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Remembering Smell: A Memoir of Losing--and Discovering--the Primal Sense Hardcover – June 16, 2010

3.1 out of 5 stars 34 customer reviews

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Product Description
In November 2005, Bonnie Blodgett was whacked with a nasty cold. After a quick shot of a popular nasal spray up each nostril, the back of her nose was on fire. With that, Blodgett--a professional garden writer devoted to the sensual pleasures of garden and kitchen--was launched on a journey through the senses, the psyche, and the sciences. Her olfactory nerve was destroyed, perhaps forever. She had lost her sense of smell.

Phantosmia--a constant stench of "every disgusting thing you can think of tossed into a blender and pureed"--is the first disorienting stage. It's the brain's attempt, as Blodgett vividly conveys, to compensate for loss by conjuring up a tortured facsimile. As the hallucinations fade and anosmia (no smell at all) moves in to take their place, Blodgett is beset by questions: Why are smell and mood hand-in-hand? How are smell disorders linked to other diseases? What is taste without flavor? Blodgett's provocative conversations with renowned geneticists, smell dysfunction experts, neurobiologists, chefs, and others ultimately lead to a life-altering understanding of smell, and to the most transformative lesson of all: the olfactory nerve, in ways unlike any other in the human body has the extraordinary power to heal.

A Q&A with Bonnie Blodgett, Author of Remembering Smell

Q: What inspired you to write a memoir about smell?

A: A series of unfortunate events. In the fall of 2005, my nose stopped working. I'd inhaled a zinc-based gel called Zicam to prevent a cold. The cold was unfazed, and I spent a week stuffed up and miserable. A week later I noticed a funny smell. Soon I was overwhelmed by unaccountable odors, unfortunately all of them vile. Imagine a blend of rotten eggs, dead fish, feces, and burning flesh. Versions of these odors came and went, but the smell never left.

Q: You mean it never faded?

A: Unfortunately, no. The brain has a mechanism that tunes out smells after a fairly short exposure. That's why we can't smell our own perfume. I knew something was seriously wrong because they were constant. The fade button had gone on the blink. Naturally, my first thought was that I was just imagining it. Maybe I was going mad.

Q: How did you find out what was going on?

A: An ear, nose, and throat specialist knew immediately that the odors were olfactory hallucinations. I wasn't making them up, my brain was. He prescribed an old-fashioned antidepressant that would trick my brain into letting up on the odiferous onslaught.

Q: What actually happens inside the nose?

A: The cells begin to divide, making new ones. Olfactory neurons are the only brain cells capable of regenerating the way other nerves in the body do. Recently scientists have shown that neurons deep in the brain can repair themselves, but the process is circuitous and not well understood. Interestingly, the route that cells take is from the olfactory bulb to the rest of the limbic system and then to the other brain regions, by way of so-called exit ramps off what scientists have taken to calling the cell superhighway. If we can figure out how this works, we might be able to send stem cells we've designed for specific purposes into damaged brain areas and jump- start the healing process.

Q: How long does it typically take for olfactory cells to heal?

A: Full recovery (if recovery occurs) usually takes anywhere from three months to a year, depending on the situation. Anosmia caused when the brain suddenly shifts inside the skull--this is what happens with head injuries--severing the long nerves leading from the receptor sheet to the olfactory bulb, is often permanent. Anosmia resulting from an infection typically takes three to six months to resolve itself, if it does. People who lost their sense of smell after taking Zicam have had mixed results. Most were not as lucky as I was.

(Photo © Ann Marsden)

From Publishers Weekly

Minnesota garden writer Blodgett (The Garden Letter) lost her sense of smell after using Zicam nasal spray for her cold and had to relearn the central role of smell in the entire makeup of her life. In this thoughtful, informative work, she delves with a laymanÖs tenacity into the complicated science of smell, its role in evolution, memory, and survival, and how the deprivation affected her own life with her longtime husband, Cam, and two grown daughters. Before the full-fledged anosmia (loss of smell) set in, however, came phantosmia, or being plagued by false smells--in BlodgettÖs case, a bad odor like rotting flesh, such as she recognized from the stench of the corpse flower. Traced to the use of Zicam (its ingredient zinc gluconate proved toxic to smell receptor neurons; the FDA has since pulled the nasal spray from the market), her anosmia brought on depression and loss of sexual desire (the role of pheromones). Through her dogged research to understand what was ailing her, Blodgett discovered olfactionÖs intimate relationship with the limbic system, which regulates our emotional and instinctive behavior. Thus, robbed of the rich memory tapestry that smell imparted, she couldnÖt write, stung by the fear of losing what was real--the pleasures of being human. General readers will find her memoir richly nuanced and broadly researched.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (June 16, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618861882
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618861880
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,047,332 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By la plume d'une femme VINE VOICE on April 23, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I think the book REMEMBERING SMELL is going to appeal to a rather small section of readers, mostly from the minute segment of the population that has experienced the loss of the sense of smell. The author does cover, rather extensively, the science of olfactory loss (neutralized a bit by including a lot of anecdotal evidence and personal opinion). But I thought Blodgett didn't devote enough space to the far-reaching emotional impact of the loss of this particular one of our senses. I'd like to share a personal "take" on that aspect of the loss that REMEMBERING SMELL touches on.

