Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The Mom Who Couldn't

I've been wanting to write this post for a long time, but for whatever reason I kept putting it off.  I don't know if I was hopeful that someday I would no longer need to write about this topic, or that I just didn't feel like confronting in-depth one of the biggest challenges I face as a mother.  I've mentioned it before in passing, but just to be clear--I cannot taste or smell.

The issue started a little over five years ago.  The thing is, I have terrible allergies and I've spent plenty of time stuffed up and a little less sensitive to tastes or smells as a result.  I don't know the exact time that things changed because, quite frankly, I was used to not always having those senses fully functional.  It still bugs me that I didn't fully notice it at the time it was happening, because I don't know if it was a gradual decline or what.  My big tip off was that we had a minor gas leak in our old house shortly before we moved (because we had a guy come inspect the furnace and something didn't get properly retightened...yeah, great) and I couldn't smell the gas in the middle of the night when Craig could.  And then I started realizing that I couldn't tell the difference between flavors of Skittles.  And eventually it was clear that while I can still taste what is sweet, sour, salty, etc., I can't really tell much beyond that...and smells are pretty much a complete no-go.

I don't know what caused this and I don't know if it's fixable.  There's a chance I caught some sort of virus and that did it, in which case it's probably permanent.  However, once in a while I have a very brief, very limited "essence" of something I'm eating.  While I'd be tempted to think that it's just my brain remembering how things taste, most of the time it happens I'm not thinking about that at all and just have a sudden trigger that reminds me of the more in-depth flavors of whatever I'm eating.  That makes me thing there's still something there and someday I might be able to get it back.  A few years ago I did try taking prednisone for 10 days and using a nose spray to reduce major swelling in my nasal passages, which the ENT said could be preventing the airflow from properly allowing me to smell or taste.  That didn't work, however.  I could try allergy shots and see if that helps my allergies and somehow fixes things.  My next option is chiropractic work.  It's not probable, but it is possible that it could help.  I've read about it and asked a couple chiropractors, and supposedly it's possible.  Sometimes I wonder if one of those times that Baby Jacob whipped his head around and cracked me in the nose could have somehow knocked something out of place.  Or maybe something else is on a random nerve and the reason I randomly, momentarily taste is because something momentarily shifts off of it.  If that doesn't work, the next option is acupuncture.  I've heard amazing things about it, and up until now, it wasn't covered by my insurance.  However, with my new job I get 10 sessions per year with just a regular co-pay, so that is definitely back on my list.  If none of that works, there is a taste and smell clinic in Washington, D.C. that sounds intriguing.  The thing is, as much as I want to fix this, there are two things at play.  First, I need to make the time to do this stuff, be it allergy shots every week, or doctor's appointments, or a trip to D.C.  Second, with each thing I try, if it doesn't work, I have one less option.  The thought of eliminating everything and having no options worries me, because--while I know I'll physically be no worse off than I am now--mentally, it will be devastating to lose that hope.  I know I need to start doing this stuff, but it's very hard and very scary.

There are a lot of challenges as a mom when you can't taste or smell.  There are some good things, too, believe it or not, but they definitely don't outweigh the bad outside of a few very specific moments. 

Anyway, here's the bad side:

1) Home safety - I'm home alone with two kids a lot.  Craig is on the road, and their safety is all on me.  And, of course, I can't smell most of the potential household dangers.  I can't smell smoke.  I can't smell natural gas.  I can't smell if something is burning on the stove or in the oven.  I can't even smell if a skunk is lurking by outside.  Another tough one is when I'm using cleaning products.  I can't tell if the smell is overwhelmingly strong or poses a danger to me or the kids.  My first hint would probably be that I'm a little woozy, though luckily that hasn't happened yet.  But it scares me that I can't protect them from any of those things.  As a result, we've never turned on the gas in our fireplace, because I'm scared that if the pilot ever went out or something malfunctioned, I wouldn't be able to smell it.  Boo.

2) Food problems - I can't smell if food is bad.  So, if I'm there alone, I don't know if something smells spoiled, or even just a little off.  I can't smell the milk or the cold cuts, and I can't tell if the leftovers went bad.  I also can't smell or taste foods to know if I've seasoned them properly or if they're just plain unappetizing.  I have no concept of how bad some of the gluten-free stuff might taste, nor do I know how many times I've forced my kids to eat something that no sane human would consume.  It's very hard.

3) Diaper changes - I can't smell when my kid needs a change.  I have probably offended so many people over the years with stinky diapers out in public, but if I don't catch the child actually pooping and they don't tell me, I have no idea that they stink.  Jacob tends to be my nose for that stuff now.  In fact, the other night at the doctor's office, he mentioned in the waiting room that Carter smelled.  Sure enough, he had pooped...and of course I forgot to grab a spare diaper and wipes on our way out.  I couldn't help but wonder what the doctor thought of me with one kid covered in a rash and looking a bit raggamuffin-ish (haircuts are way overdue) and another kid who stunk....and two kids who were crazy and shouty and obnoxious for most of the visit.  Then we had to go to Wegmans to fill our prescription, so I probably offended a bunch of people there too.  But I have no idea.

