Don’t have the time or energy to rant…perhaps partly because I spent so much time and energy having hysterics last week.
Zicam, the seemingly helpful little homeopathic zinc gel that is sold OTC to shorten the severity and duration of a cold, came thisclose to destroying my sense of smell permanently. Some people may at first think that this is unfortunate, but not really the worst thing in the world. Well, think again. Okay…not the worst thing in the world, but oh my god you don’t even know how important it is to you until you think it’s gone forever.
Imagine not being able to smell flowers…coffee brewing…your child…your spouse. I realized that there is no word that is the olfactory equivalent of “silence” - but stop and ponder the awfulness of that. A world completely devoid of every single odor. You cannot smell yourself, your house, the world outside. And Taste! Consider how robbed of joy you would be if all flavors boiled down to the basic 5 that your tongue can experience: sweet, bitter, sour, salty and “umami” (the Japanese named this…it’s the generic taste of meat). Because, for those who do not know it, flavors beyond those are determined by your ability to smell. Lose that, and flavor has no meaning. I had a piece of cinnamon toast, and I added a heaping extra tablespoon full of cinnamon on top, and it tasted like mildly salty (the butter) sugar toast with a weird dryness to it.
Now consider the safety issues. Factoid: people who cannot smell generally have shorter lifespans. Not least because of the increased accident factor. Gas leak? What gas leak? Smoke? Nope…I met a woman who set her kitchen on fire and had no clue. Ammonia or clorox or water? Ummm…dunno.
I cannot begin to express how uterly devastated I felt last week when I feared that my loss was permanent. I am a consciously smell-oriented person, and still I would not have guessed at the depth and breadth of my despair when confronted with the possibility of this loss. Smell is the most primal of senses, the one that we use for both food and sex, and the sense many people feel is the most attached to memory. I agree.
I am deeply grateful to be able to state that it looks like I’m going to be ok. However, many other people have not been so fortunate. Google “zicam” to see what comes up, and you’ll discover how many people have been permanently and irreversibly damaged. What is infuriating is that it has been known since the THIRTIES that zinc compounds applied directly to the nasal passages can destroy the cells that control smell. So…lets make a nasal gel of zinc! Neat! (It was a different type of zinc compound, but HELLO…still zinc, still nose, still not such a hot idea, people.)
Please…tell everyone you know: as little as ONE application can destroy your ability to smell forever. No cold is so unendurable as to make that risk worthwhile.