The day I tasted 2 types of IV fluids running into my body

I still remember these unusual sensations from my diagnostic hospital stay

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by Shalana Jordan |

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My mouth was dry and my throat burned. It was becoming hard to swallow. I hadn’t been allowed to drink or eat anything for hours because I’d been admitted to the emergency room and was hit with a barrage of tests.

A young and apprehensive nurse came in holding a deep red bag of something. She seemed nervous to tell me that I needed a blood transfusion and that I had to sign a multipage waiver that explained the risks of being given someone else’s blood. She was sweet and looked genuinely concerned (as did much of my medical staff, since I was dying at the time and we had no idea why).

“It’s not like I have a choice, right?” I said. “Hook me up.”

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Her gaze softened, and she smiled. She paused and assessed my arms. I was covered in several dark purple bruises from multiple failed attempts to draw blood and run IVs, so one of my nurses had run four IV sites (two in each arm) for those purposes. She picked one of those sites for this IV.

I found it strange to see the dark red bag hanging from the IV pole. The nurse flushed my IV with a saline solution to make sure it was working. As I felt the cool liquid flow into my arm, I started to taste something. I opened my mouth a couple of times, moistening my tongue in an attempt to identify what I was tasting.

“What’s wrong?” she asked.

“I can taste — I don’t know, it’s almost like I can taste eyedrops,” I said, puzzled. Yes, eyedrops. It’s an odd way to explain what I was feeling, but the saline tasted the way eyedrops smell. I didn’t know any other way to describe it.

She said she’d never seen anyone able to taste their IV fluid before. We both looked at each other and then looked at the bag of blood, wondering if I’d taste that, as well.

After the transfusion began, she waited in the room to see if I’d taste it. Sure enough, notes of metal, iron, and rust swirled in the back of my throat. It was like the least fun wine tasting ever. It nearly made me gag.

“Bleh!” I said, then referred to a popular vampire film series: “The ‘Twilight‘ movies seem way less sexy to me now!”

My nurse let out a laugh so hard that she snorted, then covered her mouth in apologetic shock. We both started laughing after that.

Apparently I could taste blood and saline.

A strange quirk

I was in the hospital for almost two months in 2020 and needed a total of 18 transfusions, making me taste blood 17 more times. I nearly died of my rare disease, eventually identified as atypical hemolytic uremic syndrome (aHUS). One of its worst symptoms is hemolytic anemia, which is the destruction of red blood cells. That’s why I needed so many blood transfusions.

I can’t even remember how many saline flushes I had. Easily dozens, maybe even hundreds.

While certain medicines can create strange tastes, known as dysgeusia, I was surprised to find there’s no medical term for this particular sensation with IV fluids. Many scientists and doctors think it’s a byproduct of smell. We have hundreds of taste buds with thousands of smell receptors. As we smell something, it’s surmised, we feel that we’re tasting it because the two senses are so closely linked. That would explain why I tasted the IV fluids in the back of my throat first.

We sense taste almost every single day of our lives. We taste foods we eat and liquids we drink, and sometimes we even feel that we’re tasting strong odors in the air. But I never knew I’d be able to taste things that are injected into my body.

It’s just another strange quirk of a long medical journey.

Note: aHUS News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of aHUS News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to aHUS.


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