Looking forward to three crunchy tacos

Smelling the coffee in the hotel lobby was a momentary reprieve for Ty Hunter.

The welcoming smell of good mornings and wakefulness had broken through the normal smell of rotten flesh that permeated his world, but even it wasn’t untainted.

For Ty, a self-proclaimed morning person, the loss of coffee had been a hard hit when he found that it was one more thing he couldn’t drink or eat because of the nauseating smell that most foods presented.

But smelling the coffee in the hotel lobby, even if it was faint and tinted with something not-quite-coffee, allowed him to find some solace in the new reality he had been living in since April.

Ty is one of many people suffering from the long-term impact of Covid-19. Symptoms and conditions range from the continued loss of smell, hair loss, heart and lung problems, fatigue, concentration issues, memory loss, and so many more hard-to-explain issues in this ever-developing pandemic.

For the 37-year-old morning DJ at WBDC, the onset of Covid made itself known with the complete loss of his sense of smell and taste around Christmas of 2020 — he jokes it has become an annual tradition in the Hunter household since they had Covid again this Christmas as well.

By the end of March, he could taste and smell again, but the disease’s seriousness had left its mark on his family.

He explained that typically the flu would send him directly to bed; his wife, Hayley, has no problem carrying on her life’s activities while battling a sickness. “Yeah, she’ll have the flu and still be mopping the floor,” he explained.

But, carrying her to the bathroom because she was too weak to do it on her own as she suffered from Covid gave him a new perspective on the disease and its varying impact.

Fortunately, everyone recovered. At least for a while.

Ty is a self-proclaimed connoisseur of Taco Bell. His continued love for the restaurant is espoused frequently on his social media feeds and on the air at his job as morning DJ. He would typically eat at the Jasper restaurant a couple of times a week. Last April, he and Hayley grabbed a meal there like normal. He had his usual three Crunchy Tacos with a Mountain Dew, but when he took his first bite, he realized something was wrong.

“I put it down and said, ‘I think this meat is bad,'” he explained. “I ended up throwing it away. I had lost my appetite, so I just went to bed.”

The following morning when he made his first cup of coffee to get his early day started, he noticed it smelled like what he had experienced with the taco the previous evening.

“It tasted like it, too,” Ty said.

What is going on, he wondered.

Then, he went through his morning routine, and when he went to put on deodorant, the same smell filled his nose.

It is hard to describe what he smells and commonly tastes now, but he likens it to rotting flesh with the taint of a chemical smell and mold.

Covid-19 is a novel virus and the extent of its impact on a person’s body is still being studied and determined.

“There wasn’t a lot known about what I was experiencing back then,” he said.

Over the next few days, the smell continued to invade his senses. Soaps, detergents, perfumes, garlic, onions, chocolate, peanut butter, all emanating this repugnant smell. And, nothing tasted good.

What he eventually found is that this new smell and taste had nothing to do with the foods or drinks or his deodorant, it was how his brain was perceiving these senses. He also found that this new reality was a common one for many people who had contracted Covid.

Eventually, Hayley found a Facebook group for people suffering from a similar issue post-Covid. It had more than 17,000 members and gave Ty a name for his condition, Parosmia.

Parosmia is a nose disorder that can distort how the brain perceives smells. That carries over into tastes since the two senses are intricately linked. Both senses communicate with the brain when you take a bite of something, and then the brain uses that information to determine how things taste — good or bad.

While Parosmia can be caused by other issues — upper respiratory tract infections, head injuries, sinus problems, exposure to toxins, and neurological conditions — the connection to those who lose their sense of smell from Covid is becoming more apparent.

For Ty, this means that many foods no longer have the same appeal, and in the case of certain ingredients in cooking food, he can become so sick he has to get away from them immediately.

“Hayley makes a dish with garlic and pasta, and when she does so, I have to leave the house completely,” he explained.

While most sodas taste absolutely horrible, even his beloved Mountain Dew (he jokes that the Parosmia improved the taste of Mello Yello), Dr. Pepper tastes completely normal, and that experience is shared among many Parosmia sufferers.

Milk products are pretty safe, but he added chocolate to a glass one time and nearly threw up.

Ty has a profound love for peanut butter and his favorite candy is Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. Of course, chocolate and peanut butter are a near-perfect combination. But, Ty can’t eat them now. “They are terrible.”

He is becoming more accustomed to the Parosmia but the impact is being felt. “It takes a lot of enjoyment out of things,” Ty explained. “It’s not like food is the dominating force in my life, but you just don’t realize … you know, if you’re feeling depressed, or sad, or stressed or anything like that, you don’t have comfort food anymore. It’s just a reminder.”

