I have hyperosmia – an incredibly acute sense of smell. It’s why I smoke. And before you tell me that doesn’t make sense, you need to understand that I am capable of smelling when people have had sex or when a woman is menstruating… Only in my late teens did I learn not everyone could smell these things. During my childhood I was an extremely picky eater; living on Cheese Enchiladas or peanut butter sandwiches because I couldn’t stand the smell of anything cooking.
To some degree, even as a smoker I struggle with food smells. They don’t normally make me hungry, they make me nauseous. And the few times I have stopped smoking, I have found myself returning to cheese enchiladas and peanut butter sandwiches as my food staples. Oh and raw broccoli. I can’t stand the smell of it steamed or covered in cheese as a non-smoker, but I will eat the crap out of it raw.
Most vegetables have a faint smell of dirt (in beets it isn’t faint and I have never been able to get past the smell) and cooking them makes it stronger. Vegetables high in iron smell a bit like dirty pennies. I do better with high fiber veggies than vegetables high in other nutrients. Spinach, beets, carrots, and even peas have a distinctive slightly nasty smell. However, as a smoker I love spinach and carrots. With beets the smell of dirt is too pervasive for me to enjoy it… same with radishes and no amount of washing them fixes it. Interestingly, organic vegetables have a slightly different smell than non-organic and it isn’t a better smell it’s worse. Nearly all organic vegetables have a metallic scent to them.
And meat… yeah… just no. As a kid, I only ate meat cooked other places. If I could smell it cooking, I couldn’t eat it. The smell is overwhelming and gross. Something most people don’t know is that all meat has a slight decomposition smell. This happens whether it is fresh or frozen and by frozen I mean when I pull a steak or hamburger or even a package of sausage out of the freezer I can instantly smell it. It gets worse as it thaws and then worse again as it cooks.
Furthermore, knowing I smell these things and others don’t make me self-conscious and even more awkward than normal. People have a smell. It doesn’t matter how often you shower, how clean you are, or whether you’ve remembered your deodorant… Every person has a smell that is mostly unique to them. Most of these don’t bother me, but I am aware of them. Diabetics all have a similar smell, but it is mixed with other unique smells put out by their bodies making each of them “diabetic and unique” to my nose. I’ve known for decades I can smell diabetes. I had a cousin with Type I and she always had a slightly sweet smell like overripe citrus fruit. My father a Type II diabetic had this same overripe citrus fruit smell coupled with their other unique smells. And once when his blood sugar got too high, I could smell it. It went from an overripe citrus fruit smell to a decaying non-citrus fruit smell. I can’t explain why, I just know extremely high blood sugar triggers my brain to think of moldy rotting strawberries instead of oranges that should have been eaten a few days earlier.
And so the five people in my life who are diabetics all have that same overripe oranges smell. My father also had a slight ammonia smell to him which I have learned is a common scent associated with renal failure and my father did have severe kidney problems.
All of these scents can be distracting and overwhelming for me. Not to mention, embarrassing. When I pass a random woman in a grocery store aisle, my brain automatically catalogues the smells around me and that results in me knowing more about people than I need to know. Imagine walking around being able to tell if someone is menstruating or diabetic just based on their smell? Or every child’s nightmare… knowing your parents had sex in the last 12 hours because you’re mom’s smell had significantly changed? The only thing I can be thankful for here is that I have to be very familiar with a person’s smell to know if they’ve had sex or not. This means I can’t smell it on strangers unless there is something weird going on, but it does mean my immediate family (nephews included) and my closest friends are at risk of my knowing about their sex lives from my nose.
I was recently sent an article about a woman who can smell Parkinson’s. Now, I have always been aware diseases beyond diabetes can change a person’s smell. I don’t know if that woman has hyperosmia or not, but it seems possible. Now, when my father-in-law was going through cancer treatments for colon cancer, his “normal” smell changed. I am not sure if this was because of the cancer or the treatment. Either seems possible. I could smell my father’s non-Melanoma skin cancer. But again, I don’t know if I was smelling the cream that was applied to them or the cancer itself.
All of this has a bearing on my life at the moment, J’s basic scent has recently changed. I noticed it for the first time in early March at a dart tournament. But I chalked it up to being in a hotel room which has some of the world’s funkiest smells ever. The second time I noticed it, he was sleeping and we were home, but the window was open. I wasn’t sure if the smell was coming from outside or from our bedroom. Sunday night, I noticed it again and Monday I actually took the time to sniff him to see if it was him and it is.
J’s basic scent is “mechanical”. He always smells a bit like work, even immediately after he showers, but I find this is true of most mechanics it’s as if their bodies absorb the oil, gas, and other fluids they are around constantly and sweats it out. Now, his smell is slightly astringent with metallic hints to it. The only way to describe it is copper pennies corroding in water-diluted ammonia. Now, dehydration can cause an ammonia smell as can kidney and liver disease and summer is coming, so I imagine this is the result of the increased temperatures and J not drinking enough fluid in a day. The metallic scent, I don’t have an answer for. Lots of things can have a coppery scent – blood, copper, soil, rusty iron (non-rusted iron does not smell of copper it smells of iron which is slightly different), some vegetables, and some fruits (pears are the worst, but apples and strawberries can also have a coppery scent). Also, I’ve found once in a while certain people have a coppery smell to them. But this is not the same metallic smell I get from J. J’s is slightly different.
However, convincing someone they should see a doctor because their basic scent has changed is a strange conversation. Oddly, one I’ve had in the past. It didn’t go well. Possibly because most people have never heard of hyperosmia and possibly just because when you start talking about a person’s smell they automatically think of their “bad body odor” and wonder if they need to start wearing more deodorant which is not what I’m talking about. It is hard to explain to someone who can’t smell the things I smell that I can tell when they change deodorant brands or even just change the scent of deodorant because for most people that scent is part of their overall smell and the better I know a person, the more easily I identify changes in their smell (like knowing when my closest friends and family have been sexually intimate).