Journey of Ravi through his smell, Narrated by - Satya who never talks Mithya.
The magic of smells.
Today, we’re going to be talking about the story of Ravi Kumar (name changed to protect his identity). Ravi was a content man, one of his sons was working in a big law firm and the other was doing MBA in the US. He had a regular 9-5 job but he was planning to retire early. He tells us that his plan after his early retirement was to open up a flower shop. Out of curiosity, I asked him “Both of your kids are doing well in life, so why did you feel like you had to work even after retirement?”. He revealed to me that he was always very sensitive towards smell and good smells made his day. Therefore, he always used to leave early for work; just so he could stop his cab at a flower shop which was 5 minutes away from his office building. Every morning he bought flowers from there for his office desk and then had a cutting chai from a tapri (tea stall) just next to the shop. He used to love smelling the aroma of the tea leaves and ginger boiling in the milk; so much so that this little morning trip of his became a daily ritual for him.
One day when he got off the cab and as he started walking towards his society complex, he came across a very nostalgic smell – the smell of freshly fried onion fritters (pakodas/bhajji). To Ravi, they smelled exactly like the ones that his mother made every year at the beginning of the monsoon season. He says that the smell of wet soil after the first rain and the smell of his mother’s hot fried onion fritters (bhajjis) is what he feels his childhood smelled like. Ravi has this philosophy that there are certain smells that are so nostalgic that with them, they bring a bag full of memories. Memories of a place and time where you yearn to be. Smells have the magic of teleporting you to those places. And, that weekend, when he smelled the onion fritters, he immediately bought some for him and his wife. But as soon as he reached home, he started having splitting headaches. His wife suggested that he should take a painkiller and go to sleep. He had a lazy weekend.
The next Monday morning, he went to work and followed is routine. Ravi stopped at the flower shop. But when he entered the shop, the sweet smell of the flowers did not hit his nose as it usually did. He went to the tapri but he couldn’t smell the ginger that he always did. Thinking he just had a blocked nose, he walked to his office. Later during the day, his nose started bleeding. Never had he thought that there would come a day when he won’t be able to smell at all.
Subsequently, a day came, with the news from his doctor that he had one specific type of Head & Neck cancer. Ravi talks in detail about the tests that he went through during his diagnosis; first was a Nasoscopy – a thin, tube-like instrument with a light and a lens for viewing was inserted through his nose. The same nose which used to smell the sweet flowers and delicious food, was smelling the metallic tool being inserted to remove a few tissue samples which were later sent to be checked for signs of cancer.
Ravi later went through upper endoscopy; it was a procedure to look at the inside of Ravi’s nose, throat, esophagus, stomach and first part of the small intestine near the stomach called duodenum. In this procedure, the same kind of instrument which was used in Nasoscopy was used. These tests confirmed that Ravi indeed had nasopharyngeal cancer. After the tests, Ravi couldn’t smell properly for a week. He reveals that the week after the tests was no less than a nightmare for him. Being someone who was so sensitive to smells, it felt weird for him to not smell anything at all. He kept thinking to himself, what if he lost the ability to smell forever?
When his sense of smell somewhat returned, he was in the hospital. He couldn’t stand that typical smell of hospitals; the smell of the white hospital tiles cleaned with disinfectants and, the smell of medicines. In the hospital, the doctor informed Ravi that he had Stage II cancer, which was removed by surgery and he was later given radiation therapy to get rid of any cancer cells which might have remained even after the surgery. His doctor explained to him all the side effects that he may face after the radiation therapy, some of them short-term and some long-term side effects.
One of which was changes in his sense of smell. The doctor even told him that he might not be able to get his original sense of smell back. Ravi was in shock, he saw his dreams after the early retirement crashing in front of his eyes. His philosophy played in his head on a loop, he could no longer be teleported through smells. During his treatment, Ravi lost his sense of smell completely. He tried olfactory training in hopes of improving his sense of smell, he experimented with all sorts of essential oils like rose, lemon, clove, eucalyptus. But all his tries were a fail.
Ravi had finally given up on his dreams of opening a flower shop after his retirement. One day as he was reading the newspaper in his living room, he asked his wife, “You’re making onion pakodas today?”. His wife came out confused and asked, “I didn’t tell you I was going to make them. How did you find out?”. Ravi realized what had just happened. For the first time in the last 6 months, he was able to smell and recognize something. Both were overwhelmed with joy, Ravi called his sons and his doctor to tell them about this news. The doctor was happy but also informed him that there is a possibility that Ravi might not completely regain his ability to smell. Ravi was still grateful. He thought to himself that at least he can still smell and he had survived this life-threatening disease. Today, Ravi has retired and is living a cancer-free life with his life-partner. He hasn’t opened up his flower shop as he’s still transitioning to his cancer-free life but he assures me that he is soon going to open it.
Now, time for a message with Ravi: “Sometimes we take the simpler things in life for granted. Simpler things like the smell of wet soil after rain, the sweet smell of flowers and even the aroma of a hot cardamom and ginger tea. But we must not forget that there might be someone out there who is desperate to be able to experience these simpler things. My message to everyone is simple, live life fully and slowly. Experience the beauty of the simple things. Apart from this, I am also grateful to my health care team at Sunrise Oncology Center who always took great care of me and helped me regain my lost sense of smell. Thank you.
From a Head and Cancer survivor and future florist.”