I’ve been called a few things in my lifetime but suddenly this one rings true. Well, the truth is I’m actually unable to smell. But “smelless” isn’t quite as funny. And smell is roughly 70% of taste.
To quote the neurosurgeon I saw this week, “The olfactory nerve is completely severed. Please don’t plan on regaining your sense of smell and do understand you’re likely not going to taste beyond what you taste right now. (nothing) That said, it could be worse.”
Yes. It could be worse. Let me explain.
The day after Christmas found me visiting friends in Oxnard. After riding up and down the street on one of the kids’ scooter for a while I stashed it in the garage and went inside. Later as we walked outside and everyone said goodbye Joey said, “Poppa ride the scooter again.” For whatever reason (mostly because I love giving “Poppa” a hard time) I said, “I’ll do it!”
I jumped on the scooter, swooshed down the incline and the front wheel caught the lip of the driveway and BOOM. I remember launching. I remember flipping. I don’t remember landing. I remember sitting on the curb and looking at several pairs of feet. I remember talking. I remember asking why we were there. I don’t remember getting in the car. I do remember almost being sideswiped by a delivery truck in an intersection as I puked violently in the passenger seat. I remember crying. I remember speaking nonsensically. I remember trying to tell jokes. I remember one of my best friends, Meg, holding me up as we walked into the emergency room. I don’t remember being taken to triage. I remember her tone changing as the triage nurse peppered me with questions. I remember the triage nurse deciding to kick her out of the room. I remember simply saying “I don’t know but I’m going to puke” and then puking in the triage nurse’s general direction.
I don’t remember leaving her space. I remember being in a hallway with my two friends, Meg and Claudy, by my side. I don’t remember deciding I needed to go to the bathroom. I do remember Claudy telling me to stand still because the bathroom was occupied. I don’t remember walking away. I do remember slamming my head into the wall-mounted hand sanitizer dispenser. I remember Claudy laughing as she guided me back to a chair. I don’t remember sitting down. I remember being walked into a phlebotomy room for a blood draw. I remember seeing people sitting in there waiting to see family. I remember telling the nurse to clear the room before she started drawing blood and saying, “If I’m gonna pass out now I don’t want an audience.” (yeah. needles and I don’t get along) I don’t remember it happening but I was suddenly on a gurney in a hallway. Claudy was gone and Rory was there with Meg. I remember seeing a doctor (turned out to be a neurosurgeon) who asked a seemingly endless list of questions. I remember Meg answering them better than I could. I remember throwing up. A lot. I remember being IN a CT chamber but don’t remember going TO radiology. I remember being shifted from the gurney to a hospital bed but don’t remember leaving the hallway. I remember them inserting an IV. I remember them telling me they were giving me something for pain (morphine) and something for nausea (compazine.) I remember waking up but don’t remember falling asleep. Over and over and over. I remember throwing up constantly. (see: over and over and over) I remember them giving me 1,000 mg of Norco to swallow every four hours and injecting morphine and compazine randomly. I remember throwing up violently, constantly. I remember my friends siting by the bed. I remember feeling like a jerk for sleeping while they were there. I remember Meg telling me to stop acting like a jerk by feeling like a jerk and to simply go back to sleep. I remember the nurse waking me hourly and shining a light in my eyes and commenting on the dilation of my pupils. I remember finally asking them NOT to give me any more narcotics because I was itching and puking and couldn’t stand it any more. I remember the nurse calmly explaining I wasn’t in a state of mind to make that decision and instead injecting me with something to help me sleep.
This went on for several days. My friends kept coming in and watching me sleep. And puke. (I’m not pretty when I puke. Is anybody?) I remember Meg putting her phone up to my ear so I could hear my brother’s voice. I vaguely remember talking with him and trying to make a joke. I remember him telling me he loves me. I remember taking a call from Kamey’s mom. I don’t remember what I said. I remember I threw up afterwards.
The neurosurgeon kept coming in (seriously, it was impressive how frequently he stopped in) and asking me random questions about childhood, the Marine Corps, the date, the current administration. He said things like counter-coup bifrontal-temporal hemorrhagic contusions and frontal subdural hematomas and bifrontal and lateral temporal hemorrhages. He said it was ‘remarkable I was able to speak and function.’ He explained my brain had actually slammed from the front to the rear of my skull several times. He said my brain was bleeding in multiple spots (they first noticed four then changed it to six bleeds) and the best case scenario would be my brain reabsorbing the blood after the bruises formed. He said there were bleeds in front of my eyes and behind my eyes. I remember vomiting. Again. He said I have a traumatic brain injury (TBI) and I vomited. Again. He said the vomiting would stop eventually.
