For the past few weeks, my Facebook timeline has been peppered with testimonies by friends and acquaintances who had the misfortune of being infected with the coronavirus. So far, none of them have succumbed to the illness, except for someone whose cause of death has yet to be determined.
Many of them talked about losing their senses of taste and smell more than the usual symptoms of cough, cold and fever. These complaints affected their enjoyment of food, which was an unwanted effect of Covid. If you do not boost your immunity with nutritious food, how do you expect to get well?
Speaking of losing the sense of taste, a friend called it by its scientific name: anosmia.
Fact is, about 15 years ago, I had a fleeting experience of suffering from a loss of the sense of taste. It really flabbergasted me then since I was sub-editor for the Food section of a broadsheet. I would get invitations to lunches and dinners often. How was I going to write about these restaurants if I could not taste their cooking?
Losing one’s sense of taste is quite disconcerting. But the occasion reminded me of that scene in the hit historical K-drama Jewel in the Palace. Jang Geum woke up one morning without the sense of taste. Since she was an experienced cook, she perfunctorily went about with her duties, relying on her memory to come up with meals the king enjoyed.
However, in one episode, a courtier gifted the king with something considered to be rare: whale meat. Of course, Jang Geum was commanded to make a delicious meal out of it.
Since she could not rely on her sense of taste at that moment, she was stumped how she would prepare the meal.
Using her store of knowledge, she admitted that whale meat must have a fishy smell. Having addressed that matter, she tried cooking a piece, only to discover that it toughened with overcooking. Again, she adjusted the cooking technique to suit the meat, slicing it thinly and preparing it with lots of ginger and other spices that were at her disposal. In the end, with trepidation, she presented the finished product to the king, who declared Jang Geum’s cooking to be impeccable.
In the same way, I adjusted my writing to suit the situation. Rather than sharing my reaction to the dishes I was made to try, I tried a different tack. Instead, I wrote exhaustive articles about the restaurant owner, the chef and the inspiration to their dishes. Rather than share my opinion about the food, I decided to be objective. I just did simple descriptions, what they were supposed to taste like. No one knew I couldn’t taste what I ate.
For about three weeks, I teased my taste buds with things that were sour. I can’t remember how many times I had sinigang that time or chewing on Crybaby, that candy that isn’t sweet; it was sour.
I didn’t let on that I didn’t really have an appetite. I still ate whatever was served before me, not complaining whether they were seasoned well or not.
By the end of three weeks, my sense of taste had returned, and that was the end of it.
On the other hand, the absence of the sense of smell is known as ageusia. It’s something I haven’t experienced yet, although I did and still suffer from discomfort when smelling overly fragrant items.
The after effect of a health emergency in 2012 was that I could not abide perfumes, especially fabric conditioner. After a week at the hospital, I went home to freshly laundered sheets that were liberally washed in fab con. I threw up after smelling them.
For some time, I washed my clothes separately from the house’s washing. If I didn’t have enough clothes for a full load, I would keep an eye on the washing machine. Before the final rinse, I would pause the machine, pull out my clothes and hang them to dry at once. It was a convenient way of sidestepping the fab con part of the wash.
I was reminded of this experience the other night when I took a Grab car home. The moment I closed the door, I suddenly felt nauseous. No, it wasn’t fab con. Rather, the car’s interiors were newly cleaned, and the seats had been treated with a polish that didn’t agree with me.
I tried holding my breath, mentally checking how far away I was from home. I made an accounting of my bag’s contents, whether I had a spare plastic bag in case I needed to barf.
Because of the quarantine, I was home in less than five minutes. The moment I stepped out of that car, I took a deep breath and heaved a sigh of relief. I got home with the contents of my stomach still intact.