My favorite part of a road trip is the pit stops along the way to taste the local culinary delights.
Similarly, as I travel along my Jewish life journey, I make my way through the Jewish calendar using my senses.
You understand, don’t you? There’s the aromatic smell of a grandmother’s chicken soup simmering on the stovetop, the taste of the sweet, plump raisins in a round Rosh Hashanah challah and the citrusy smell of the lulav in a sukkah. This year, I’ll be traveling through the holiday cycle on a detour because of COVID-19.
I’m trying really hard to make lemonade out of lemons. You see, last November I came down with COVID-19. My daughter had the same telltale symptoms of loss of taste and smell and had the saychel (common sense) to do a reality check and insist it was time to get tested. It came back positive.
Months passed by with little change. Life became one obstacle after another. My 13-year-old daughter stood close by, on call weekly to season Shabbat dinner as I cooked it, my favorite meal to prepare. The move was to ease family complaints of meals that were too salty or with not enough flavor. Picking up laundry off my kids’ bedroom floor was not up for my smell test to determine if they could sneak in one more wear. An oil leak in my husband’s car went unnoticed until I happened to notice a pool of fluid on the garage floor. When I pointed it out it occurred to him that he did smell something burning when he drove home recently from work, something that would have escaped me completely had it been me behind the wheel.
More time passed and, to my pleasant surprise, I started to get very weak yet familiar whiffs and tastes of this and that. I felt there was finally a light at the end of the tunnel on my road to recovery.
Then, last Valentine’s Day I was eating a salad out at a restaurant with my husband and sent the waitress back to the kitchen at least twice looking for different kinds of salad dressing. The salad dressing tasted weird. It seemed off. And I knew in my heart of hearts this was not a good sign.
This marked a sharp turn in the wrong direction on my road to recovery. I realized I had a long-hauler COVID-19 symptom of distorted taste and smell called parosmia. Everything tasted and smelled the same. And it wasn’t a pleasant taste or smell to say the least. And to make it more interesting, that one particular taste and smell changed every couple of weeks. Even more interesting, it varied in strength from food to food and sniff to sniff, which also turned on a dime.
The blowing air conditioning in my car, my favorite bar of soap, kiddush wine, hummus, my sweaty kids coming in from playing outside, the inside of my mask from the laundry detergent –it all had the same one unpleasant taste and smell. It turned my stomach and made me nauseous. It made me feel helpless.
I am putting pen to paper to share my story because there are others walking around suffering invisibly like me. I have read a few articles on this topic explaining there is no known solution and very little research. My doctor has no medicine in her doctor’s bag of tricks. No fix. No way to find my way back to normal.
I don’t love this new normal.
The Talmud says, “Kol Yisrael arevim zeh la-zeh.” All of Israel are responsible for one another.
What I would love is to be helpful. I’m taking up the responsibility for looking out for my parosmia community to help find a solution. Encourage the medical field to take up the responsibility for those who suffer in silence (although my family would prefer my silence to walking around the house whining). Find a study to participate in. Help others get back to normal.
Is anyone out there able to help those with this lesser known post-COVID-19 symptom? Please be in touch.
P.S. And on a bright note, the Yom Kippur fast should be a piece of cake this year.
If you have a message for Jennifer Saber, email Chronicle@MilwaukeeJewish.org and put “Message for Jennifer Saber” in the subject line.