Monday, August 28

The Nose Knows

Please be forewarned. I am about to talk about bodily functions. IF you have a problem with having bodily functions discussed, as though they should be kept in secret, please skip ahead.

My name is Kathryn and I have a gift. Like most superheroes, I didn’t know I had a gift until someone pointed out that it was something that most people didn’t have. Now, it’s not the most impressive of powers and I could have a hard time being certified at superhero school. I can’t fly or shoot fire from my eyes or have webs spout forth from my wrists, but my gift, if utilized properly, is a powerful one.

I have an uncanny sense of smell. Always have. I also associate taste with smell, which apparently is pretty rare according to an article in the New York Times a few months ago. For example, if I taste something I might say ‘Oh, this tastes like honeysuckle smells’, or something like that. I have always been able to smell wines and perfumes and analyze the different layers of scents, tastes and extracts with astounding accuracy. I don’t know where I got it from; it’s just always been like that. This is not something that many people would be jealous of, and it’s nothing that I have ever imagined could be used for the betterment of mankind. Until recently.

I was on an airplane somewhere over the Atlantic. It was mid-flight. The meal had been served, the first movie was underway. I had to go to the bathroom. I took my place in line and began to wait. Finally, a middle aged man emerged from the bathroom. We nodded in that friendly, almost apologetic way people do when they know you have to use the airplane toilet after them, and, like a gentleman, he held the door for me. I stepped into the airborne porta-potty, shut and locked the door, and as the automatic fluorescent light flickered on, I was hit by an odor that was very familiar.

I SMELLED MY ARCH-NEMESIS, DIABETES! It was lurking in that bathroom. I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that the sweet man who held the door for me had “sweet blood.”

(This is the part I warned you about at the beginning. Do you know how your urine smells after you have had asparagus?? If you don’t, let me tell you, it STINKS! If you are diabetic and your condition is unmanaged, your urine has a very distinct odor to it. It is from all of the excess sugar your body is not processing that spills over into your urine. I have always been able to tell whether or not my blood sugar was high by the smell of my pee and I am always right.)

I smelled the smell now. I had a mixture of reactions here. My first reaction was one of disgust that I had to smell someone else’s pee. As I overcame the first reaction, I was filled with a weird excitement that I could actually “smell” a disease in other people and not just myself. I mean, there has to be a market for that, like a drug dog, only different! And my third and final reaction was, "What should I do now that I was armed with this powerful tidbit of information?"
My initial impulse was to find the man and calmly let him know that I thought he could be a diabetic, but I had a hard time imagining how that conversation might go.

“Hi, excuse me sir, I’m not sure if you remember me, but I’m the girl from the restroom up by first class who was waiting when you came out the door…Oh, good, you do remember me…Well, I just wanted to let you know…What’s that? This is your wife? Hi, it’s nice to meet you… Yes, I used the restroom after your husband a few minutes ago.”

(At this point the wife is probably wondering what exactly her husband was doing in the bathroom and the husband is wondering who in the heck I am and why I have come to find him.)

“I know this may be awkward, but I was just curious to know whether or not you had discussed with your physician whether or not you could be diabetic…Excuse me? No, no sir, I am not a psychic, although I can see where you might have come to that conclusion. I am simply an olfactory technician (every superhero has to have a cover) and I noticed that you left behind an odor in the restroom that is consistent with that of high blood sugar. So, I think you need to get this under control and consult with your doctor to figure out a plan that is right for you. Now, enjoy the rest of your flight.”

I know that was a bit sarcastic and far fetched, but SERIOUSLY, what would you say??? I did feel some sort of responsibility. I mean, I had been given this gift and I didn’t want to let mankind down. What would Spiderman do? I think he would march right back there and find that man and let him know that he could have a serious health problem.

I went back to my seat and considered informing my husband of my plan, but I knew instinctively that he did NOT think that was what Spiderman would do. He probably thought Spiderman would come and sit back down and respect the man’s privacy. He probably would have had the same response when asked what would Wonderwoman do, what would Aquaman do, what would the Wondertwins do, what would Superman do, etc, until I ran out of all of the superheroes names I could remember.

Feeling somewhat defeated and a little guilty, I thought to myself, “What would GI Joe do? GI Joe always says that knowing is half the battle. This man deserves to KNOW.” At this point I had informed my husband of the ‘I smell diabetic people’ situation and he pretty much knew I was going to do what I wanted to do and there was little he could say to dissuade me. I think he had decided that he would just act like he didn’t know me and meet me on the other side of immigration once we landed.

The truth is, the longer I sat there, the more chicken I became. The thought of what to say in a good, diplomatic way eluded me. In the long run, I said nothing. I don’t know if that was the right or the wrong thing to do, but it was certainly the most comfortable thing to do and superheroes rarely do what is most comfortable for themselves, but rather what is ultimately best for mankind.

So, I suppose in truth, I am not a superhero after all. I’m just a diabetic girl with a really good sense of smell who wanted to help a man on an airplane who was a lot like me.

I guess that makes me human.


Johnboy said...

What an interesting and graphically depicted predicament!

Honestly, I probably would have had the same agnst about it and woud also have chickened out too.

I personally prefer the smell of pee after the body has filtered through 4 cups of strong coffee! ;)


Lori Rode said...

What a great story. I'd have probably chickened out too. Did you ever think that maybe he does know that he has diabetes? That maybe he's just way out of control. I'm so glad you posted again. I love to read your writing.

Michko said...

I love the I smell diabetic people problem comment. I literally laughed out loud.

BTW...I most likely would have chickened out too. Because I would have started thinking, what if he DOES know he's diabetic. What do you say then?

susan hill said...

there you are! my super hero, beautiful diabetic friend that i love so much! your words are provoking and even if it did bring up memories of flying recently to Rwanda and the porta potty on Rwandair Express smelled like an outhouse! Stay tuned for highlights of our trip on

frequent friend

NANC said...

Hey there!! Very interesting! I really need to talk to ya!! I have been wondering about the smell! I have a good smell and I sometimes can smell my urine! You know my problems so anyway if you get this call me if not I will talk to ya later this morning!!!!

Julia Ann said...

Kathryn, I am interested in your uncanny sense of smell. I also have often thought that I smell things other people don't smell. My youngest daughter has absolutely no sense of smell at all, so it is a bit strange that we are so different.

I'm an american living in Norway, in Oslo, at the present time. I found your site first through the website. I have been trying to find out if there is a Weight Watchers group in Norway, but haven't been very successful.

I would be interested to hear from you.

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