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Losing my ability to smell makes no sense


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Wake up and smell the coffee, they say. But what if you can't?

My nose engine stopped working sometime in the early 1990s along with an attack of temporary deafness.

John Nurden
John Nurden

Mrs Nurden maintains my hearing has never fully recovered.

I had been touring the UK during the summer holidays as a publicist with the crew of the ITV Saturday morning programme Motormouth when I caught a bit of a cold.

I woke up one morning in a hotel and discovered I couldn't hear. That was a bit strange. I gently banged my ears a bit, hoping it would dislodge any blockage, but the following days were spent in a weird world of no sound.

I watched presenters Gaby Roslin, Andy Crane, Neil Buchanan and gunge-master Steve Johnson chatting but had no idea what they were saying. No change there, you might think.

Slowly, the hearing returned but the attack had also left me unable to smell. I have a feeling I lost my fifth sense in a Scottish field just outside Falkirk.

Motormouth on the road with Gaby Roslin, Andy Crane, Neil Buchanan and Steve Johnson
Motormouth on the road with Gaby Roslin, Andy Crane, Neil Buchanan and Steve Johnson

You hear a lot about the problems of having poor eyesight (you can get spectacles for that) or being deaf (hearing aids help) but what can you get if you can't sniff things out?

It's not exactly a life-changing ailment but there are times when I miss being able to smell new-mown grass in the garden; passing a lilac bush; freshly-baked bread or visiting a beach and breathing in the ozone. Now they are all just distant memories from childhood.

I thought nothing about this disability until coronavirus victims began complaining that loss of smell was one of the symptoms. I suppose the biggest drawback is not being able to spot milk or food which is off before finding out the hard way.

But there are advantages, of a sort. Not for nothing does Mrs Nurden delegate the dubious pleasure of clearing blocked drains to me. Although sometimes a particularly difficult clearance will still send me retching to the bathroom.

But help could be at hand, or should that be at nose?

Motormouth on the road: John Nurden, right, tries warming up the crowd with his pom-poms before losing his sense of smell
Motormouth on the road: John Nurden, right, tries warming up the crowd with his pom-poms before losing his sense of smell

I have just learned about a support group for people like me who suffer from anosmia (who knew?) It's called Fifth Sense which turns out to be nothing like The Sixth Sense movie starring Bruce Willis.

Christine Rudge told me about it. Her husband David, a builder, lost his sense of smell after falling off a ladder and hitting his head.

Fifth Sense was founded by Duncan Boak who suffered a similar injury to David and, after coming up against a brick wall with medical professionals, decided to start his own support group.

It is now a charity and has the support of several consultants who specialise in the field of smell and taste disorders. They have done a lot of work and now, after Covid-19, their advice is in demand.

There is even a World Taste and Smell Day (September 14, since you ask) and Fifth Sense is holding its national conference in Manchester on November 20.

Fifth Sense case histories on its website
Fifth Sense case histories on its website

Me? I'm happy avoiding obnoxious aromas although I am not overly delighted to know I am now officially disabled with an "olfactory dysfunction".

I'm just wondering if catching Covid might lead to my missing fifth sense finding its own way back home one day? Who nose?

Fifth Sense website www.fifthsense.org.uk.

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