Once again no time travel post this time, as once more life has intruded. This time it took the form of Bell’s Palsy, a rather frightening looking condition that causes paralysis of the face, just one side usually thank goodness. But still waking up one morning three weeks ago to find that the right side of my face had started sagging set my pulse racing and made my palms sweat more than a little.
Naturally being of middling years and advancing waistline, my first thought was that I’d had a stroke, and I raced down to the emergency department where I spent an exciting few hours being asked all sorts of embarrasing questions and being poked and prodded. Eventually though they kicked me out with a scrip a mile long and the comforting words that it would probably come right in a few weeks or months. It was the ‘probably’ that didn’t impress most.
Still some valuable life lessons were learned and I’m trying to lose weight and do a little bit (sadly a very little bit) of exercise.
By the way if any of you should wake up one morning with half your face paralysed as mine was, my advice is to scoot down to the emergency department as fast as you can. It may be this, and by gosh you should hope and pray it is, but it could also be a stroke and that is a medical emergency.
Now for the fun stuff. What’s life like with Bell’s Palsy? And believe me it has been an experience.
First, it looks bad. Actually it looks worse than that. I personally don’t spend a lot of time looking in mirrors, - most of them aren’t wide enough to properly reflect my full beauty, but I did after this happened. Mostly out of horror. You see the facial muscles aren’t just paralysed, they sag, especially around the mouth, and you end up with a shocking droop. This looks worse when you try to speak since only one side of your mouth works, making the problem even more obvious.
In my case I slurred my words for a few weeks, a little like a drunk, but regrettably without the alcoholic high to make it all seem so much better.
The good news is that it doesn’t hurt, at least at the start. However for me as my seventh nerve has slowly started working again, I’ve been experiencing pins and needles around that side of my face. My right eye also hurt, though that was due to the eye drying out as I couldn’t close it properly. They gave me eye drops and cream for that, and a patch that I refused to wear. My pirate days are behind me! It was easier to tape my eye shut at night and keep using the drops during the day.
Taste was and still is compromised as half of my tongue had also stopped working. This is a difficult thing to explain, but the best way I can describe it is to say it was like having a small sheet of cling film over my tongue. It felt distinctly odd. However, a lack of taste also helps with the diet, which is a good thing in my case.
Eating and drinking were embarrasing. With half my mouth including my lips not working, I tended to chew like a cat and occasionally food would fall out of my mouth. Drinking was worse as I dribbled like a baby. Now, three weeks on, this is much improved, but I still wouldn’t go out to eat in a restaurant. By the way, the pain nerves aren’t affected by the condition so when I bit my tongue or my lips as I often did, it still hurt.
Hearing is the other thing that went weird. My right ear became hypersensitive, but not in a useful bionic ear sort of way. I can’t hear people whispering about top secret conspiracies a mile away. Rather every time I coughed or sneezed it was as though someone had fired a cannon on that side of my face. And regrettably this hasn’t changed. Yawning is also fun as it sounds like a thunder storm coming.
It’s the social side of things that bothered me most though. People stare, they can’t help it I suppose, and friends ask stupid questions. The one thing I have learnt out of this is that I am just as self conscious as anyone else. So much so that I took the traditional male route to try and hide it. I started wearing sunglasses and growing a beard. In short I started to look like Cousin It. Usually I don’t do either, as sunglasses irritate the bridge of my nose and beards itch abominably.
However, now that my mouth is almost straight again, I’ve shaved off my facial hair – my Mach Three nearly died in the process. It was a balancing act between trying not to look like a freak and trying not to scratch my face off and I’ve finally reached the stage where I can stop scratching.
Anyway, that’s been the story of my last three weeks, and I hope that if any of you come down with this truly strange condition or have friends or family who do, you’ll be a little better prepared to handle what comes.
The good news is that the stats are good. Not great but good. Eighty percent of people who develop Bell’s Palsy will make a complete or good recovery within a matter of weeks or months. The bad news is of course that some won’t, and also that something like seven to fifteen percent of people will get it again at an average interval of ten years. Still that's another decade away!
The great news though, is that it’s not a stroke.