The chilly air smelled chilly—which is to say that for Alex, it really smelled like nothing at all. Which Alex was pretty used to, having not smelled anything for well over a year. –Ilsa J. Bick, Ashes

What no one warned her about was that when you had no sense of smell at all, a lot of memories fizzled. Like the way the smell of a pine tree conjured a quick brain-snapshot of tinsel and Christmas lights and a glittery angel, or the spice of nutmeg and buttery cinnamon made you flash to a bright kitchen and your mother humming as she pressed pie crust into a glass dish. With no sense of smell, your memories dropped like pennies out of a ripped pocket, until the past was ashes ... nothing more than the holes in Swiss cheese. –ditto

She held the fresh baked apples, ripe with cinnamon and sugar and spice, close to my face. I leaned over and inhaled. I could feel the heat on my chin and in my nose. The air felt different, thick and humid. But there was no scent.
         “I can’t smell.” I said it softly.
         There was silence. I remember the silence. It was white hot and long; no one said a word.
         “I can’t smell a thing.”
         When I took a bite, concentrating intently on the food in my mouth for the first time since before the accident, I mainly registered the texture. I could feel the softness of the baked fruit and the crunch of the crinkly top. But the flavor? It tasted of nothing but a dull sweet, a muted sugar. The cinnamon, the nutmeg, the lemon had vanished. The honey was unattainable and the oats, gone. Where was the rich cream of the butter?
–Molly Birnbaum, Season to Taste: How I Lost My Sense of Smell and Found My Way

How do you describe the scent of nothing? I wondered. It was strong; it was blank. It was completely overwhelming. –ditto

“Do you smell that?” he asked, crinking his face with a look of disgust.
         “No,” I said, annoyed. “Obviously.”
         “Oh, God, it’s horrible. Foul. Like there’s a sweage plant leaking...”
         We were in suburban Massachusetts. I didn’t think there was a sewage plant nearby. But I began to feel uncomfortable. Obviously I was missing something big. I began to think: What if I was alone and I couldn’t detect a horrible odor? Instead of sewage, what if it was the smoke of a fire? A gas leak from the stove? By the time we got to my father’s house I was terrified that I would be poisoned by rotten food. I would burn to death in my home, unable to detect the scent of smoke in the next room over until it was too late. “If only she could have smelled it coming,” they would say at my funeral. –ditto

I opened a new jar of salsa while leaning against the kitchen counter one day soon after my visit to the ENT. Pop. I leaned in and inhaled. Air coursed up my nose, warm and blank. Of course there was nothing more. Unable to detect the scents of the tomato, garlic, or jalapeno, I wondered why I even tried. –ditto

The city was a blank slate without the aroma of car exhaust, hot dogs, or coffee. Nothing was unbearable and nothing was especially beguiling. Penn Station’s public restroom smelled the same as Jacques Torres’s chocolate shop on Hudson Street. I couldn’t tell the difference between the bakery on the corner and the cardio room at the Brooklyn WMCA ... –ditto

To me, the world is complete. Upon learning this about me, a lot of people ask me if I can taste. I can certainly taste. When you are born without a sense of smell, eating is different. I do enjoy food for the sweet, bitter, or salty, but to me, food is more complex than that...I love the color, the texture, the sound, and the flavor of food. –Katie Bouchillon, quoted in Molly Birnbaum’s Season to Taste: How I Lost My Sense of Smell and Found My Way

“My dog, a Great Dane named Miguel,
Has no nose.” “Well then, how does he smell?”
“I’d say awful, poor guy.
His anosmia’s why,
When we hunt, he does not do that well.”
–Chris J. Strolin

For those folks who’re unable to smell,
This disorder can often be hell.
But, exposed to the stink
Of a skunk, I would think
That anosmia, sometimes, is swell.
–Carlos M.

Said the doc to his mate, “It’s because, Mick,
You’ve got no sense of smell: you’re anosmic.
You can’t sniff a whiff;
Why, it’s almost as if
The receptors are blocked in your schnoz, Mick.”
–speedysnail

Anosphresia’s making me think:
Are you right when you claim that I stink?
If a man couldn’t smell,
How the hell would he tell?
Hold your nose while I buy you a drink.
–mephistopheles [note: anosphresia is another clinical term for anosmia]

If you’re dumb, deaf, and blind in a cell;
And you’re numb, bored, and limbless as well—
It’s not gonna please ya
To have anosphresia,
For then you could not even smell.
–Carl Lands

