The COVID-19 pandemic has changed life for everybody. For NFL agent Sean Stellato, his morning routine now revolves around going downstairs to his kitchen and smelling a piece of stinky cheese.
“I have a huge thing of Parmesan cheese in the fridge,” said Stellato, based out of Beverly. “I wake up every morning like, ‘Maybe today’s the day.’ ”
But it hasn’t been the day, yet, in 4½ months. Stellato contracted the virus in early March, and he still can’t smell the cheese, or anything else. Stellato still has no sense of taste, either.
Otherwise, Stellato, 42, is back to good health. He is back working out five days a week and helping his clients get ready for the most unusual NFL season of all time.
But the virus sure knocked him down for 2½ weeks in March. And he has no idea when, or if, he will be able to taste or smell again.
“This thing is completely no joke. Wear a mask,” Stellato said. “I’m just waiting for the day I can post something on Instagram biting into like a juicy burger or something I can taste.”
Stellato is not what the experts would consider “high-risk.” He’s young, a former NCAA Division 1 football player at Marist, an avid exerciser, and a healthy eater. Stellato said he doesn’t have any underlying health issues, either.
But COVID-19 still got the best of him in March. He traveled to South Florida for business meetings March 5-8 and his doctors are certain that that is when he caught it.
Stellato didn’t feel any symptoms until March 13, and then it hit all at once. He woke up that day feeling “like I got hit by a car,” with aches and pains all over his body. Every injury he ever suffered playing football suddenly flared up.
That night, he couldn’t taste his dinner. He went to bed and woke up drenched in sweat at 2 a.m.
The next 2½ weeks were a nightmare, with all of the tell-tale symptoms: Muscle aches for 10 days; a 101-degree fever for four days; night sweats for about 17 days; and the loss of taste and smell, which still haven’t come back, even though the virus ran its course by the end of March.
Stellato lived in his basement while his wife, Krista, took care of their four daughters, ages 2 to 14. Stellato didn’t lose lung capacity except for one time, when he woke up in the middle of the night in a panic and couldn’t breathe.
“I don’t know if it was a dream that caused me to have trouble breathing, but it was a scary moment,” he said. “I went through probably about 17 days of just absolute agony — tough time walking up and down stairs, massive night sweats. Thank God I really honed in and quarantined and got a lot of TLC at the home front. And thankfully my family wasn’t affected.”
Stellato was back to his healthy self — minus two of the five senses — by early April. In May, he finally saw a doctor, who confirmed that he had the antibodies but not the virus anymore. He got retested five weeks ago and again tested negative for the virus. But Stellato doesn’t know what he can do to get his senses of taste and smell back.
“There are times when I’m closing my eyes and holding up like cans of sardines and tuna fish and things, and I have no clue,” Stellato said. “Here we are, July 23, and not even a minuscule sense of smell.”
He visited a holistic doctor who recommended cutting out dairy and poultry to reduce the inflammation in his body. He’s trying to eat as many healthy foods as possible — kale, smoothies, salmon, almond milk, purple sweet potato — and he’s taking 11 supplements a day.
He can’t taste junk food, so why bother?
“I’m just trying to focus on the nutrients, because in my mind I’m like, ‘Maybe this can speed up the recovery,’ ” Stellato said.
Sundays used to be the day he would eat his wife’s chicken parm; or sink into a giant burger; or eat one of his daughter Gianna’s incredible lemon squares. But when you can’t taste or smell anything, eating food becomes a utilitarian activity. Stellato eats for fuel, not for enjoyment.
“If I have any wasabi or hot sauce or jalapenos, I get the sensation of a burn, and you get the texture,” he said. “But it’s not even worth it to have a cheat day, because I can’t taste anything.”
Stellato considers himself lucky. He never had to go to the hospital, and he got back on his feet after a few weeks. All things considered, it could have been worse.
But no one wants to lose their sense of taste and smell. And after nearly five months, it's not getting any better.
“It’s so scary because it affects everybody differently,” Stellato said. “For me, a healthy guy, to have all of the effects I’ve had, it’s definitely an eye-opening experience. Everyone I talk to I advise, ‘Don’t take it for granted. Wear a mask. Don’t think you’re invincible.’ ”
Ben Volin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.