My charming 4-year-old godson Declan came to visit and asked when I was coming home and if I was ‘done being sick in the head yet.’ (hah!) Earlier that day the occupational therapist came in to test my fine motor skills. This included tying the drawstring on hospital pants (which meant I had to actually put on a pair of pants), touching my nose and then my toes and walking around. I puked and almost passed out before I got to the door of the room (thankfully I’d managed to tie the drawstring and nothing was showing) and she called off the walk and got me back to bed. No walking meant no discharge and so it was another night of vomiting, medication and hourly pupil checks. (pretty sure everyone’s pupils would dilate strangely if they were woken from a slumber and subjected to what felt like a mag-lite. I don’t remember how many days this cycle repeated itself.)
Not complaining; just sayin’.
I was discharged and sent “home” to recuperate in the guest room. (I’m fortunate to have amazing friends.) No surprise but the headaches didn’t stop and neither did the nausea. Or the itching. Then came night sweats and hallucinations. I’m convinced it was the 1,000 mg of OxyContin they prescribed for every six hours. After 24-hours of that Meg and Rory took me back to the ER. The CT scan they took on THIS visit revealed a skull fracture. A right parieto-occipital skull fracture, to be exact. A long one.
That explains why each time I put my head on a pillow my brain screamed and my skull felt like it was cracked open. Because it was cracked open. (go big or go home, right?) It was enclosed ad they’re sorry they missed it. 5.8″ fracture and you MISSED it?
And so back to the guest room I went while Claudy filled a prescription for dissolvable nausea meds and Meg went to the store to buy applesauce and cream o’ wheat. I’d eaten almost nothing at this point and couldn’t taste anything (red flag, missed it) but the texture of those two things was about all I could stomach. Meg also bought a plethora of Tylenol because I’d decided I just wasn’t going to keep swallowing narcotics.
Gunnar, who is 3 and simply adorable, popped in and said “Aunt Jennie you’ve been in a bed a really lot; I’ll come in and play with you.” And so he did. For a few minutes until I had to lay back down and close my eyes. Again. And then puke. Again. “Ew, Aunt Jennie, you’re frowing up.” Yes, buddy. I know.
And so. That’s how I spent MY Christmas vacation. And, sadly, that’s how some of my best friends spent theirs. Nursing me back to health, waking up in the middle of the night to ensure I took pain meds and then, once Meg and Rory flew back to Washington, DC., Claudy drove me home to Oceanside and handed me off to Kamey. The neurosurgeon declared ‘m unable to drive for a month, needed to avoid TV for at least that long, and insisted I drop out of class for the semester “there’s no way you’re going to heal if you start reading for any length of time right now.” Added to that list is “no work for a month.” (and the hits just kept on comin.’)
And that’s why Kamey is essentially my personal driver and house nurse. (Have I mentioned I have amazing friends?) Not driving is weird, not having the energy to do anything is hard and being perpetually queasy with a headache flat out sucks. Having friends to keep me laughing and drive me around? That’s awesome. Having friends who text to check in? Awesome. Having a friend in New York who FaceTimes with me every day, even on the days my head hurts so much I don’t have any lights on and he’s essentially talking to a black computer screen? Wow.
I got flowers the first week I was home and joked with my bosses and their wives it was like being rewarded for being an idiot. (here’s where I point out I was NOT wearing a helmet when I launched myself off Joey’s scooter. PEOPLE. PLEASE WEAR HELMETS AND PLEASE MAKE YOUR CHILDREN WEAR HELMETS AND MAKE YOUR FRIENDS WEAR HELMETS. I was on the scooter less than two minutes when I launched myself airborne and landed on the back of my head.)
Kamey was in the waiting room Thursday after the neurosurgeon calmly and apologetically explained why I’d likely never smell (or taste again.) “The first impact of your brain probably severed the olfactory nerve.” My immediate response was, “But I LOVE food!”
When I told her, and once it was obvious I was done crying, she promised to make sure and tell me if suddenly I smelled or had bad breath. Ha! She asked what I wanted for lunch and the truth is, I don’t care. I can’t taste it so It doesn’t matter.
