It’s funny how the onset of puberty can do wonders to our body; the change from a light voice to a deep voice; the broad shoulders which were once normal; the axillary and pubic hairs, which once upon a beautiful time, were absent. The onset of puberty should be a beautiful phase of life, right? Yet, it was the beginning of my nightmares. The horrible turning point in my life…
“Get up, Josh! Our visitors would soon be here…” My Mama sat down beside my bed as she gave me a puzzled look.
“But, Mama, I haven’t slept enough…”
“It’s your birthday, sweetheart. We’re having a little birthday party, remember?…”
Yay! It’s My Birthday!
My face lit up. I had totally forgotten. Before I could say another word, however, my Mama added, “did you bed_wet? There’s this strong, foul, odd smell… I can’t place my finger on it, but, it smells really bad, Josh.” She stood up abruptly, and carried me effortlessly out of the bed, so that I sat on the floor. The foul ordour hit me strongly, too. How can a person’s urine smell so bad? I had promised my Mama I would stop bed_wetting. To be fair, I had stopped after I turned four… until today.
“What happened? Did you poo on the bed, too?” Fair question, because in truth, the ordour was so bad that it smelled like rotten eggs or fish.
“No, Mama. I’m sorry I bed_wetted, but I didn’t poo on the bed…”
I hurriedly went to shower in order to get rid of the terrible smell. It actually worked for the meantime because I smelled better and felt somewhat better. Mama was wearing a worried expression as she tidied up the kitchen. She had baked me a lovely cake, but I wasn’t in the mood anymore. I knew something was wrong with my body. Something odd… something strange, and I was in no mood to have a birthday party. I didn’t tell my Mama, though, because she’d have felt bad, judging from all her efforts.
Let The Party Begin! 🥳
My friends came over, each of them with a little present for me. I was having a good time, we were having lunch, when Sophia, one of my friends who sat next to me exclaimed, “Josh, can you perceive that, too?”
“Perceive what?” I was quite busy with my food, and didn’t notice that I had began to smell again. All I could perceive was spices and vanilla and…
“I think you are smelling, and it’s quite bad, honestly.” She had this mischievous grin on her face, as though she were trying to surpress her laughter or something. The others were looking at us, scrunching their noses uncomfortably. I felt bad and wished I could instantly disappear. Everyone had their eyes on me, now… questioning, judging. They all stood up and moved away from me, placing their hands on their noses the whole time.
“We’re leaving…” One of them said.
“It’s quite uncomfortable here, right now. Thanks for lunch,” another scoffed.
“But, Josh, what’s up? It’s seems you haven’t bathed for some days now. Did you play with rotten fish or something…” That was it. The rest of my friends roared in laughter. I still couldn’t say a word. It was as though I were in a trance. My eyes began to water, and I could feel tears stream down my cheeks.
“Clean up real good before inviting someone else to your house…”
Leave! Before I Lose My Temper
“That’s enough!” Mama said as the extra cookies she held fell off her hands with reckless abandone, “What’s wrong with you guys? Is that a way to treat your friend?” By now, they were already outside the house, because inside the house was no place for anyone to be in at that moment. I could still hear their voices though…
“We’re only stating facts, ma’am. I don’t think you take care of your son, properly…”
“Leave!” I heard my Mama’s agitated voice again, louder this time, “before I lose my temper.”
They didn’t just leave my house, however, they left my life, too. It was the very last time they ever spoke to me, because they avoided me as one would a leper.
Mama took me to see the doctor.
“Your son has a rare condition. The last time I had to diagnose a patient with a similar condition was years ago…. There’s a medical condition known as Fish Odour Syndrome, otherwise called Trimethylaminuria. This disorder results from the body’s inability to break down the chemical trimethylamine. It has a very strong smell, similar to that of rotting fish. In person’s with this disorder, trimethylamine builds up in the body, giving off a strong fishlike ordour; although, it can be described as smelling like other things…”
What Causes Fish Odour Syndrome?
“Does it have any associated health problems?…” Mama shifted uncomfortably on her chair, as she looked at me steadily and sympathetically.
“It doesn’t,” the doctor sighed, “but, the strong ordour can affect people socially and psychologically…” That explained the cold behavior I got from my classmates, the odd stares I got from strangers. My friends gossiped about me and told everyone that cared to listen about my condition. I became a loner overnight, and it took everything in me to survive each day… If I can’t live my live comfortably, what’s the essence of living?…
“…Is there a particular time you notice that the smell becomes stronger?” I couldn’t read her expression, because she wore none. I couldn’t tell if she pitied me, or if it was disgust I saw, or indifference… Whatever it was, I couldn’t care less. I desperately wanted to just go home; back to my room, my little dungeon, where I would cry myself to sleep, and wake up with a banging headache the next day.
“It’s worse and strong whenever I sweat. The odor worsens whenever I jog with Mama on Saturdays…”
The doctor redirected her gaze at my Mama, “Stress can also worsen the ordour,” she added.
How Can Fish Odour Syndrome Be Treated?
“Is there any treatment? You didn’t mention any…” Little nine_year old me couldn’t understand the reason Mama was emotional about the whole thing. I mean, I was the one going through the depression, criticisms, ridicules, and several other negative stigma that came with it.
“There’s no known treatment whatsoever,” the doctors face fell, and it shattered the little hope I had within me, “but, it can be managed. He’s to avoid substances that increase the production of trimethylamine, such as lecithin and choline. Avoid heavy exercises, emotional upset and stress,” The doctor stood up from her chair and walked up to me, which made me really conscious of myself. Did she have nasal congestion or something? How was she comfortable standing very close to me? I was very sure the nose mask she put on did little or no good…
“I know you’re going through a lot at such a young age. You have to be strong, though. Bath regularly and as much as you can. It wouldn’t be easy, I must warn you. You’d go through so many things, and would receive several inhuman treatments from people. I’m sorry, Josh.”
My heart was heavy, but I couldn’t cry. My Mama took me in her arms and squeezed me so tightly that I could hear her heartbeats. She was the one person that didn’t stay away from me or avoid me, the one person whose love for me didn’t change regardless.
She was unaware of what I went through in school. I didn’t want her to worry about me; I had given her enough troubles already, and she had a lot on her plate.
Living With Fish Odour Syndrome (Trimethylaminuria)
Fast forward to three years later…
Things didn’t get any better. I had stopped going to school and Mama arranged for a home teacher after she found out how cruel everyone treated me at school. I didn’t like my home teacher, though, because he was a mean, middle_aged man. Had given up on the idea of making friends sometime ago. I stopped eating food like eggs, peanuts, soy products, and even some vegetables, even though I loved them. Then, I bathed at least five times a day and avoided all kinds of strainous activities and exercises.
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I was fed up with life. I wasn’t happy and I was lonely. My Mama was a great companion, but, sadly, it wasn’t enough. I needed a life of my own. I knew I was slowly losing my mind. On one fateful day, when I felt I had had enough, I decided to relieve myself of the emotional excruciating pain I felt. My Mama walked in on me during the process, and I wondered if I would ever see her beautiful face again. It was too late, though, or so, I thought. I passed out before she reached my unconscious body.
About The Author
Writer: Ekwebelum Chizurum Melody
Alex Ekwueme Federal University, Ndufu-Alike, Abakaliki, Ebonyi State, Nigeria.
Ekwebelum Chizurum Melody is a young, passionate, aspiring writer who writes about health, med school, inspiration, life and everything beautiful. She’s a third year medical student of AE-FUNAI.