I’ve been mistaken before


Have you ever read the book The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat? Written in 1985 by neurologist Oliver Sacks, it describes some of the unusual brain disorders Dr. Sacks observed in his clinical practice.

Like many of you, at night I like to read myself a bedtime story before I go to sleep, and one night a few years ago, this was my chosen storybook. Right before I fell asleep, I read the chapter “The Dog Beneath the Skin,” a description of a medical student who takes a large amount of drugs and wakes up with a dog-like sense of smell. For a limited time, he can distinguish people just by smell and is overwhelmed by the multitude of odors around him.

Later that night, I woke up from a deep sleep because of my sheets. They had that fresh, crisp smell laundry has when you hang it outside on a clothesline. After burying my face in the delicious scent of the pillowcase, I fell back asleep. When I woke up, the smell was gone.

We didn’t have a dryer then, so I hung our clothes out to dry on the balcony. But I had laundered the sheets earlier in the week. They had a mid-week smell, nothing more.

I’ve never been able to figure out what happened. Was it the power of suggestion, a dream, or was my brain running some tests on my olfactory nerve and accidently woke me up?

Why did I think of Sacks’ book this morning? Winter showed up yesterday with lots of snow, and my husband just woke up and mistook me for the weather: gray and gloomy.

The Man Who Mistook His Wife for the Weather

7 thoughts on “I’ve been mistaken before

  1. I am thinking of writing a book titled “The woman who mistook her husband for someone who actually gives a damn, about what color the bathroom is!” Too long you think? Maybe i’ll just cut out the color of the bathroom part!! lol (please don’t tell her I said that) (any of it)
    Super Post.

  2. Nice commentary on Oliver Sacks– he’s one of my favorite writers and neuroscientists!

    Your post made me wonder– olfactory memory is supposed to be the strongest of all forms of memory, right? Maybe your subconscious mind has a specific pleasant association to the smell of clean linens?

    OH! And I love the caption at the bottom. It’s a great and unexpected punch line to a lovely post.

      • That olfactory image of waking slightly and smelling fresh linens was such a powerful piece of writing on your part, that I’ve been thinking about it since I read it yesterday. So poetic and singular. V. nice!

        Once again, your talent for juxtaposition is stunning!

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