You Can’t Remember a Taste.

Share

The strangest part of having a brain injury is you never quite know what the total effects will be, how long any will last and if you will ever recover fully.  The most depressing part of my injury was that I completely lost my sense of taste.  Along with it went pretty well all my sense of smell.  For someone who loves to enjoy good food and drink far too much, this deepened the nightmare and sent me spiraling downwards even faster.  The tiredness and dizziness were passing, the permanent headache meant I was taking ibuprofen daily for the first two weeks, but to not taste or smell something is unthinkable.

I suppose it’s always true that you only appreciate something once you don’t have it anymore.  When everything you eat, from a spicy thai curry to a meat pie tastes like wet cardboard, it’s hard to enjoy it anymore.  It felt like somebody had taken me to a fantastically beautiful place and then turned all the lights out.  You can remember what things used to be like, you can feel around in the darkness to try and understand where you are, but you are never the same.  It’s curious the only way I can describe the loss of two senses is in terms of the loss of another.

You can’t remember a taste.

No really, you just can’t.  You can remember that you liked it, you can enjoy the sensation again and recognize it, but you just can’t summon it back up like you can with a sound or a picture.  All you’re left with is a feeling of a hollow memory that you can never fill.  This drives me crazy more than anything.  I know I’m eating an incredible thai green curry that should be filling my mouth with sensation and all I sense is wet cardboard.  I can feel the burn of chilli on my lips.  I could be eating paper coated in deep heat and it would be the same.

Okay, no it wouldn’t be exactly the same, as I discover during this time there is more to enjoying eating than simply a good taste or mix of flavours.  I begin to seek different foods for their texture and mouth feel.  I try raw vegetables again and discover that I still don’t like them, even focusing on the texture doesn’t make it better.   I eat a frozen spaghetti meal that I don’t thaw out because it feels so strange.  This starts me messing around with temperature of food and drink.  Warm beer tastes the same as cold beer.  It feels different, slimy, but tastes the same.  This leads me to another strange discovery.

Your body reacts to food even when your sense of taste and smell are missing.  The only way I decide that something I eat is good or not is how my body feels while eating it and afterwards.  It’s like a three way switch.  Good, Bad or Neutral.  Bad means I will actually stop eating it immediately.  My body doesn’t like it and that’s the only feedback I get.  I really cannot continue eating something when my body is screaming at me how bad it is.  McDonalds and other fast food places fall firmly into this category every time.  My body hates them.   Anything that has been deep fried I cannot eat.  I try fish again and my body doesn’t like it either – but that’s normal.  Neutral means my body hasn’t rejected it, but isn’t interested in having it again any time soon.  Most bread feels like this, potato, starches.  And Subway rolls.  Good means my body loves it and wants more ….Now!  I have a unique experience with this one in Turkey eating a Testi Kebab in Kappadokya.  This is meat, vegetables, herbs and spices cooked in a small clay pot that is sealed with bread dough to form a simple pressure cooker.  I eat a few mouthfuls and immediately order another one, the drive is so strong after having a lot of Neutral food in the preceding week.

This created an interesting travel experience for me.  Most food from Turkey is in my memory next to wet cardboard.  However, there were some things my body liked so much I still enjoy them.  Gozleme are great if prepared with fresh ingredients and made on the spot for you.  Testi Kebabs are the best Turkish food and I never grow tired of them, but you can only get them in Kappadokya.  Tomato and cucumber by themselves are solidly Neutral, as is any kind of Turkish bread.

I remember with absolute clarity the moment I woke up one morning and could clearly smell the blanket I was wrapped in.  I could almost taste that smell and actually put it in my mouth to see if it was true.  It was.  It was like someone kicked open the door and let the light flood back in.  I still have that blanket.  It only lasted a few minutes, soon enough it was taken away from me, leaving me back in the land of wet cardboard.  That morning gave me the hope I was missing at the time, hope that one day I might have the gift of taste back permanently.  That happened in the first week I was in Turkey and made the eclipse festival I was at seem even grander and more glorious for a day.  Only the experience of seeing the Total Eclipse the next day could beat this revelation of smell and taste.  Comparing three minutes of taste against three minutes of Totality makes me realise how much I would miss my eyesight.

This keeps happening to me, for a few minutes it’s like the wires are connected.  It’s now been three months since that night.  I never know when it happens, but becomes more often once I stop getting dizzy all the time.  I try to understand what triggers it, but can never find a connection; it seems purely random as my poor brain heals itself.  I think about the six month mark I can say that I have a sense of taste again.  It doesn’t feel as strong as it used to be, I don’t feel that I react to flavour as much as I used to.  Maybe this time has trained my body to look to other sensations, texture, temperature and that overall reaction.  I find myself changing the way I cook old standard dishes to incorporate new things, change spice levels and rearrange them.  Now three years later I’ve become even fussier about ingredients and how I prepare them.  I start mixing raw spices together to make the flavours stronger.

Maybe I’ve turned the nightmare into an interesting experience, but I still feel like I lost part of my sense of taste and smell forever.  I can’t really know, however, because there’s this one problem:

You can’t remember a taste.

Share

4 comments to You Can’t Remember a Taste.

  • Maria

    I believe neuroplasticity that brain is capable to change/heal its self after I read several cases of brain damage/people who were born with brain or mental limitations. Amazing how they build a better brain. I read it on book with title : The brain that changes itself by Norman Doidge, MD.

    • dhugalf

      It certainly does… it just takes a lot of time… And when you lose a limb, the parts of the brain that used to handle controlling it get slowly taken over by adjacent sections that are still active… so the person suffers phantom limb pain … apparently it feels like your missing limb is twisting impossibly on itself… excrutiating…

  • Maria

    I believe neuroplasticity that brain is capable to change/heal its self after I read several cases of brain damage/people who were born with brain or mental limitations. Amazing how they build a better brain. I read it on book with title : The brain that changes itself by Norman Doidge, MD.

    • dhugalf

      It certainly does… it just takes a lot of time… And when you lose a limb, the parts of the brain that used to handle controlling it get slowly taken over by adjacent sections that are still active… so the person suffers phantom limb pain … apparently it feels like your missing limb is twisting impossibly on itself… excrutiating…

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>