The man with the big nose fidgeted on the plush office chair.
“I’ve never done anything like this before, Doc,” he said. “I mean, I’m a superhero, for Christ’s sake.”
“There’s no shame in seeking counseling, Joe,” replied Dr. Baird. “Tell me what’s on your mind.”
“I just feel so… useless, ya know? Without my sense of smell, I’m nothing. I mean, I’m Joe ‘The Nose’ Mulligan!”
“Of course. I’m familiar with your work.”
“I can smell a bomb while it’s still being made. I can smell a drug shipment a hundred miles out to sea. I can smell a lying suspect three buildings over!” His face fell. “I could, anyway. Before.”
“Understood. I’m sure it’s been a difficult adjustment. Has your employer given you a leave of absence?”
“Yeah,” he sighed. “The FBI’s cool. Government job, good benefits. But there I am, sitting at home, while my wife leaves for work. I got nothing to do. I’m going crazy. Please tell me it isn’t permanent.”
“Inconclusive,” said Dr. Baird. “Most COVID-19 patients regain their sense of smell after two to eight weeks. Others still have sensory loss months after recovery.” She opened a file folder. “How long since you lost yours?”
“Three weeks, Doc. My wife Amy even made my favorite food the other day, these scalloped potatoes that only she makes. It’s, like, a thing for us. She fixes those potatoes when she knows I’m coming home from an assignment. I smell them when I leave the airport, and I know she’s looking forward to seeing me, ya know? And nothing. Couldn’t smell a thing. How’d I catch this goddamn virus anyway?”
“Well, you may be superhuman, but you’re still human, Joe.”
“What if I never get it back?” He stood and started pacing the room.
“Odds are excellent that you will regain your sense of smell. Still, you might want to prepare yourself for the possibility that it won’t be as powerful as before,” Dr. Baird said gently.
“What’ll I do? I’ll be out of a job!”
“Do you have other talents, interests?”
“Nothing I’m real good at.”
“As a child, what did you aspire to be?”
He shrugged. “A veterinarian. Loved animals. Too dumb for vet school.”
“Listen, Joe, these feelings of anger, loss, anxiety, they’re all very normal. You might benefit from joining a support group, like Abscent.”
“Support group?” He scoffed. “Not really my thing, Doc.”
“Well, please come back and see me next week, and we’ll talk some more.”
“How’s it going today, Joe?”
“Are you feeling all right? You seem to have lost weight.”
He shrugged. “No sense of smell. Can’t taste anything. Why eat.”
“Keep at it, Joe. And keep applying that steroid nasal spray. Sometimes smell will return a little bit at a time. Have you been able to get out and enjoy this weather?”
He looked up with sunken eyes. “Nah. I don’t even want to leave the house, Doc. I feel like I’m blind or something. Normally I could smell if there was something wrong with the car, or if there was a gas leak someplace. If we went for takeout, I knew how clean their kitchen was. I could even smell if other people had the flu, so I knew who to avoid. Now, I got nothing. Hell, I can’t even tell if I have B.O.”
“You’re fine on that front, Joe. You went to an acupuncturist, yes?”
He chuckled humorlessly. “Heh. Bunch of needles in my back, and bupkis.”
“There is evidence that the brain adjusts to compensate for the loss of one sense. So even if you end up with long-term sensory loss, you may find your other senses become more keen.”
Joe sat up straighter. “You mean I might get super hearing or vision, instead of super smell?”
“Usually the process takes about a year.”
“Tell me about your week. How have you been spending your time?”
Joe shrugged. “Watched TV, walked my dogs. Tried to help Amy out, fixed stuff around the house. Folks at work sent me a get-well card, that was nice.”
“Oh, I turned forty last weekend. Friends threw me a little surprise party, in the backyard, masks on, ya know. Amy baked the cake. She sent me out to the store, and everybody was waiting when I got back.”
“That’s nice. I imagine, with your particular talents, you don’t get surprised very often.”
He scratched the stubble on his chin. “You know, you’re right, Doc. I would’ve smelled that cake a mile away. It was kinda nice to be surprised.”
“So then, it’s not all bad.”
“Well, mostly bad.”
Dr. Baird peered over her glasses.
“But not all bad, Doc.”
“You look happy today, Joe.”
The grinning patient took a seat.
“The Nose is back, Doc!”
“That’s wonderful news. Has your olfactory function completely returned?”
“About 75 percent. Which puts me at about 500 times the normal human sense of smell. So…”
“And you’re back to work?”
“Yep. Well, ya know, the boss still wants me to take it easy for a while. So, get this, guess what they got me doing over there?”
“Helping out the CDC. Turns out they can train dogs to sniff out viral infections. Of course, now that I know what COVID smells like, I can detect it way faster than any lab. You’re looking at the head animal trainer for the new K-9 unit.”
“That’s terrific, Joe.”
“Hey listen, Doc, even though I don’t need you anymore, I guess, I wanted to say thanks. It was good to come here all those times and talk things out.”
“That’s what I do. I’m glad I was able to help, Joe.”
“I thought counseling was for wimps, no offense. But now I realize it’s just talking. I like talking.”
“I’m here to listen. Come back any time.”
At the door, he paused, chuckling.
“Smell ya later.”
Jen Mierisch’s first job was at a public library, where her boss frequently caught her reading the books she was supposed to be shelving. Her work can be found in Fiction on the Web, Funny Pearls, Little Old Lady (LOL) Comedy, and elsewhere. Jen can be found haunting her local library near Chicago, USA. Read more at www.jenmierisch.com.