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You Must Have a Cold, Sweetie

I can never repay my friends who cared for me and got me to the ambulance. Getting back­boarded is not fun, and I’m sure the nurse I puked on wasn’t having fun either. I suffered a level ­II concussion or what most people call a traumatic brain injury. The rock and the back of my dream­box had collided many times, but I only bled from a small laceration. My helmet absorbed the impact and it saved most of my melon even though both cracked.

October 29 2015

Rock climbing

Sometimes I wonder what my boyfriend smells like. Or I try to remember the aroma of popcorn or the odors that fill your car at a gas station. The trace of ozone before a spring shower; the awful rose­tea scented perfume my sister got 5 years in a row for Christmas. That high school teacher everyone said reeked. I know I liked vanilla, cinnamon toast, and mint chip ice cream. I was given a cedar chest once and it made all my sweaters smell like our pet hamster, Crappy. My hands would stink after sneaking a cigarette, and I would hastily cover the funk with some fruity spray. Cucumber melon was gross; but raspberry mist did the job of concealing my cancer­causing habit for years. I am told that even sex has an essence. I used to work in a bakery ­­ what a tease. Should I stop running from skunks? After 5 days in the backcountry can I truly believe him when he says he doesn’t notice my funk­filled gloriousness? Sometimes it will tingle way up there, past even where my finger can reach. I’ll think this is it ­­ I’m a medical miracle ­­ each time I take a deep breath in filling my nostrils with the scent of hope; but when the moment passes, I still can’t smell anything. 

A friend had given me some hand lotion as a get well present. I squeezed the bottle oozing a pink drop into the palm of my hand. I brought it up to my sniffer anticipating the fragrant smell of cherry blossoms. I smelled nothing. Zero. Nothing. That was weird. I got out of bed as quick as my aching body would allow. There was week old Chinese food in the fridge, I went to the kitchen. I unfolded the white packaging, brought it to the tip of my beak, and inhaled deeply hoping to end this nonsense. Nothing. I went to the sink, tore open the cabinets, found the strongest smelling astringents, bleaches, soaps. Again, I brought each to the tip of my whiffer, closed my eyes and took a deep breath. Nothing, nothing, and nothing. My banana was broken, not by fist, but by fall.

A few days before my discovery, I was learning to lead climb at a local quarry. I wasn’t on any glamourous route or anything beyond my limit. I was a new leader, learning how to use those wacky spring­loaded devices, forgetting about good stances, and freaking out. I was on the second pitch and 15 feet above my belayer. Between him and me I had placed 2 cams. It was a crack, fist­sized. I didn’t know about jamming. I tried to layback it, tried to place a cam, tried to keep control of my nerves. I failed at all 3 and fell off. The next piece flew out of the crack with a loud popping sound. I kept going, upside down. While in flight, I whacked my bean against the rock, once, twice, three times, I don’t know. I ended up 15 feet below my belayer. I looked at him in a daze and stammered, ‘I want down.’

I can never repay my friends who cared for me and got me to the ambulance. Getting back­boarded is not fun, and I’m sure the nurse I puked on wasn’t having fun either. I suffered a level ­II concussion or what most people call a traumatic brain injury. The rock and the back of my dream­box had collided many times, but I only bled from a small laceration. My helmet absorbed the impact and it saved most of my melon even though both cracked. The permanent brain damage occurred as my brain bounced inside my skull. The olfactory nerves, the central command system for your smeller, lie at the base of the frontal lobe, right behind the eyes and above the nose. These nerves were damaged as I bounced off the rock. Doctors say olfactory nerves don’t usually regenerate. The day after I buried my face in the decaying Chinese food, I was back to the doctor for an official, ‘smell test’. The nurse had a dozen unmarked vials. Twelve times in a row, she brought a vial up to my nose; I would take a deep breath and shake my head. Each time she looked at me with disbelief. At the end of the test she said, ‘You must have a cold, Sweetie.’

-Bernadette Regan (Published With Permission)

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