I nap a lot. And watch Food Network until my head hurts. And then nap some more. My sweet niece Johnsie (4.5 yrs) came in the other day and declared she was going to read me a book because my head is still broken.
I scoffed when the original neurosurgeon said ‘computer time will make me sick’ but you know what? Being on the computer makes.me.sick. This blog post has taken me three days to write because I end up queasy with a raging headache after I type too much. I laughed out loud when he told me not to do sit-ups for a month or two because the up and down pressure change would hurt my head. (do I LOOK like I DO sit-ups?) Stopped laughing when I realized my head feels like it’s going to explode every time I sit up or lay down. So no, Doc. No sit-ups for me. (that’s not new)
All in all, it could be worse. The headaches might last for 18 months. Or forever. I might never regain the sense of smell (taking fish oil, eating lots of protein and vegetables and looking for an acupressure-ist) and can’t actually taste anything and “sholdn’t fly until the fracture is healed.” (sighs) Dude. It could be worse.
I can walk, talk, hear, see and haven’t lost my sense of humor. (Still can’t sing but, well, that’s not new.)
I have much to be thankful for. And I am.
I should copyedit this but seriously? I can’t look at my computer screen anymore.
11 thoughts on “Tasteless.”
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Jennie, I reread the article and realized Bud was not your dad. What an awesome tribute to him, his service, his sacrifices. It must have been an overwhelming experience to simply have known him.
Thanks for the note. He wasn’t my biological dad but he was the first person I ever gave a Father’s Day card to. He was an amazing person to know. He wasn’t without flaws; none of us are. His character and perseverance taught me a lot. I miss him (we all do) but I hold on to the fact I’m a better person for knowing him.
Jennie, I visited your site after reading the article about your dad. I was so moved. Still a bit teary eyed but I am a sentimental ol’ bird especially when it comes to our veterans. I left some comments and explained since I cannot reblog your post, I plan on reposting unless you object. 🙁 So sorry about your accident but your recovery and attitude are remarkable. It is sometimes in the face of adversity when we find the true meaning of life. Losing one thing often brings to light other things that somehow got pushed back or overlooked. Hopefully, there will be a full recovery. Thoughts and prayers with you! Sharla
Thank you for sharing your story. A friend of mine showed it to me. I am now in my 5th month of recovery from a BTI I received when I was climbing a very difficult mountain and shoebox sized rocks fell from above and struck my head, or rather my helmet. However, even with my helmet on, my brain sustained a severe concussion. Many of your descriptions of what you are going through certainly ring true for me. Know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel and it is just going to take some time to get there. I still suffer daily headaches, but most days are better than worse. The bad days take their toll on me and make me sad, but I hang on for the better days that eventually make their ways back. I have been quoted a 6-9 month recory from my concussion specialist….I sure hope he is right. I will say a special prayer for your recovery.
Wow, Noel. Thanks for the note (it’s still odd to me that strangers read my blog), and for sharing your story. Can’t imagine taking that sized rock from above while climbing. I climbed in college and lots of people laughed at me for wearing a helmet. It’s crazy (and reassuring) to hear that my symptoms are familiar. The first week I was home from the hospital there was a lot of ‘bad days’ but they’ve subsided. I’ve decided to simply focus on how much WORSE it isn’t. =) Losing my ability to smell and taste is ironic on a myriad of levels but seriously, it could be worse. I hope your bad days are fewer and fewer. If you’re reading and writing you’re doing pretty well. You’re almost at the 6th month mark so you’re close to being done! I’ll pray for you as well. Best, Jennie
Glad to see you haven’t lost your gift of story telling. Hang in there and get better soon. You’re in Oceanside, there are lots worse places to be recuperating.
Thanks, Terry. Indeed, there are worse places to recuperate! Just another reason to feel fortunate. Thanks for the note.
Jennie, thank you for sharing your experience with the world! You have been in our evening prayers ever since we first heard of your accident. I hope that the neurosurgeon is wrong and that someday you regain your sense of smell/taste. We love you!
Ahhh thanks, Sabrina! I yuv you guys too and I’m thankful for the prayers. I’m hopeful he’s wrong, too. It’s ironic to appreciate food and cooking as much as I do and lose the ability to smell and taste. That said, were I ASKED to give up a sense… it’d have been smell. Stoked I can walk and talk. Look forward to seeing y’all soon. <3 Jenn