The Smell of Bone

Bone dust has a very distinct and instantly recognizable smell.  Especially when it happens to be your own.  It’s a smell nobody would want to grow accustomed to yet it is as familiar to me as grandma’s sugar cookies or my mother’s body lotion.  Needless to say, it does not invoke the same feelings of comfort and home as the aforementioned.

My first surgical experience came at age 18, a remarkably old age for someone born with the bone-decimating juvenile rheumatoid arthritis.  By the time we scheduled the surgery, my knee joint was gone and my leg was permanently locked at a 10 degree angle.  My tib fib had managed to burrow itself up inside my femur like a squirrel preparing for winter.  I’d asked my surgeon  if I could keep the joint so I could put it on my curio shelf with all my other knick knacks.

“That’s not really the way it works,” he laughed, “You’d pretty much end up with a jar of pink dust.”

“Bone dust!” I thought,  “I wonder if it’s anything like pixie dust!”

It’s not.

It was during that first surgery that I learned my lack of chin was more than just an inherited trait from my father’s British ancestors.  My lower jaw, due to the JRA present during my formative years, had failed to form correctly and it was now blocking my airway making intubation all but impossible.

This surgery and the 12 surgeries that would subsequently follow would have to be done under local anesthesia, also known as a spinal.  Essentially I would be paralyzed from the waist down but quite alert from the shoulders up.  My anesthesiologist assured me he could keep me asleep and unaware of what was happening to and around me.  It didn’t work.

I popped awake to the sound of heavy construction; carpentry saws, impact drills, the sound of a sledge hammer against metal.  I started singing “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad.”

“Why are you awake?” the anesthesiologist squealed, crawling back in to his skin.  He turned up the gas and held the mask a little more firmly against my face.

“I just wanted to know what they were doing.  What’s that clanging?  Is that me?  I wanna see!”

“Go to sleep!” he insisted, “Everything’s fine.”

That was when I first smelled it; a mixture of wet chalk, the faint but distinct iron tang of blood, and the smoky scent of flint struck but no fire.  Bone dust.  My bone dust.  At the time the smell was intriguing something new and strangely intimate.  22 years, 7 joint replacements, 2 hardware removals, 2 “orthopedic D and Cs” (for lack of a better term) and a uterine cyst removal later, the smell is not so benign.  It has come to haunt me and not in that Casper-the-Friendly-Ghost kind of way.  No, I’m thinking a more Linda Blair kinda thing here.  It grabs me by the throat, throws me against the walls and yes, frequently results in projectile vomiting.

This fiendish smell snuck in on me today out of nowhere, curling up out of my honey nut cheerios.  Before the smell could take over, I ripped my entire sage plant out by its roots and torched it shouting “DEMON’S OUT!”

And here I sit, hiding in the sweet cleansing cloud of smudge smoke waiting for the malignant spirit to depart.  At least this time I didn’t run Febreeze through my neti pot to abolish the smell.