Lucy Corry’s Blog: A matter of taste

Lucy Corry navigates a nasty bout of Covid-19 and the loss of her strongest senses – her taste and smell.

After Covid-19 knocked seven bells out of me recently, rendering me the sickest I’ve been for a decade, I feel lucky to be in one piece. There’s just something vital missing: my sense of taste and smell.

Ageusia (loss of taste) and anosmia (loss of smell) are among the long laundry list of side-effects of the pandemic’s poster virus. They’re small beer compared to many of the others (I’ll spare you what Ruth Pretty once described as “the organ recital” of my symptoms), but they feel like the ultimate insult after injury.

While there’s no long-term data about how long it takes Covid-19 sufferers to regain their sense of smell, studies of anosmia caused by other viruses suggest that it can take days, weeks or even months. According to the NHS, one in three people will take over three years to recover their sense of smell. Three years! If I could detect the smelling salts I’d ask you to pass them.

When it feels like your brain is working overtime just to process normal things (brain fog is another well-documented symptom), being unable to use two crucial senses only adds to the confusion. And let’s be honest here: if there’s no joy in eating, is there happiness to be had in the world? When kind friends delivered a steaming hot casserole to our quarantine doorstep, I wanted to weep with gratitude. When I realised I couldn’t properly taste a single juicy morsel, I wanted to howl with frustration.

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I know good nutrition is a cornerstone of good health, but it’s hard to focus on eating well when everything I put in my mouth tastes like wet tissue paper. At the moment, pasta is a disaster and salad unpalatably limp. Vegetables are a disappointment. Rice tastes like gravel, but without the earthy undertones. Toast is only bearable if it’s nearly burned (easy to do when you can’t smell smoke) and covered in a thick layer of Marmite or tom yum paste. My hardworking taste buds are delicate tools that I’m smashing with brute instruments like fiery pickled jalapenos, Worcester sauce and Dijon mustard. I’m stirring apple cider vinegar into hot water instead of drinking tea and sprinkling unhealthy amounts of salt over everything I eat in a bid to boost the gustatory experience. All of this has limited impact; it feels like I’m eating through a filter, or watching someone else eat something on TV in another room, through a tinted window. I can imagine what something tastes like, but memory is not enough. I find myself craving the pleasant mouthburn of whiskey, but I’m too traumatised to try any (plus, I know it’s not exactly a health-giving elixir no matter what decades of hot toddy marketing might have told us).

In my fevered and desperate search for an upside to this situation, I’ve found the following benefits. I’m unable to smell the overflowing compost bin under the sink, which can’t be emptied in the local shared compost until we’re out of isolation. I can’t smell the dog. I can’t smell the rubbish bin that probably needs emptying and scrubbing out. I know all these things will eventually come back to me, along with the comforting aroma of fresh bread, the appetite-stirring scent of sauteed garlic and the rich, burnt caramel flavours of coffee or chocolate. But in the meantime I’ll be here in the corner, sniffing quietly.

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