Sunday morning, and I’m just pottering around the house, doing a bit of this and a bit of that, and I suddenly think, ‘What’s that smell?’ (I have a notoriously bad sense of smell so for me to even be aware of an odd smell is worth blogging about.)
I do a couple of circuits of the house, popping my head into each room, opening up the cupboards and drawers, sniffing at the air all around (followed closely by three curious little dogs . . . ‘What IS she doing’ . . . ), but nothing seems out of the ordinary, nothing out of place. What is it? Where the hell is that smell coming from? It smells like something . . . burning. And then it comes to me. It smells like burnt toast.
But why would I be smelling burnt toast? It can’t be coming from my house, I haven’t made toast. (In fact, I couldn’t even tell you the last time I made toast.) But that is definitely what I am smelling. If next-door’s breakfast had caught fire would I be smelling it all the way over here? And why is smelling burnt toast bothering me so much anyway? Is it a ‘thing’? I think it’s a ‘thing’. I’m sure I have read something weird about smelling burnt toast, but for the life of me I can’t remember what it is.
So I ‘google’ it. Big mistake . . .
. . . Phantom smells, like burnt toast and burning hair, can be a sign of a stroke, but they can also be a sign of other conditions. Though it’s possible that people will detect phantom smells for no reason, smelling them is often due to a neurological issue. Mayo Clinic refers to this phenomenon as phantosmia, or olfactory hallucinations. The odors that are detected will vary by individual, but typically they are unpleasant and described as being chemical-like or burning. In addition to stroke, people will often experience phantosmia as a symptom of other conditions including head injury, brain tumors, epilepsy and Alzheimers . . .
Sigh. So—it is a ‘thing’ . . .
Well, it can’t be a stroke, I don’t have any other symptoms—and I am ruling out Alzheimers (at least for the time being), so it’s probably a tumor . . .
Fortunately, before I could start googling ‘tumors’, the phone rang and I had a very long and pleasant chat with a friend, and by the time I hung up I could no longer smell burning toast (the neighbours must have cleared away their incinerated breakfast) and I had forgotten I was suffering from an almost-tumor.
Now, in spite of what I have just written, I actually don’t spend an inordinate amount of time worrying about my health. I do all the things I am supposed to do. I try to eat just-about-right and exercise almost-regularly, and get 7-8 hours of sleep a night (when the universe lets me).
When I turned 50 our local medical centre offered free ‘fully body’ checkups for those over that age so I went along and was duly poked and prodded and pinched and weighed and had all the requisite blood tests done, and (apart from the doctor looking a mite horrified when I told him the last blood tests I had were around 25 years ago when I was in the Army) all my results came back ‘plumb normal’. I have continued to get my yearly checkups and so far so good.
So, given there is absolutely no evidence that I have anything whatsoever to be concerned about, it is interesting to me how, with only a couple of possible options (‘somewhere there is toast on fire’ versus ‘you have a tumor’) I, if even only for a few seconds, imagined the worst.
How many other people out there also ‘research’ their symptoms (real or imagined), diagnose themselves, and then worry themselves sick (sicker?) about a condition they are convinced they have, but still don’t go to a doctor to have their fears checked out? The stats I saw stated that almost 80 percent of women scan wellness and medical sites online, and around 60 percent of the searches are done specifically to diagnose a medical condition.
(Interestingly, the stats didn’t note how often men search these sites. My dad, a bone-fide hypochondriac all his long life, would have, for a certainty, been on every online medical site he could find.)
Apparently women visit the doctor an average of 3 times a year but spend around 52 hours online searching for answers. Psychologists have given this on-line obsessing over real and imagined symptoms a name: cyberchondria. (Dad would also have insisted that ‘cyberchondria’ was the one disease he didn’t have.)
Anyway, I am certainly not suggesting that researching medical information on the internet is an altogether bad thing. There is some very useful information out there—although I admit, I usually research my dogs’ health issues rather than my own. (When Maudie recently had 8 (no, that is not a typo, eight) teeth out (poor baby!) I googled to find out how many teeth dogs normally have (42, in case you were wondering) and was relieved to find out that she still had plenty left to work with and wasn’t going to have to gum her food to death just yet.)
I am just saying it is probably a good idea to get a proper medical opinion (whether it be a doctor or a vet) before you go diving into the internet and become severely freaked out by all the often confusing, overwhelming and often panic-producing information (and mis-information) out there. Save the internet for follow-up information and support for after you get an official diagnosis. After my short-lived internet-induced medical emergency, I am going to endeavour to do the same.
I am also pleased to note that I am not the only one who didn’t know that smelling burnt toast was ‘a thing’. I came across a James May twitter feed (mid 2015) which I thought I’d share . . .
Doctors etc: I there something wrong with me if I keep thinking I can smell toast?
Twitter responded the only way Twitter can, with a huge amount of replies—most of them along the lines of the ‘stroke/tumor’ information. Way to calm a guy down, people.
An hour or so later James replied . . .
I have located the toast smell. And I’m glad. I didn’t know about the stroke connection. You’ve all scared the shit out of me . . . To celebrate not having a stroke, I went to the hotel breakfast room to make toast . . . and set the toaster on fire. It’s a sign.