Well-known Sask. chef raises alarm after temporarily losing sense of taste, smell after COVID-19

·2 min read

Chef Jenni Lessard wants everyone to know that COVID-19 is nothing to joke about.

The former executive chef at Saskatoon's Wanuskewin Heritage Park woke up with swollen red eyes and a tickle in her throat on New Year's Day.

After that, things started to go downhill.

"Over the course of a few days, the symptoms got progressively worse and there were more of them," she said.

"I was thinking I was positive because the day before the test and then continuing on from that I had lost all smell and taste."

As a chef, Lessard depends on her taste and smell considerably more than the average person.

"It was terrifying," she said.

"I found myself making little bargains like, 'OK, if I can get my taste and smell back, I wouldn't mind if I had this other symptom.'"

While she could breathe through her nose, she had a lot of difficulty picking up subtleties in flavours.

"I could pick up an onion and take a bite of it and it could have been an apple," she said.

"I couldn't smell my shampoo in the shower. If the house was on fire, I wouldn't be able to smell the smoke. It was just really, really difficult."

To make things worse, Lessard ended up in hospital for several days after she started to get chest pain and shortness of breath.

"We went to the ER. You go in and you have to kind of yell, 'I'm COVID positive,' which is a fun experience," she said.

"And they put me right in the room, did a chest X-ray right in the room and saw the start of a bit of pneumonia and got me some treatment."

Three weeks after her first symptoms, Lessard is feeling better, but estimates her taste and smell has only returned by 75 per cent.

I've had a spinal tumour and I've been barbed by a stingray and I've had two kids. So I know a little bit about pain. But this was brutal. - Jessi Lessard

"There are a lot of people that don't seem to get their taste and smell back for a few months," she said.

"And if they do, it can almost be really distorted. So citrus might smell like diesel, and that would not be a good combination for a chef."

Lessard has no idea how she contracted COVID-19, as no one in her regular circle has tested positive.

She said people should keep on following social distancing rules to avoid getting her symptoms.

"This was definitely the sickest I've been," she said.

"And I've had a spinal tumour and I've been barbed by a stingray and I've had two kids. So I know a little bit about pain. But this was brutal."