Eau de malodor; the perfume of pain.

Camphor (800x779)I smell like Bengay.

It’s the beginning of spring. I’m surrounded by sprouting blades of dewy, green grass, by fragrant hyacinth bulbs pulsating with their heady, honeyed perfume, by the woody, pulpy scent of sharp, cedar mulch, and by sweet petrichor—the scent of rain on dry earth. And what is it that fills my nose?

Muscle rub.

I am a mass of layer upon layer of analgesic heat ointment. Even after a shower, when I have loofahed and sandblasted down to the last stratum of penetrable dermis, I still emit the stench of crushed wintergreen. I am a walking tube of methyl salicylate, menthol and camphor. I tried to switch to “odorless,” but I’m convinced it has no effect. Therefore, I am stuck. I am odorfull.

Yes, I realize that’s not an actual word, but it is the exact description of my current cologne.

Even all of my food is beginning to taste like sports cream. The aroma molecules are circling around my body, and realizing that there isn’t enough room to hold all of them on my person, free falling and landing on anything that comes in close proximity. Like a banana I try to eat for breakfast, or the halibut I have for dinner. Believe me, I doubt you’ll ever find Fish sautéed in a pungent pool of peppermint oil, drizzled with a camphoric glaze and finished with a dusting of crushed and cooling antacids on any restaurant menu. Yum? No thanks.Halibut (800x559)

My flavor profiles have slimmed to nearly nothing and my sense of smell has given up the ghost, realizing that what lies ahead is simply a further assault on the delicate workings of the olfactory system.

If I could just get my muscles to cooperate, life could get back to normal.

–        I could smell spring

–        I could taste food

–        I could sleep comfortably

Currently, I’m giving up the first two in hopes that the third will return.

There was a time when I used to be able to sleep twisted like a badly made pretzel on the hard, rumbling floor of a bus for seventeen hours straight, or be thrown in the air by two pairs of hands and carelessly caught on the way back down by one and an elbow to break my fall, or get pitched off a spirited horse onto parched, cracked and unforgiving dirt, and then get up, dust off and move on without a glance backward.Horse (800x510)

Now, I merely see another human bump into a coffee table, hear a person trip up a staircase, or remember a former injury and I’m lining up the salves, the gels, the liniments and balms.

Why is it that merely sleeping crookedly for a small segment of six and one half hours should cause me two weeks of bodily indignation?

Strobist CTO exercise 2

Strobist CTO exercise 2 (Photo credit: Sami Taipale)

I practice yoga, I endure Pilates. I never slouch, and I’ve even stopped bouncing on the trampoline. Don’t I get points for that from the great Muscle gods? Does it count that I no longer bend from the waist? How about the fact that instead of loading up six bags of groceries on two arms and one slung around my neck, I now make three trips back and forth from the car?

I’m just getting used to the routine of seeing my general practitioner once a year, and after watching her wheel in a trolly holding my chart, hearing her say, “We’ve really got to get these things into digital format.” That’s her favorite phrase to make sure I get the picture of how much ink I use up in her office. The second would be, “I’ll add it to the list,” after I announce discomfort, strain or ache in a new area of my body. There’s no, “We’ll now … Let’s see what we can do about that.” There’s simply an understanding that they’re saving all the new magical therapy for a body that is significantly younger, stronger and will respond favorably statistic-wise in the trial.

I get handed a generic version of Icy Hot.

And when do I start qualifying for super discounts on the jumbo-sized bottles of acetaminophen and ibuprofen I purchase at the drug store?Stairs (800x550)Shouldn’t there be a sales receipt that pops out for the cashier identifying me as a serious, long-term customer who should be rewarded with loyalty points? Instead, I get a once over from the pharmacist behind the counter who mentions I’m beginning to look a little pale lately and maybe I should go in for a stool sample to make sure I’m not bleeding internally from growing too Motrin happy.


I would give my left lung for just one day when I could reach for my teacup or itch my nose and not come out of the movement with a slight sprain. Is it too much to ask for? It makes me sad with the realization that for quite some time, whenever I find myself blowing out candles, throwing a coin in a fountain, or wishing on a shooting star, the request is all the same: Let tomorrow be the day that I hear an anchorman broadcast that science has discovered a new plant that, when taken in pill form once a day, will make us all feel like we’re living inside the body of a healthy eighteen-year old. Oh, and how about the fact that it tastes like chocolate?

Take the blue pill...

Take the blue pill… (Photo credit: Smallbrainfield)

That would be a total day maker.

Until then, I have to stop wrestling with the dog in order to keep healthy whatever muscle groups are still functioning, sleep with no pillow to encourage spine, neck and head alignment, and increase my daily intake of single malt scotch, which I assure you is for medicinal purposes only.

Last on my list is to either develop a long-lasting fetish for all things related to the mint family, or find some industrial strength perfume. Either way, it’s the dawn of a new era. Or odor.


Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery (here) and what we all talked about down in the pub (here). And to see more of Robin Gott’s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone–click here.

36 thoughts on “Eau de malodor; the perfume of pain.

  1. I thought this post was well written, funny, and slightly melancholy. The intro was lovely. I enjoyed the descriptions of the smells you encountered.

    “Fish sautéed in a pungent pool of peppermint oil, drizzled with a camphoric glaze and finished with a dusting of crushed and cooling antacids on any restaurant menu. Yum? No thanks.” This was surprisingly well crafted, as long sentences/analogies can be botched. This was well done.

    “There was a time when I used to be able to sleep twisted like a badly made pretzel on the hard, rumbling floor of a bus for seventeen hours straight…” I was amazed by your bodily resilience here. I also enjoyed the color illustrations of the bus ride, and the like.

    I sympathized with you on you doctor’s visit (paragraph 12?)

    I was annoyed at the pharmacist who made a dig for your Motrin use.

    Overall, I was entertained and taken on a little emotion trek. I read the whole piece, and concluded a third of the way through that you are a good writer.

    I hope this helps!

    • Truly a considerate and thoughtful review of my work, and I thank you for your charitable words.
      Although limited in literary caliber, it is a simple, comfortable style I refer to as ‘the mad musings of a mountain housewife.’
      Many thanks for reading and for your gentle analysis.

  2. Smelley,

    You know, there are other options for natural pain free days. You could always consider planting some “herbs” in your garden (you do live on the top of a large mountian, in what I’d consider quite private landscape). This would be, of course, for madicinal use only. I hear that it drastically reduces most pain for the day and is less harmful than most man made remedies.

    As other states have recently legalized it, soon too shall other states follow suit and realize the benefits; both medical and financial for the state’s tax growth.

    Or, you could do as I do… work out with weights and run until other extremities of your body hurt worse you have forgotten about your original pain.

    Regardless, heal quickly and I hope you find that serenity circle soon you’ve misplaced.

    Stoshu 🙂

    • “Natural” mother earth meds for pain free days or rough up every part of body until it screams obscenities about the unkindness I’ve just heaped on it. Those are my options? This is a riddle, surely. Such a zen master, buddy. lol.

  3. Am totally with you on this ! I’ve forgotten the day I woke up without an ache in my body . However I’m shattered by ‘petrichor’. Hearing this word for the first time and it has taken away all the romance from the fragrance of the rains on dry earth. I’m thinking of suing the person who dared coin this term 🙂

    • You are so right. Petrichor is an awful term. There’s no romance in the sound. Way too clinical. It should be something like cloudburst cologne or earth essence or mist balm. Something round and soft to describe the scent. I say we petition Merriam Webster and ask for it to be struck. 🙂

  4. Now that I am back from my trip I am able to devote some time to chasing up new commenters on my blog, and I have to thank you for taking the time. This was a glorious post! What a good combination of laughs and honesty! I had a few very long journeys while I was away – including a 30 hour train journey – and I certainly felt that it wasn’t as easy as when I was a teenager, on my gap year, able to sleep standing up in a corridor.

    • Ugh, what I wouldn’t give today for just a simple gap afternoon. Even if it meant all I could do was sleep standing up in a corridor, I would appreciate it for simply a few moments to close my eyes. Yeah, I probably shouldn’t be answering comments being sleep deprived, right? 😉
      Glad you’re back safe and sound!

  5. Very amusing and good writing!! I only wish I understood some of it in theory…recovering from a serious rotator cuff problem…which I think I got sleeping wrong!! Being ‘no pain no pain’ person I find this totally uncalled for!! One thing I have learned is that ice is your friend!! I sure hope that your muscles (and mine) will cooperate so we can enjoy this gorgeous spring!!

    • Thank you for the lovely compliment, Judy. And I’m right there with you as far as the biological befuddlement goes. I’m truly gobsmacked that I can do more damage to my body by taking a nap than by wrestling with a few bull-headed rams. Go figure. And I know what goes really well with your new friend “ice”: an old friend “whisky.” 😉 Stay well!

      • Plop plop fiz fiz…oops…I mean clink splash!! Some forms of self medication are better than others!! Humor being the best medicine…this article helped me laugh a little at the injustice of it all!!

  6. Hooray Shelley!! So glad to see you Freshly Pressed! Congratulations! You’re writing is always fresh and wonderful to read. I feel as though I’ve stumbled into a friendly place full of people I know and love when I read your writing. So glad more people will get to see how fun you are! I’m right there with you on the aches and pains. I ask for one day a week of no need for the anti-inflammatories and heat or ice pack. Feel better soon!

