Nicotine on the brain

My scent is driving me crazy. I smoked my last cigarette in January 2004. That’s five years plus, 62 months exactly. I have avoided smoking environments and pray that I am never tempted to take another drag on a fag. But for the past week, I have been distracted by a persistent scent of concentrated tobacco smoke — the kind that gets absorbed into nasal mucus when you’ve been smoking despite a head cold. This persists throughout the day, at my work desk, at home at the dinner table, on the Metro, everywhere. I have tried spritzing them with saline nasal spray and rinsing them out with salt water and a neti pot. To no good. The odor of nicotine tar lingers in my nostrils.

Back in my days in freelance journalism in Peru, I used to chain smoke while working on deadline. For years, my brand was a nasty Peruvian brand that stained my mustache orange. I later switched to imported Benson & Hedges, but I doubt that it was any better for my health. My office had the door opened onto a open-air stairway landing. Caffeine, nicotine and adrenaline were my antidote to stress. And there were days when I literally overdosed on nicotine. My sinuses could not take any more abuse and would erupt in mucus, purging the poison from my nasal passages. Almost always, I’d develop a bad head cold.

My current phantom scent reminds me of those bouts of nicotine abuse. I shutter at the memory. As I’ve mentioned before, for several years I had my left maxillary sinus (think cheekbone) was completely obstructed and densely packed with mucus, and have had multiple rounds of antibiotics to fight an infection. Although the inflammation abated, I don’t know if the sinus ever cleared up because there was never a CT scan after treatment.

My educated guess now is that somehow the sinus has loosened up and old mucus from my smoking days is exposed to my scent glands. I am trying to give a rational explanation by identifying where the scent could come from. Another option is that my brain is playing a trick on me and there is no nicotine anywhere in reach of my olfactory system.