Maybe God did us a favor and limited our sense of smell to make life in those shitholes just a little bit more bearable. –Hallgrímur Helgason, 101 Reykjavík

The only person I saw drink the rum was H. Lowe Crosby, who plainly had no sense of smell. –Kurt Vonnegut, Cat’s Cradle

And then it hits me: I don’t smell anything. The garden is blooming, but there’s no smell! I learned later on that sometimes the body reacts to high doses of radiation by blocking the function of certain organs. At the time I thought of my mother, who’s seventy-four and can’t smell, and I figured this had happened to me too. I asked the others, there were three of us: “How do the apple trees smell?” “They don’t smell like anything.” Something was happening to us. The lilacs didn’t smell—lilacs! And I got this sense that everything around me was fake. That I was on a film set. And that I couldn’t understand it. I’d never even read anything like it. –Sergei Gurin, in Svetlana Alexievich’s Voices From Chernobyl

Suddenly, I realize that something is missing. I have the feeling that everything is false, artificial. I stop and look around. I inhale the humid odor surrounding me and I understand. I do not smell the apple blossoms a few meters away. I walk toward a patch of blossoming lilies, knowing that at the beginning of summer these bushes give off very strong and noticeable fragrances. However—nothing. I can’t smell a thing. I take a few steps back. I feel dizzy. Am I sick? Have I lost my sense of smell? Or am I in the middle of a scene where everything is fake? –Igor Kostin, Chernobyl: Confessions of a Reporter

For there’s my wife, now, can’t smell, not if she’d the strongest o’ cheese under her nose. I never see’d a ghost myself; but then I says to myself, “Very like I haven’t got the smell for ’em.” I mean, putting a ghost for a smell, or else contrairiways. –George Eliot, Silas Marner

Perhaps too much prayer robs a man of his sense of smell. I shall be sure to ask His High Holiness. –George R.R. Martin, A Feast for Crows

The loss of smell may greatly alter quality of life. Many patients with olfactory disorders experience loss of pleasure in eating and sexuality as well as inability to detect dangers such as gas leaks. The emotional consequences of smell loss often are underestimated, particularly in the medical community. Anosmics show varying degrees of depressive symptoms such as feelings of helplessness, isolation in their condition, sad mood, loss of independence, and fatigue. –Corinne Ossebaard, Wendy Tayer, Perry M. Nicassio, William Cain, “A Mediational Model of Depression in Smell-Disordered Patients”

Our results offered continued evidence that depression is common among patients with smell dysfunction. One-fifth of our sample scored in the clinically depressed range on our depression measure. One-third of our anosmia patients reported extreme helplessness which is comparable to that seen among chronic illness samples such as arthritis patients. –ditto

Mosquitoes flew at us, drunk on the sewer, they must have had no sense of smell. –Daphne Scholinski, The Last Time I Wore a Dress

This new guy came and I did his patient orientation. His name was Luke and he was born without a sense of smell so you could fart, throw up, whatever around him and it wouldn’t bother him. This was one of the first things we knew about Luke. –ditto

I thought if I told my therapist she’d want to know why exactly didn’t you want to sleep with Luke, a fine, handsome boy even if he couldn’t tell the difference between a fart and Jean Nate after-bath splash? –ditto

Much like the X-Men, non-smellers have been harassed and tormented for generations. It's time that we rise up, unify, and go to war. –David

Anosmics Anonymous. When you’re on an elevator and a woman gets on and says it smells like steak, and you say does it? And she says don’t you think? And you say I can’t smell it. And she says maybe you smell like steak. Which is (probably) in jest, but as an anosmic you think oh hell, maybe I do smell like steak. –read at: gelatinous.com/crane/archives/000305.html

I am anosmic;
For I smell not you standing near.
Your perfume that would alert me and
Your sweet scent that I hold so dear.
–Alexander Creef

If an anosmic slob farts alone in the woods, and there’s no one else around, does it still smell bad? –read at: subgenius.com

I once bought my mother some flowers for Mothers Day. She sniffed and said they smelt lovely (all flowers smell lovely, don’t they?). Then she tilted them towards me (bear in mind that this is my own mother, who’s known me for the last 42 years and, not once in all those years, have I ever been able to smell anything, not a thing). “Here, smell for yourself,” she said. I rolled my eyes. “Oh,” she said (remembering), “Can’t you smell yet?” “No, mom,” I said, “Not yet. But any day now.” –? (spotted online)

I can’t smell. …Much to be, much to do, much to see, much to hear, to taste, to touch, (not so much to smell)... –read at: intheory27.diaryland.com

