Sophomore copes with inability to smell

Photo by Kate Beltson

Story by Autumn Sehy

Paige Oliver sat with her friends in the cafeteria when those around her started to panic. “What’s burning?” someone asked. Oliver, confused at first, finally realized what was happening. Something in the cafeteria was burning. However, she couldn’t smell it.

Oliver, a sophomore, suffers from anosmia, a rare disorder that results in the inability to smell.

“I thought everyone couldn’t smell,” Oliver said. ”I didn’t really find out I was different until I started going to school.”

People would say to Oliver, “Do you smell that?” and she would sniff, nod her head and pretend she could. She had grown up her entire life not being able to smell, so she wasn’t aware that she was missing this sense.

She first found out about anosmia when she started kindergarten, but she wasn’t officially diagnosed until this summer, when a CAT scan revealed that the nerves from her brain to her nose weren’t connected.

“The doctor was really surprised because he had never seen anything like that before,” Oliver said. “It’s like a medical mystery.”

She had hopes that surgery this summer would repair her sense of smell, but it didn’t work.

“I didn’t really think that it was going to work in the first place because it seemed kind of far-fetched,” she said. “I really wasn’t surprised.”

She most likely inherited the genetic disorder from her great-grandfather, who also couldn’t smell. Having the disorder comes with it’s advantages and disadvantages.

“Sometimes I think it’s cool that I can’t smell, but sometimes it’s inconvenient,” Oliver said. ”I can’t smell important things. For science projects where [we] have to smell, I have to let my partner or get someone else to do it.”

She also wouldn’t be able to detect smoke if something like her house was on fire. Yet she’s learned to deal with her condition. When it comes to picking out things like perfumes, she has to rely on her friends for help.

“I can’t smell when food is rotten and I can’t detect dog crap,” Oliver said. “Mostly I like not being able to smell because it seems like there are more bad smells than good.”

And it’s definitely a conversation starter.

“When teachers ask you on the first day of school to tell something different about you, mine is always better than everyone else’s.”