About one week after I was struck by the nasty virus I discovered that I could neither taste nor smell. Little did I know then that the loss of my senses would be my greatest lesson of COVID.
Tex, my husband, and I were some of the first people in our region to be COVID 19 positive. It was mid March and very scary. No one knew much about the virus in those early days and what they thought they knew changed almost daily. Tex was deathly ill, but apparently not ill enough to be hospitalized. We were supposed to wait until his lips turned blue before we took him in. As we were told by medical people “They really don’t want him in the hospital.” So I, his disgustingly sick wife, became his nurse.
Neither one of us was particularly concerned with my tasteless, smell-less condition but it was very odd. One day I enjoyed a Dilly Bar our grandson left on the front stair, but the Dilly Bar I had the next day had absolutely no taste. One day I could smell the lilies my daughter delivered. The next day they had no scent whatsoever.
A few days after my realization Tex read an article in the New York Times about Italy, the first of what would be many, regarding COVID patients reporting a loss of taste and smell. I felt strangely legitimized—I was now part of the worldwide COVID-club. I also felt uncomfortably vulnerable. What would strike next?
The good news is that I have fully recovered. Except for my sense of taste and smell. Both senses are returning in fits and starts. Some days I can smell and taste certain things. Some days I can smell certain things but cannot taste anything. Some days the opposite is true. Some days I have only three senses and I have no access whatsoever to the other two. Some days I can smell things that aren’t there. A total head-trip.
Now I depend on the smoke alarm to tell me the toast is burning. I check with Tex whether the sauce tastes right or if the omelette is salted enough. Some days I can eat a lemon without wincing or a jalapeno without gagging. In short, I can no longer depend on my own assessment of many situations.
This sharp interruption of my faculties has brought with it a couple of light bulb moments. To start, I’ve spent my life consciously sharpening my discernment skills and by the time I reached 65 I thought I could pretty much figure out what is going on most of the time (hints of arrogance and privilege, I know). But now I can’t. The house could burn down and I could swear there was no smoke.
This condition of not knowing, of not knowing what I don’t know, and of needing to ask others to tell me what I don’t know, has been a significant lesson for me. I can no longer assume I’ve got things right. It has also got me thinking. This is not a new or novel condition. Not knowing is as much part of the human condition as knowing.
Every one of us don’t know a lot of things. Every one of us thinks we know things we actually don’t know. And, without asking, none of us can know what things we don’t know.
Imagine a world where people deeply understood these aspects of their human condition? We would check our assumptions first before we criticized. We would not be so strident with our loosely concocted theories and opinions. We would ask before we tell and listen before we speak. And we would respect that life is a head-trip for everyone, not just for the crazies out there, but it’s also a head-trip for the crazies inside ourselves.
My COVID lesson has been about being humble. It’s an old fashioned word but it’s a word worth thinking about. Humble means lowering your estimation of yourself. It’s contrary to everything society has been promoting for the past few decades. But, to me, humble doesn’t mean feeling bad about myself. It means my issues, my opinions, my ideas, my traumas, my worth, my interpretations, my importance…it simply means I am no more important than anyone else. It has something to do with the equitable, fair, just, caring world we are trying to build–together.
Humble means that just because we can’t smell the smoke doesn’t mean the house isn’t burning down. It means we should check with someone before we add another jalapeno to the sauce. Just because we can’t taste it doesn’t mean it’s not blistering hot.
We don’t always got it right my friends.
Thanks COVID for the reminder.
5 thoughts on “Thanks COVID”
“We would ask before we tell and listen before we speak.” Thanks for the great takeaway, Sylvia!
Same with my memory these days. Sometimes it’s accurate, sometimes it’s not. Sometimes it’s clear and strong, sometimes it’s just absent. Sometimes it takes about twenty minutes to recall something, sometimes just a few. That’s when I celebrate. Thanks for the blog – you are, as always, a gifted writer!
This resonates so completely with me… I remember as a new and terrified nurse, the charge nurse turning to me and saying “you don’t even know what you don’t know”…. Humbling to say the least… I hope to always listen, learn, accept…. Before I let myself get in the way.
I appreciate your thoughts on not knowing. I read a book some years ago called The Book of Not Knowing by Peter Ralston. It really brought focus, as you have, to how allowing yourself to be in a state of not knowing can lead to new insights. Good words Sylvia.
Thanks for the book alert, Doug. I think most of us spend the first part of our lives proving we know something (particularly women) and our later years realizing how little we learned. When something like COVID happens we get a reminder. It has also taught humanity to just relax and live with unknowing, because no one knew a whole ton about the virus in general.