A Sense of the Senses
There is a single-sensory experience coming our way in a few days that has received international attention. It is an experience that is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
It is the total solar eclipse.
By the time you read this, it may be over; you will likely have already viewed it.
You looked at it with your eyes, hopefully with the recommended glasses. You will likely never forget it. Your visual memory of this spectacular event will last until the day you die.
All because you saw it with your own eyes.
Your eyes, your windows to the world.
“If I could have chosen to be blind or deaf, I would have chosen to be blind, because if you are deaf, you are cut off from everyone else.” Jeanne, author’s aunt, who was blinded at age 18 months in 1935 due to retinal blastoma—cancer of the retina.
“If you had to choose between being blind and being deaf, which would you choose?” Author’s recollection of fourth-grade girls questions between each other.
I remember choosing deafness. Vision, to a 10 year-old girl, seemed to be of paramount importance among the senses.
Brad, the author’s brother-in-law, disagrees. Brad has been profoundly hearing-impaired since he was two when he was apparently deafened after a severe illness. He compensates by reading lips, and staying in the game. He doesn’t miss out on any family or social interactions. He doesn’t let his hearing impairment keep him out of the game of life. It is as if he has no handicap at all.
Most of us are fortunate to have all of our five senses intact. We may wear glasses; there is a smaller chance that we may wear hearing aids. Total blindness like with Jeanne, and almost-total deafness, as with Brad, is extremely rare. Our sight and hearing likely serve our needs; they are both functional.
An even more remote possibility is that our sense of smell is impaired, or absent. (Known as anosmia.) Among those who struggle with this loss, many report a sense of depression at the loss of the sense of smell. Those of us who can smell—the vast majority—don’t realize how important the sense smell is to one’s quality of life.
Most of us have experienced a temporary loss of smell due to a cold or sinus infections. Permanent loss of smell is typically caused by certain medications, diseases such as Parkinson’s Disease, Multiple Sclerosis and hormonal disturbances, head trauma, cocaine use, nasal polyps, head/neck radiation, and old age.
A loss of smell not attributed to a cold or other temporary condition warrants a medical examination.
Our skin is the largest organ of our body. Essentially, it is the container for our bodies. Its receptors provide us with the sense of touch. We can tell the difference between hot and cold, rough and smooth; deep and light pressure. Multiple medically-based research projects have established the need for human touch in order to flourish as humans. Its healing powers are not to be taken lightly.
When our skin is burned by the sun or other means, when it is cut or scraped or otherwise injured, the sense of touch can be a liability if it causes pain. This pain, however, is an alerting system to let us know our bodies may be in danger.
Taking care of our skin is likely something we don’t think about much. However, the basics are most important here:
- Use sunscreen when out in the sun.
- Keep lotion on your skin if it appears dry, especially in the winter.
- Drink plenty of water, it makes the difference between healthy skin, and dry, irritated skin.
- Be aware of any changes in a wart, mole or sore, or note the appearance of new ones. Get regular checkups from a dermatologist, or have your provider examine your skin regularly.
When our sense of smell is affected, our sense of taste likely is too, as they are closely related. When this sense returns to normal, we realize what a gift it is.
Eating delicious food is a great pleasure of life. For many older people, this gift is the last remaining pleasure when most other abilities are affected. As we age, the taste buds tend to decline in their strength, with the sweet taste bud persisting long after the others have dulled their ability to taste.
This explains why many older people will eat primarily sweets, and little else. If you are a caregiver for such a loved one, a trick to enhance their other food is to simply sprinkle a bit of sugar over their plate, given they are not diabetic, or otherwise averse to sugar.
People with swallowing problems often require their food to be pureed into a smooth texture. This alteration requires that liquid is added to blend the solids, which may change the taste a bit, but mostly changes the texture. Those of us who eat regular foods don’t realize the great pleasure of texture in what we eat.
In addition, this changes the sight of food, which likely decreases the pleasurable aspect as well.
- The crunch of potato chips.
- The feeling of the small balls of tapioca in our mouths when we eat the pudding.
- Sinking our teeth into a big, juicy steak.
- Crunching an apple.
These pleasures are often taken for granted, but enhance the great pleasure that eating provides us.
Eating slowly, savoring each bite by putting your spoon/fork or sandwich down between bites is sage advice for all of us, as we tend to eat too fast and not enjoy our food as much as we possibly could. The pleasure is there for our taking, if we simply take our time and enjoy it.
We all know the danger in exposing our ears to loud noises. Taking precautions with loud machinery such as a lawnmower or a power saw is important. Ear protection was not always in vogue, nor was it recommended in the last half-century with the advent of power tools and machinery. It certainly is recognized and encouraged now.
If you or your children listen to music through ear buds with a personal listening device, it is important to keep the volume at an acceptable level. This direct onslaught of sound into your ears must be monitored to avoid ear damage.
If you are a parent, your children may need your encouragement to realize this.
When the temperature drops during the total solar eclipse on August 21st, you may feel the drop in temperature on your skin, thus through your sense of touch. Your vision, however, is the primary sense that will allow you to experience this once-in-a-lifetime event.
If you are blessed with good vision, take a moment to offer gratitude for this amazing sense. When everyone is oohing and aahing, your sense of hearing will enhance this experience.
When you eat your next meal, enjoy the smells, the taste and the feel of the food in your mouth.
Our five senses are truly gifts—treat them as such.