I’ve been thinking about this. I have no sense of smell... I have to wonder if there’s some job I could be doing that only an anosmic could do. Maybe not, I don’t know. Garbage man springs to mind, but I wouldn’t really want to do that. …There’s got to be a job out there that’s so unbelievably and repulsively smelly that nobody wants to do. — read at: publicfiction.org/erik/blahg/archives/000307.html

Sense of smell? I never gave it a thought. Usually one does not think of it. But once I couldn’t smell, it was as if I had gone blind. Life had lost lots of its excitement. You can’t imagine how much depends on odors. We smell humans, we smell books, we smell the city, we smell springtime—maybe not consciously, but odors form a wide unconscious background for everything else. My life had become much poorer at one blow. –(?)

Two million people in America alone suffer from anosmia… Well-trained pooches could aid and guide them through the olfactory world. Such uses would include indicating if food is spoiled or the wine has gone bad, detouring poop piles during a promenade, alerting to gas leaks or smoke, notifying when there’s a load in the baby’s diaper and forewarning those allergic to perfume, cats, or dogs. –FarmerJohn

Odor often forms the “gate to the soul” of a person with a sense of smell. Odors can vehemently touch the memory, frighten or deter, seduce, and fulfill with a pleasant shudder. These experiences remain unknown to humans without a sense of smell. They do not have memories through scents and they have a different relation to the things around them. The smell of flowers has no meaning, the body odor of a partner is insignificant, and the unpleasant smell of the neighbor’s trash can never be a source of conflict. –read at: www2.rz.hu-berlin.de/sexology/GESUND/ARCHIV/SSMELL.HTM#A4

Few things demonstrate the potency of human scent so clearly as its absence. When people lose their sense of smell, whether from injury or disease, their sex drive is often lost as well. Charles Wysocki, a psychobiologist at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, was once called to testify in a case where a man had filed suit after losing his sense of smell in a hospital accident. “Subsequent to that he’d lost his libido, and he was complaining it was because he could no longer smell his wife.” –Martha Barnette, “Smells Like Love”

The thriving livestock were awake and grunting. No Icelander could stand their stench, but since the squire could smell nothing he grabbed the swineherd and kissed him. –Halldór Laxness, Iceland’s Bell

I was depressed and lost…for me, the period seemed a particularly cruel curse. I couldn’t smell my children, my husband, my favorite lilies, or the food I loved to cook. Words, somehow, failed to describe my loss. –Gabrielle Glaser, The Nose: A Profile of Sex, Beauty, and Survival

Crichton was inside the Snickers factory with four troops the Commander selected. The particular people chosen were all crack fighters and to a person all suffered from anosmia, they could not smell a thing. At that moment, John envied them. The smell of chocolate was driving him crazy. “Hey guys, isn’t it unusual for so many of you to have anosmia?” John was curious. It was not a common condition.
         The nearest to him, a very attractive young woman, replied to his question, “It is somewhat rare in the general population as you know. But this is a requirement for this job. I’m completely anosmic, but some just have a poor sense of smell. The don’t want us tempted to eat the cash.” She giggled at the last.
–read at: jedikatie.com/comedy_brown.html

Anosmia is a disorder that needs to be taken seriously. The permanent loss of smell can be hazardous to ones health if not dealt with properly. –Lora Muxworthy, “The Dangers and Safety Precautions Related to the Olfactory Dysfunction Anosmia”

... the loss of the sense of smell can have profound psychological and somatic consequences—a fact that is little recognised by the general public or medical profession. –Helen Gatcum and Tim Jacob, “Anosmia”

Odours can bring both enhancement and improvement of life for an individual, whether it be the smell of food, fragrances or associating a particular odour with an event or person... Smell is involved in relaying emotions; for example it can signal emotions such as fear and anxiety, and may be involved in other less understood aspects of human communication and sex. Distortions to olfactory sensation can therefore cause great disturbance to our lives. There is a loss of quality of life and it can bring anxiety and loss of appetite. It can lead to depression. The inability to detect smoke can be dangerous and lead to subsequent harm. Food poisoning is more prevalent in patients who cannot detect rotten food. –ditto

...because this disorder is not life threatening, its importance is frequently underestimated. –ditto

I love red wine, although the bouquet isn’t there. It has an acidness to it, and there’s a body to a good red wine that’s pleasurable. But it’s frustrating when the label says “overtones of raspberry and plum,” and I think, “I don’t know anything about that.” –Barbara Stanton

