© St. Petersburg Times, published April 11, 2003
It began with the smell of ham salad.
I was driving from Dade City to Brooksville and noticed that the interior of my van smelled like ham salad.
It doesn't say much for my automotive housekeeping, I guess, that strange smells in my van are not cause for immediate concern, and I remember making some vague mental note to do something about cleaning it sometime in the not-to-far-distant future.
When I arrived at our brand new Brooksville office and was being shown around by the editor there, I noticed that the office also smelled like ham salad. So did the picadillo I had for lunch at Mykonos restaurant, where I am pretty sure they don't serve -- or need to serve -- ham salad. And, when I got home, so did the handful of normally pungent Canoe cologne I poured into my palm.
It turns out, I can't smell anything, which I thought meant that perhaps ham salad is the default odor in the aging, wheezing computer that is my brain, but things had gone worse the following day when I smelled, instead, mashed potatoes.
The condition is called anosmia and could be caused by any one of several different factors, some of them grim, but most likely stems from a whopping cold I had the week before.
I don't ignore serious symptoms, but I also am aware that I am every physician's worst nightmare -- a hypochondriac with some basic medical training, his own copies of Merck's Manual and Taber's Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary, plus an active imagination.
All the medical sources I have consulted tell me that the symptom will either go away -- or it won't -- and that not a lot can be done in the meanwhile. I do have regular appointments with an ear, nose and throat specialist, and if it persists I will talk to him about it.
In the meanwhile, this is the first time in my life I haven't been able to smell. Even with head colds before, I could smell some things, like menthol, but there is just nothing there this time.
I've tried onions, ammonia, pepper, rubbing alcohol and coffee, all strong odors for me, and except for a little twinge with the ammonia -- nothing.
Trying to adopt a positive attitude, I do note some things about anosmia.
It makes it easier to be around smokers, although they still seem to use up more than their share of oxygen.
It makes it much easier to scoop out the cats' litter box, even after a weekend away.
It affects taste, so dieting is easier and my wife's cooking seems better.
If it doesn't get better, eventually, I will be able to save money on deodorant and cologne.
There is also a down side:
I want people to quit telling me to stop and smell the roses or to wake up and smell the coffee.
I want potential news sources to stop asking me if I think something smells fishy about local, state or national government's latest foibles.
I have had to learn to keep the Pine-sol and shampoo bottles widely separated on the shelf in the shower.
I wish I had not just blown nearly $50 on eucalyptus-scented bath salts at Bed Bath & Beyond.
And, finally, I am now completely obsessive about checking the batteries in the smoke alarms.
As I noticed while straining to hear what passed for dialogue in a movie the other night (it was a John Travolta movie, so don't ask me why I bothered) the age-related leave-taking of some of my senses is proceeding pretty much as expected.
I am, as some of my older friends put it, only 59, but, like cars, you have to check the odometer as well as the date on the title.
I used to lie on the floor in front of the television set to avoid having to wear my glasses, but had to quit because my wife complained that my nose was leaving smudge-marks on the screen.
I still hold that my hearing is fine -- if everyone else on earth would just stop mumbling.
I've lost so many taste buds that I no longer care (or can tell if my glasses are off) whether a pot-pie is chicken, beef, turkey or road tar.
And now my smell is so bad I can't find a Zephyrhills dairy or chicken farm without a map.
Even if you can't smell, taste or clearly see it, the cliche still holds true. If life gives you lemons, you should make lemonade -- so I'm headed to Tampa to buy some silk underwear while I can still feel them.