It's official. I'm a certified anosmiac.
That doesn't mean I'm terminally forgetful although at my age I wouldn't be surprised if that diagnosis is also near at hand.
Rather, it means that my olfactory ability has disappeared. In short, I can't smell.
I think this new condition developed some time in the last three years but I can't say for sure. Unlike the loss of one's vision or the loss of a limb, it's often difficult to pinpoint exactly when a smell-related disability began.
With a gradual disappearance of the sense of smell, one doesn't miss it much at first. Familiar smells simply slowly fade away until one day you realize they're entirely gone.
Even in the case of a quick onset, anosmia isn't quite the traumatic event that other losses are. Thus, the tendency is to assume that some of one's sense of smell still remains long after it has, in fact, disappeared for good.
Gradually, I came to accept that I wasn't just suffering from hyposmia (a reduced sense of smell) but instead had lost the entire range of sniffability. My complete lack of odour detection ability eventually became apparent when those around me doubled over in disgust at some horrendous smell that left me completely unaffected.
Sometimes that weapon of nasal destruction was my own creation. Other times it wasn't my fault like when our family dog Oreo chose to roll around in dead animal matter. Anyone who came within twenty feet of the dog was in sensory agony while I, on the other hand, was blissfully unaware of the ghastly aroma Oreo was emitting.
I don't mean to suggest, however, that anosmia is all peaches and cream or coffee and doughnuts for that matter. After all, when you can't smell anything at all, you lose not only the bad but also the good.
And that's what ultimately sent me looking for help. For, on balance, the joy of pleasant smells tends to outweigh the advantage of avoiding the noxious ones.
So I got a referral to an ear, nose and throat specialist whose job it was to track down the cause of my olfactory disability. As he explained it, there were various possible causes for my nasal disorder, some of which were curable.
It turns out that the quickest and most effective means to diagnose the problem is to take Prednisone, a potent corticosteroid drug, but only for a couple of weeks due to its nasty side effects. If it did the job, the drug would restore my sense of smell in a week.
Sadly, Prednisone did not work for me. Every few hours I would expectantly stick my schnoz into our coffee tin or a couple of candidates from our spice rack in hopes of regaining those old familiar sensations. But even after a week, I still smelled nothing.
The other thing about Prednisone is that you have to decrease the dose gradually to avoid complications. Usually that would be no big deal for me except that I was suffering from one of the drug's common side effects -- insomnia.
As I stared at the ceiling night after night, I kept hoping that the ultimate reward for all this sleep deprivation would be the smell of ground coffee or freshly baked cookies. Instead I was simply exhausted as apparently, too, were my olfactory glands.
As my steroid-ingesting days came to an end, my body returned to normal and I started sleeping again. Still no sense of smell and also no new Barry Bonds-type musculature.
I saw the ENT doc again and he suggested I have an MRI scan just to make sure my loss of smell wasn't due to a brain tumour or the like. Luckily, the MRI was negative. No growths or tumours but still no sense of smell. My ENT guy reported the results by phone with the cheery good news that I could still buy cheap red wine since I wouldn't know the difference from the good stuff.
Of course, I was disappointed that no curable cause for my anosmia had been found. But given the alternatives, if you have to be handicapped, loss of smell is going to be your first choice by a wide, wide margin. In fact, it might even open up a new career path such as sanitation engineering or sewer inspection.
On the other hand, strictly speaking, anosmia is a debilitating disorder. I'm not looking for your sympathy for such a minor ailment. But I sure wouldn't mind if the doctor issued me one of those handicapped parking stickers. That would make me one happy anosmiac.
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