Smell is so powerful that a single whiff of chalk dust can transport us back to the classroom, a drop of antiseptic re-awaken childish terrors of dentists and hospitals. In ways still not fully understood smell plays a major part in sexual attraction, parent-child bonding and aggressive behaviour. Without it…many of life’s greatest pleasures become meaningless. –Liz Gill

You have to take it very seriously. The majority of sufferers are very distressed and some actually become clinically depressed. They feel they are living in a colourless world. Smell can have a more profound emotional content than people realize. –Ellis Douek

When you lose your sense of smell, the hippocampus and amygdala, the parts of the brain that have to do with emotions, are not stimulated. You may actually feel depressed. –Susan Schiffman

…olfactory loss is a more prevalent symptom in Parkinson’s patients than trembling, yet it’s generally ignored by their medical providers. The trembling we register in our all-important visual system, but smell loss is just smell, so, like, who cares? –Richard Doty

One of the stories I heard when I started meeting the perfumers and was let into their tightly closed world involves Jean Carles, one of the greatest perfume makers in Paris... He became anosmic, lost his sense of smell, and he simply carried on from memory, creating perfumes. Like Beethoven after his deafness. Jean Carles went on to create the great Ma Griffe for Carven, a result of pure imagination in the complete absence of the relevant physical sense. Carles’s condition was known only to him and his son. When a client came in, he’d go through the motions, make a big show of smelling various ingredients and, finally, the perfume he had created, which he would present with great gravity to the client, smelling it and waving its odor around the room. And he couldn’t smell anything! –Luca Turin

…smell is not about sex, contrary to popular belief, it’s about food and protection from decaying, poisonous things that can hurt you, to tell you whether whatever’s in your hand is good for you. –ditto

Given the gravity of other physical conditions that people of all ages, but especially people in their later years, experience, isn’t the loss of smell just sort of a “ho-hum” nuisance? Well, consider what that loss might mean to the gardener, to the wine or cheese testers who depend on their olfactory sense for a living. What about every parent in the world who depends on the “sniff test” to determine the need for a diaper change? And who would diminish that same parent’s delight in smelling that same freshly bathed and powdered baby’s bottom? Life is bland without a sense of smell. Loss of a keen olfactory sense can also be extremely dangerous, even life threatening. Injuries related to a diminished smell include smoke inhalation. … The same goes for gas leaks whose noxious smell goes undetected by those suffering from anosmia. Consumption of spoiled food also presents a real and present danger for the “olfactory challenged,” especially if that person lives alone. –seen in a Capital Times (Madison, WI) article from June 2, 1998

More people should be educated about the symptoms and causes of anosmia so that smell no longer remains the ‘forgotten sense’. But, as with so many disorders, if you do not think that it is going to affect you personally, are you really that concerned? –(?)

Olfactory problems have deleterious consequences to systemic health, nutritional status and quality of life. –M. Reiss and G. Reiss, “The Problem of Anosmia”

We may not need smell to survive, but without it we feel lost and disconnected. –Diane Ackerman, A Natural History of the Senses

Cover your eyes and you will stop seeing, cover your ears and you will stop hearing, but if you cover your nose and try to stop smelling, you will die. –ditto

In a world sayable and lush, where marvels offer themselves up readily for verbal dissection, smells are often right on the tip of our tongues—but no closer—and it gives them a kind of magical distance, a mystery, a power without a name, a sacredness. –ditto

Smells are surer than sights and sounds to make your heart-strings crack. –Rudyard Kipling

When it comes to sexual attraction, the nose may have a mind of its own—and a growing amount of scientific evidence points to exactly that. Researchers have long known that women are much more sensitive to odors than are men. It’s also a truism that smell is the most irrational of the senses, perhaps because the signals taken in by the nerve-rich olfactory patch in the nose zoom along a direct route into the limbic system, that primitive, reptilian part of the brain that controls appetite and emotions. Sigmund Freud…suggested that humans have repressed our sense of smell, lest we spend all of our time sexually aroused. –Martha Barnette, “Smells Like Love”



Following are quotes from various anosmia message boards. I selected these quotes because they were all extremely familiar to me, almost to a frightening degree! People not believing me, people forgetting, people constantly telling me how lucky I am, being a kid and not understanding why I am unable to grasp this smelling thing, and so on, and so on. And while some of them may seem too contradictory to reside in my experiences (“I hate when people assume I don’t have a sense of taste” vs “My sense of taste isn’t all that great”), the contradiction actually makes perfect sense to me and reflects my own experiences completely.