    • Oh, Kami, what a lovely thing to say. Many thanks for your continued interest and support. I DO hope you feel part of my mad mountain menagerie. This cast of characters, whether bloated and baa-ing, moody and grousing, or aghast at how we’ve allowed our kingdom to fall into such a state of disgrace and peril, leave me with ample material. Thankfully, they also take my mind off of the common gripes from uncooperative muscles. No rest for the weary, much to do for the wicked. Cheers! 😉

    • Thank you, thank you! Yes, I’m truly tickled as well. I hope I shall carry the mantle of quality this badge suggests, and continue to lighten your day with a slice of my loopy life. Many thanks for reading! 🙂

  7. As someone who has been seeing my chiropractor twice a week for the past month (I can’t remember the last time I wasn’t hobbling around like an old woman), I totally relate. Thank you for the giggle!

  8. I feel your pain – literally! My neck has been hurting all day… although I suppose that’s little compared with what you deal with! I hope you get better 😉

    • I’m guessing the crook in your neck is from all the arduous labor bending over books and inhaling glorious scents, right? Study hard, buddy. You may be our next Luca Turin! 😉 And thank you for your sweet thoughts.

  9. While I hardly ever drink more than a glass of wine with dinner – I am in constant fear for my liver due to the daily dose of ibuprofen I take at bed time. If it’s not my neck, its my legs, or my back. I’m only barely into my 40s! This sort of thing isn’t supposed to happen until you are really old, right? Thanks for this funny and personal post – it is nice to know I am not alone! And congrats on being FP’d!

    • YES! I feel the same way, Jill. I have tried so many alternative methods for pain relief. Everything from snake oils to shoe magnets. I’m thinking about erecting a large crystal pyramid to store beneath my bed. Heck, I’d even sleep on the pyramid if it would offer a respite. I suppose it’s one of those things (in my case) one must deal with as a result of a reckless youth. Too many nose dives from the hay loft into piles of less forgiving substances. Ah well. Pop the cork and pour a glass. Liver be damned. 😉
      And congrats yourself!

  10. Smeely,

    Surely, you must consider posting a blog twice a week as you’ve made me a blog junkie… well, at least yours. I do not read the news papers (so depressing), The New Yorker is a nice counter balance to Saveur culinary magazine or the French Cuisine Actuelle magazine.

    I think I may need to seek rehab if I don’t get any more than once per week… even my children are beginning to think Dad should lay off chatting about what he just read for the thrid time. I guess Calvin and Hobes is still good enough for them.

    P.S. Je ne savais pas que vous aviez un emploi. Dans une cave à vin? Bon pour vous!

    Tous les meilleurs,


  11. I’m so in agreement with your feelings about chronic pain. I ruptured a disc and needed back surgery to save the nerves to my leg. 18 months solid on acetaminophen and ibuprofen (and narcotics, too, at night). When I started to try to get off of the constant pills, I noticed my pain wasn’t just in my back or leg, it was all over — ankles, hips, muscles, joints. Acupuncture and massage both help, but how often can one afford to pay for those? Then my massage therapist described foam rollers working out the soreness she was having. I felt like I’d tried everything else, why not? I ordered some from Amazon, and it actually has started to lessen my pain. I’m less stiff, less sore and more able to tolerate sitting down, walking, gardening, etc. If you find massage helps, this is basically a method to do self-massage, so maybe it would help you, too.

    • It’s rather an amazing (and really sad) thing to realize just how many of us are out there, isn’t it? And even though misery loves company, I bet most folks would agree they wouldn’t want others to have to bear chronic pain. Occasional pain, perhaps, when you point your magic wand at them for being cruel to you and leaving dirty dishes in the sink, but probably not the unremitting sort.
      I certainly hope the rollers continue to work for you. I like the idea so much, I’m going to see if I can get our family’s handyman to make me a bed out of them. I’ll let you know how they fare.
      Thanks for reading! 🙂

      • My pleasure! You could have been describing me for the last two years. I went cold turkey on NSAIDs (pills) and it’s been a hard road ever since. I hope you find relief!

  12. As a world traveler, I totally relate with the “I used to sleep crooked anywhere but now I ache like crazy” syndrome. I try hard to maintain my flexibility and not become set in my ways (and not get too attached to the comforts of home). But I am slowing down a little, and since I’m not a dirt-poor college kid, I can afford at least a few travel luxuries. Maybe next time I travel I should get myself some Ben-Gay! Thanks for the laughs! 😀

  13. So funny, but sooo true. Yes, there are a lot of us out there! Have had fibromyalgia for 13 years and yet I try to keep my muscles fit and it is a painful endeavour. Thanks for the smiles.

    • Yes, I suppose those of us with chronic pain learn the very valuable lesson of incredible gratitude for days when our bodies are eerily quiet. When those days appear, I celebrate. Usually with a five mile run, a marathon yoga class and half an hour on the trampoline. Then it’s back to business as usual. Thanks for reading!

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