What the smell? What Covid taught me about reliance on my senses

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For almost 11 years, every time I come home from a trip there’s been at least one grandson waiting to say hi. You know what’s been fascinating about that? Watching them discover all the senses that they didn’t realize they had at their disposal.

I know it’s hard to believe, but I don’t remember that stage of my life. Maybe that’s why I love watching them grow. It’s also why I’m amazed at people who don’t have all their senses. They learn to adapt and thrive.

For those of us who do have had all senses from birth, we take it for granted.

Until they’re gone.

Due to several head injuries, I have had to relearn some things. Some senses have been diminished and some went haywire. It’s not an easy journey, but it’s better than pushing daisies.

So, I should be used to adapting, right?

When I lost my sense of smell this winter due to Covid, it hit me like a bad taco from a convenience store.

Man smelling an orange
(Photo: iStock)

Have you ever realized how much you rely on smell in your daily routines? When I heard some people were losing their smell and taste with Covid infections, I was unimpressed. Big deal, right?

Except that it is!

It was a weird sensation, or lack of sensation. After head injuries – or some other event – you can easily point to the cause, it makes sense. This came with no warning.

I drove past a smoky area and then realized … nothing. Not a whiff. I shrugged it off as a fluke. Then I saw more things I should’ve smelled. Nothing.

After I suddenly lost my smell without any warning, I could no longer sense if I had a coolant leak. I couldn’t just walk by and tell if I had a hot tire, or a leaky wheel seal.

It’s incredible how much I’ve relied on my sense of smell when doing my regular inspections. I developed this sense over years. I trained myself to recognize all the different oils and smells associated with trucking.

What have I learned from this?

My whole life I’ve been curious. Ok, maybe crazy, but think back to the child who’s learning about their senses. They see an object. So, they feel it to see if it feels like it looks. Then they test it to see if it tastes like it feels and looks.

Somewhere in there, they do the smell test. They’ll probably also hit themselves with it to verify once more. (I obviously hit myself too many times).

What is our life like today? Are we relying on just one sense to make decisions? You may think you know exactly what something is because of its smell, because you’re adult and don’t need childish processes to come to a conclusion.

Where is your verification process? When I’m inspecting my truck, which senses am I using? Am I only relying on one or two? When I’ve helped others learn pre-trips, I have tried to teach them to not only look, but also touch each part because there may be play there that isn’t noticeable. It may make a sound that you couldn’t see or feel. It may be warmer than normal.

After I lost my smell, I realized that I was being slack. I wasn’t verifying as much as I should have. I need to remember to use all my senses. We have all of them for a reason. If we lose one that we relied too heavily on, there’s a learning curve to sharpen the rest over time to make up for that loss. 

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David Henry is a longhaul driver, Bell Let's Talk representative and creator/cohost of the Crazy Canuck Truckin podcast. His passion is mental health and presenting a better image for trucking to the public.

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