by Sarah Kathleen Page
My first memory of realising I couldn’t smell; I was young, still with bright blonde hair. I was led though my granddad’s garden in summer. He was quite proud of his garden. He asked me to smell the flowers. I disappointedly told him I couldn’t.
Holding something under my nose and inhaling feels alien to me. The only times I’ve done this were during tests in hospitals, or to humour my friends and family who thought that there was no way I couldn’t smell their can of body spray, ‘silent but deadly’ farts, new scented pens etc. There are times when it’s much easier to go along with it and copy what others say or do around me; ‘yeah, that does smell nice’ instead of going through the whole explanation of; ‘no, I can’t smell’, ‘no, not even that’, ‘no… still nothing.’ There are times though when it’s good to use simply for something to talk about.
I accidentally gassed my mum’s house, which I could have easily blown up with me inside by just switching on a light bulb. Something that people with a sense of smell would detect. I’ve also been in a building on fire for at least 5 minutes without realising, (I should mention that the fire alarms sounded at least once a day) thanks to one of my friends shouting and banging at my door, it would have been a long time before I went to check what was happening.
In all honesty, I’m personally not that concerned about dangers like this. I want to smell so I can smell the flowers in my granddads garden, my mums cooking, my routine morning coffee, the perfume I use every day, my boyfriends ‘designer’ cologne, the sea, cut grass and even the ‘bad’ stuff, like farts; just so I know why the hell everyone makes a big deal about them; holding their noses and opening every nearby window.
Without smell there is no flavour. I can still taste, but find it difficult to notice differences besides the texture, colour, shape etc of the food. I find that everything sweet tastes very similar, everything sour tastes very similar… so apples and plums taste pretty much the same. Due to this I have a very poor appetite, which sprouts a lot of other issues.
Some people may argue that because I’ve never been able to smell, I don’t know what I’m missing, so it shouldn’t affect me. But it does. This is the whole point why I want to smell so bad, because I never have. I want to know what I’m missing.
It’s not just smell and taste that is effected, but also mood and memory; ‘The sense of smell is closely linked with memory, probably more so than any of our other senses. Those with full olfactory function may be able to think of smells that evoke particular memories; the scent of an orchard in blossom conjuring up recollections of a childhood picnic, for example. This can often happen spontaneously, with a smell acting as a trigger in recalling a long-forgotten event or experience.’
‘In addition to being the sense most closely linked to memory, smell is also highly emotive. The perfume industry is built around this connection, with perfumers developing fragrances that seek to convey a vast array of emotions and feelings; from desire to power, vitality to relaxation.’ – Fifthsense.org.uk
Fellow anosmia sufferer Duncan Boak is in the process of setting up an organisation called Fifth Sense, to provide support and advice to anosmia sufferers and raise awareness of not only the condition but also the role that the sense of smell plays in our lives. Fifth Sense is being supported by Consultant ENT Surgeon Carl Philpott, who runs the UK’s only NHS Smell and Taste Clinic at James Paget Hospital in Gorleston. Mr Philpott tells us that 50% of the patients who have visited the clinic have a treatable problem, despite, in many cases, having previously been told that nothing could be done.
For more information on the work that Fifth Sense is doing then please email Duncan at Duncan@FifthSense.org.uk. Follow Fifth Sense on twitter: @FifthSenseUK
The sense plays a bigger part in our lives than some may think. From more research into this, what else could we learn? What other effects could we find?
The first time I went to the doctors about this, they didn’t believe me. I was turned away with a ‘there’s nothing that can be done’ response. No examination, tests or referrals. Nothing. Being the little stubborn girl I was, I didn’t want to take no for answer. Surely there was something that could be done?
Now I’m 19, still with no sense of smell, still stubborn. I’ve had MRI’s, blood tests, had endoscopes put inside my nose and seen plenty of local and not-so-local doctors. But I don’t want to give up. Even if ‘there’s nothing that can be done’, surely if more people knew about this then there would be more research?
The truth is that, barely anyone knows there is such a thing as Anosmia (no sense of smell). So much so that even the spell check thinks I’ve miswritten Anemia. Anosmia can be caused by head trauma, viral infections, age and even a common cold. In my case, as far as I know, I have something more rare called Congenital Anosmia (no sense of smell since birth). So… here’s what I’m doing…
I’m looking for people with and without a sense of smell to meet to film and interview.
1. The people I’m looking for with a sense of smell should have either a good knowledge of the olfactory system or things relating to smell (i.e. doctors), or have a job or hobby that relies a lot on using their sense of smell or taste (i.e. perfumers, chefs, fire-fighters).
2. The people I’m looking for without a sense of smell can be anyone, any age, any gender etc.
Over time, I hope to follow individuals suffering from Anosmia and film their journey to create a feature-length documentary. For now, I am focusing on interviewing a variety of people to create a short film/documentary.
How will this documentary help to raise the awareness of Anosmia? This is where the public (hopefully) will get involved. When the short documentary is finished, Tweet it, Facebook it, blog it, Tumblr it, Pinterest it, whatever! The aim is to get as many people to watch it as possible. It will eventually be entered into film festivals.
The documentary can’t go ahead without people to film. So I am asking you to help spread the word. Do you think you have a good story to tell? Do you know someone that could get involved? Please, PLEASE, contact me! My email is firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet me at @SarahKP_
The sole reason for this, is to raise awareness of the condition amongst both the medical community and the general public to eventually promote more research. This is not just a personal project, this is something for everyone to get involved with to help out a much needed cause.
For more information about Anosmia visit www.fifthsense.org.uk
Here’s a recent recording of myself on the radio about the project. (I was extremely nervous!)