Vacations offer a respite from the normal by providing new experiences. Much of an enjoyable holiday can be centered around great times while enjoying great food. Ty can’t really take part in that right now.

Showers don’t necessarily feel as refreshing anymore. “Because soap and shampoos and conditioners all smell like that rotten flesh, the more I scrub, the worse I smell,” he said.

After spending months trying to find toiletries that didn’t smell like rotten flesh when he used them, he has resolved to continue using his preferred products in hopes that one day he’ll experience that familiar smell.

Losing coffee last April was hard.

“I love coffee,” Ty said. “That was the most devastating realization for me.”

That is why the moment in the hotel a few months after the onset of the Parosmia was such a big deal. “I mean, it didn’t exactly smell like coffee,” Ty said. “But it was close enough to coffee, and it didn’t have that horrible smell.”

It still doesn’t taste like coffee though.

“It isn’t the same, but it isn’t revolting,” he said. “That is my only success story.”

He realizes that in the big scheme of things, what he is experiencing isn’t to the same level as others who have been impacted by Covid.

“There are people out there that are in bad shape, and they’ve got it way worse,” Ty said. “And I will take a back seat and wait this out until we can get the main problem fixed. I think that’s how I’ve kind of accepted this. The big picture is way bigger than me. There are people losing their lives, and you know, I can’t smell bacon, coffee tastes different, peanut butter tastes bad to me. There are people losing their lives. On the scale of impact, mine is minor.”

Now, more than eight months into this new reality, Ty has become more accustomed to the condition. “You know if you go into a room with a really bad smell eventually you can become somewhat immune to it,” he explained.

But certain things still hurt. He is a massive fan of the Jasper Strassenfest, and last summer, he made his traditional quest to be first in line for one of the famous monster chocolate chip cookies from the Patoka Lake Sailing Club booth.

“It was terrible. It was awful,” Ty said. “I did it as a tradition because that is what I always do. It was bad.”

He has friends that return home annually for the summer celebration and he lives only a couple blocks away from the street fest. Rather than walking around the fest and enjoying the smells of the food, Ty had a totally different experience last August. “I might as well as been walking through hot porta-potties,” he said. “Not that it smelled like poop, but it was just that intense.”

It is a common joke among Parosmia sufferers that if a fart smells like a fart and not the Parosmia, it is a good sign.

For Ty, a three Crunchy Tacos meal with a Mountain Dew is his bellwether.

“I hope one day I’ll go to Taco Bell and I’ll get that meal and it will taste normal,” he said.

6 Comments

  1. It will be 12 months for me! Same! Still. Although I have found carbs are worse, if I stay away from those makes a big difference in how ill I’am some days. Still have my coffee (can’t taste or smell) but with French vanilla creamer I can tolerate it and feel my morning buzz! I can eat any fish (Ohannas teriyaki cod is so good to me) all fruits and nuts. Sweets I love, never lost taste. But bad because I never ate them either! Now I’ve lost 10 lbs eating sweets… funny. We learn to live with it with hope! Hope we all get it back someday, prayers for you Ty

  2. Totally the same for me as well. I am on month 11 after taste and smell came back and things are either now just starting to become normal or I have adjusted to my new world. I will say thay Azura coffee is the only coffee that stayed totally normal for me. Unfortunately, for some, it takes time.

  3. 15 months for me…Taste has mostly returned, but seems muted. My sense of smell comes and goes. I can only smell really strong odors, like garlic, and only for a few moments. Likely, I have a deep appreciation for food and am also an emotional eater.

  4. Been a year as of this week that I realized I had covid because as I went to eat a cracker and realized I had lost my sense of taste and smell. Within 8 days found myself in a very bad way physically and was admitted into the hospital for 4 days feeling like I’m not going to make it out of this alive. It had moved to my lungs. Now, still no taste or smell a year later, EVERYTHING tasting or smelling like one single odd taste and having a “covid lung” problem once in a while but compared to the feeling like I wasnt going to survive having covid, I guess I wont complain.

  5. Oddly enough I had the same but it was only bad smells. It lasted until the moment I came out of thyroid surgery. I made it to the car and immediately could smell everything in full force again. I wanted to go ask for my money back. ? Kidding, but I definitely noticed a difference.

  6. It will be a year for me in February. For me, many things taste like dirt. Eggs are the worse. For soda, I can only drink Root Beer. I can no longer cook with the herbs I use to love. Even unfiltered water can smell bad. Makes me wonder what treatment plants do to the water. Sweets are fine, wine is fine and fortunately coffee tastes better than it smells. I am so over this!

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