We don't think about it when everything is functioning properly - our early warning system, the ways we protect ourself, the ways we grieve, the ways we love: sight, hearing, taste, smell, touch. Like the blind girl in "A Patch of Blue" who could remember only what a small piece of sky looked like from her sighted days, I have a memory of only a very few scents from my childhood. I remember what the lilacs on the fence outside the kitchen door smelled like; I remember the smell of a freshly cut Christmas tree and the smell of the fur on a kitten's throat; and I remember the smell of baby powder because my little brother, celebrating his fiftieth birthday this July, was born the summer I lost my ability to smell every blessed thing on earth. I was eleven years old.

Probably the result of a botched tonsillectomy, it started (or rather ended) when I woke up one morning to the overpowering stench of burning rubber everywhere I turned. We were on vacation in New England and all day I hung my head out the car window, saying, "Eew! What IS that?" The stench stopped within a day or two, but it heralded an incalculable loss.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I see from some of the other reviews that the audience for this book is rather self-selecting. Given how low in importance the general population rates the subject matter, that's to be expected.

But for fellow sufferers, and the people who care about them, the book is compelling, eye-opening. It's a shame that it's so sloppily edited: the author needed a sit-down with a good editor who would ask her what kind of book she intended to write: a personal memoir, a disease-of-the-week sob-fest, or (nudge, nudge) a story about a woman fundamentally affected by a little-understood and lightly-regarded medical catastrophe, and how she educated herself and came to terms with it. This is an interesting woman, so if you can good-humouredly put up with the occasional personal digression, you'll be fine. If you're a fellow sufferer, you'll quickly get hooked because you'll find familiar "friends" in here, like phantosmia: the brain's initial response to anosmia by creating strong unpleasant smells out of thin air. Did you know there was a word for it? I certainly didn't.

The real value in the book is how doggedly she did the research, how much thought she has put into how the condition affects her, and how competently she lays out some of the many non-obvious consequences of anosmia, including depression and reduced libido. If you are a fellow-sufferer whose approach to the problem has been like mine - just soldier on and think about it as little as possible - you might also find something familiar in here that will knock you sideways, like I was when she mentioned that she no longer reads fiction. Reads fiction? What POSSIBLE connec... but it's there, if you crawl inside your head and look for it.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
"When I lost my sense of smell, all those sensory cues (for romance and sex) vanished. Deprived of my husband's familiar scent, I sometimes forgot he was in bed beside me." - Bonnie Blodgett

One October day, Bonnie Blodgett began to experience a distorted sense of smell. All things, no matter what their normal aroma, began to smell as if a concoction of all things putrid put through a blender. An ear, nose and throat specialist she subsequently saw attributed it to the Zicam nasal spray she used several weeks before to combat a cold.

On the following Christmas Eve, Bonnie's sense of smell departed entirely.

REMEMBERING SMELL is Blodgett's account of her odyssey through an ordeal incomprehensible to most. Lost to her were the comforting scents of her home, the ravishing scents of her garden, and the familiar scents of her husband. Perhaps most devastating, the "tastes" of food were reduced to sweet, sour, bitter, salty and umami; foods' flavors, now lost to her, are a function of olfaction.

At this point, I must digress for a long, though not completely irrelevant, paragraph.

In the summer of 2007, my sense of taste became distorted. I could, and can, no longer sense "sweet". What was sweet now tastes salty. Furthermore, whatever I eat, whether it contains salt or not, tastes over-salted. And after I eat, for a period of about 90 minutes, I experience a strong salty-sour aftertaste. Though I can still sense flavors, the taste of all foods is off. Though some foods may still taste OK depending on what they are, the aftertaste is a punishment that makes the exercise of eating almost not worthwhile except to ease hunger pangs. The neurologist and ENT specialist are stumped; an MRI of my skull showed nothing pathologic.
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