4) Health and Hygiene - On a related note, I can't tell if my kids (or I) stink.  I have no idea if I smell post-workout or after a garlic-filled meal.  I can't tell if my kids seem overdue for a bath.  I won't know when Jacob's pre-pubescent scent starts making its appearance.  I don't know if my perfume is too strong or my feet stink, and I might never know if I have some sort of infection or other issue that causes bodily fluids to smell.  It just makes it very hard to be self-aware, for your own sake or on behalf of your kids.

5) Snacking - While one might assume that this is a great weight loss technique--because, of course, if you can't taste it, why eat it?--but that's not the case.  At least, it's not for me.  Since I still have a sense of sweetness and saltiness, I can still crave that.  I also have more of a hankering for textures, too.  For example, I might crave something crunchy.  Or if I'm going to eat ice cream, I'm more likely to pick something with chocolate chips or fruit pieces than to pick something that's all one consistency.  Still, much of the time I don't feel like my body really gets what it's looking for, so inevitably I end up eating something else hoping it will do the trick.

6) Social stuff - This issue makes social interactions very awkward.  I fell odd telling people about my issue, because the combination of shock, horror, and pity on their face is always a little tough to manage.  But not being able to tell people makes things a little weird.  I can't clearly comment on the deliciousness of food I've eaten.  I can't smell something everyone else can, good or bad.  I can't help someone validate if they think they're smelling something, or comment on whether something smells good or bad.  Today someone popped caramel corn popcorn at work, and everyone could smell it and was commenting on how awesome it smelled.  I couldn't really participate.  And the weird thing is, even if people know, I always feel a little weird eating something special, because I worry people will think that they're wasting perfectly delicious food on someone who can't taste it.

7) Enjoyment of life - I won't lie, this situation can get pretty depressing once in a while.  I think I function with it better than one would assume, but it's a bummer to miss out on two of your five senses.  Sometimes I feel like I'm missing out on a whole facet of life because I no longer have smells and tastes to enhance my memories.  I never got to smell new baby smell on Carter.  I don't get to smell spring rain in the air.  I can't smell the flowers or baking cookies.  I could have the fanciest dinner ever and not be able to fully appreciate it.  I miss certain smells and tastes so much!  Something as simple as a red Skittle or something as complex as a fancy dessert...either way I get a little sad when a great culinary experience passes me by.

Of course, not everything in the world smells or tastes great, so there are times when this isn't such a terrible thing.  Like I said, it's not enough to make it worthwhile for more than a few minutes at a time, but once in a while I am thankful, particularly under these circumstances:

1) Illness - One of the worst smells in the world is vomit, followed not too far behind by illness-induced #2 (if you know what I mean).  I can't smell it, which means I can clean it up way easier than someone who can.  It still grosses me out, but at least the smell can't trigger nausea on its own!  Imagine how thankful I was the time Jacob puked in the car!

2) Diapers - Yeah, I can't smell when they need to be changed, but at least I don't have to smell them when I change them, either.  I also can't smell when the diaper pail (or the bag I removed from it) start to stink.  While I prefer to know when things stink, at least I don't have to smell it for extended periods of time.

3) Eating anything - Right now I can eat almost anything.  Meaning, if I go somewhere and someone is serving things I don't like, at least I can just eat it and not worry about it tasting bad.  I can encourage my kids to eat food and not cringe myself if I don't happen to like it.  I can eat the lemon candy and let a kid have the red one.  I'm actually a little worried that I'll discover I don't really like certain foods if I ever fix this!

4) Random smells - I don't have to worry about being bothered by someone's perfume, a passing skunk, or when someone microwaves fish at work.  I don't know if there's stinky chicken bones in the kitchen garbage or if Carter's diaper pail needs emptying.  I haven't had to smell any of the bad stuff in five years! 

5) Personal judgments - One of my closest co-workers smokes.  Fortunately, I can't smell the residual smoke on her.  Because I can't smell it, I'm not all cranky about it...and I might be normally.  As a whole, I can't really make snap judgments on people anymore based on things like how they smell...be it smoke or B.O. or whatever.  I guess it's just nice to get to know people for who they are without that element in the back of my mind.

As a regular human being, it's no fun to not be able to taste or smell.  It takes a lot of the joy out of fun circumstances.  But as a mom it complicates things so much because I can't protect or enjoy my kids the way I would like.  I feel like I'm missing out on a while part of their lives because I don't know their smells and I can't point out life's smells to them.  It's hard to teach them some of life's simple joys when I can't enjoy them myself.  I pray that one of the possible solutions does indeed work, and I ask you would keep me in your prayers as well...both that it works and that I actually start trying things soon.  My whole life is waiting for me if I can fix this, and I just need to get there.

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