Super-human Smell

I don’t remember if heightened senses are a symptom of PTSD in the DSM, but it’s back. Walking down the street, I smelled a fire. I looked around for smoke but didn’t see any and continued on. On the way back, the smell of smoke was stronger. It smelled of burning vinyl like in an electrical fire. And it smelled like 9-11. I stopped a passerby and asked if he could smell it. He couldn’t. Pointing to a doorway, I said, “I think it might be coming from there.” He put his nose in the gated entryway and said it smelled like a burnt transmission on a vehicle. I called 911.

The fire trucks came in less than a minute. (San Francisco Fire Department rocks!) After investigating, including breaking through the gate, they didn’t find any fire. The cheif came over, asked me to describe why I thought there was a fire, and said there was a bus on fire in front of this building earlier in the day. I told him I had PTSD and that it smelled strong.

I felt a little embarrassed but not terribly. A woman firefighter came over and said, “It’s good that you called. Better safe than sorry.” There were quite a few women firefighters among the two engines. That was cool.

The scene replays over and over in my head. It was an adrenalin response to something reminiscent of a twelve-year-old tragedy. Though it overwhelms my thoughts, in a way, it’s a lesson on how trauma can equip. What if it were really a live fire and someone was unconscious inside? In such a case, it’s good to have this ability.

On the other hand, being on high alert makes me jump at cars that change lanes, loud engines, and construction noise. I’m afraid of becoming irritable again.

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