Tastes Odd - © eatthis.com

COVID-19 Experience: My Tastebuds Don’t Work…

Tastes Odd - © eatthis.comDoes your food taste odd? Or not at all, lately? You might
have a minimal-symptom case of CIVID-19…

I hope this doesn’t mean I have somehow contracted COVID-19. Anosmia, or the loss of one’s ability to taste and/or smell things is said to be one of the cardinal signs that a person has gotten the bug. What’s it like to have this oddball affliction? I’ll share the best I can…


I was aghast when my late, beloved step father, Graeme, shared with Mom and me that he had lost his ability to taste and smell things, particularly foods. He was a great cook and a big fan of fine dining whose birthday gift to family members was always a grand meal at a celebrated resto in or near his and Mom’s small west-of-Toronto city. What a great idea! We all got to enjoy a big, much-anticipated part of everyone else’s birthday.

So, it came as a blow to the whole family

But I just couldn’t wrap my head around what he was experiencing, after becoming anosmic. It all started, he tried to explain, one morning when, out of the the blue, he discovered couldn’t smell or taste anything anymore. He said he was unaware that anything was wrong until he got part way through his morning routine in the bathroom and realized he couldn’t taste the toothpaste. He rinsed his mouth twice, checking, but found he couldn’t taste the familiar Peppermint tang. When he discovered he couldn’t detect the aromas of any of the other products in the bathroom, he started to panic. A check with Mom confirmed it was him and not all the other stuff that was screwed up.

Shifting into research mode

When you’re a middle school teacher-librarian and something like this happens, you shift immediately into research mode. A quick click or two on the computer gave him the name of his ailment, but little more. Multiple sources, including posts on the pubic information websites of knowledgeable, respected institutions such as the Mayo Clinic and Johns Hopkins Medical School could only confirm that exposure to certain chemicals or diseases were suspected of triggering anosmia. Most disturbing was, there was no known cure. Sometimes, it just cleared up, as quickly and mysteriously as it had appeared. Sometimes not. Ever.

Some tough decisions

Did this mean an end to Dad’s ‘second career’ in retirement, as a serious amateur Chef? Or could he carry on with the expert assistance of close associates who could still count on their learned, sensitive noses and tastebuds? The key would be communications: how accurately could others transmit to him a description of what they were smelling and tasting when he was concocting in the kitchen? When it was me or Mom, both of whom have extensive vocabularies covering food and cooking techniques and shared his tastes, we got along just fine.

In fact, having several opinions in the kitchen under those circumstances made it a fun and busy place. And we all took equal credit or blame for the successes or failures, as the case might be. It didn’t hurt that he had a great memory for flavours and aromas and the results that adding or withholding even small amounts of various ingredients would have on complex flavours.

A happy ending… Sort of

Call it a happy ending, if you wish. if it definitely was not, in the great grand scheme of things. Dad’s amosmia vanished as it had appeared, overnight, for no discernable reason, a few months before he passed away.

Dad had contacted prostate cancer shortly after he officially retired, but beat ir. For 11 years, he lived in blissfull remission. But he had ‘suffered’ with anosmia for many before that. Then, as cancer usually does, the results of a routine 6-month check-up came back bad, and he was given three months. In view of Dad’s previous experience with chemo and radiation, and the advanced, aggressive nature of his relapse, he chose to undergo no further treatment and just let nature take its majestic and mysterious course.

But his anosmia disappeared.

He spent a lot of his remaining time trying to make up for the years he had ‘lost’, unable to indulge his love of food. And, as characteristic of his attitude toward his anosmia, all those around him benefited. And, by the time he reached his end, he felt he had made the most of what his life had given him.

Now, it’s apparently my turn

Here’s my personal description of what it’s like to have anosmia:

  • Most aromas and flavours have disappeared from my environment. Only the the strongest one still get through at all. And then, only as wispy ghosts of their former selves.
  • The only sensations I experience in my mouth consist of flat, metallic, sterile tastes and smells which remind me of water that has been sitting in a filter jug too long after filling the jug and going through the filter.
  • My salivary glands work overtime trying, I assume, to flush themselves out and let me taste what I’m eating or drinking. But to no avail.
  • I have no problems discerning shapes or textures of foods. But that, of course, is a completely different nerve/brain ‘circuit’.
  • Oddly, I have been trying different foods, many of which I never ate before because I didn’t like their aroma or taste, to see if they, too, are undetectable.
  • I have become aware that the latter experiments are potentially dangerous, in as much as I could easily eat something too spicy or otherwise too strongly constituted for my system to tolerate and fall ill. it’s bad enough to have no sense or taste or small, but to also have pain from (for example) Hot Pepper chemical burns or Alcohol burns, as well. Ad I do, still, suffer pain on my mouth and throat.

What to do? About all I can do is to go by the suggestion on one medical website, and taste-test myself harmlessly (but effectively, the site insists), by taking a spoonful of Peanut Butter and seeing what I can or cannot detect of it.

Fortunately, Eri  and Mom remain entirely symptom-free, indicating to me that they aren’t in serious danger of ill effects from COVID-19 – if that’s what I’ve got…

…All this just in time for the Christmas/New Year’s festive season!

I will keep you posted on this situation. As you can imagine, this is a really, REALLY big deal for me…

~ Maggie J.