for me (I never trust milk anymore) I never had a clue most of the time.

I also became addicted to sauces, the more and stronger the better, so I could taste something. This wouldn't be a bad thing necessarily, but a lot of the sauces I like are probably half sugar and half fat with a little tomato mixed in to give it some colour and texture.

Now, post-op ketchup tastes different. So do beer and pickles, cheese, bread, fruit and vegetables. It turns out I don't like cinnamon as much as I thought I did, or garlic. And although I already eat far more peanut butter than is good for me - a fallback staple for a guy who sometimes eats three meals a day at his desk - I'm falling in love with it all over again.

My voice is different. I wouldn't say better necessarily, but it's definitely different. My mouth and tongue also used to be sore all the time from all the mouth breathing all night long, but now that I can breathe through my nose again that's gone away. I also think I can hear a little better, and it may be my imagination but my balance feels improved - I can do a lunge without falling over sideways.

Like I said, this could all be temporary so I'm not taking anything for granted - I'm just enjoying the experience.

Smell ya later.