About two months ago, on a regular Sunday morning, I woke up with my tongue feeling slightly numb. I didn’t really think anything of it at the time and went about my day. I had some water and coffee and then decided to workout on my new indoor bike, which I hadn’t used that much yet.
About an hour after I exercised, I was having a conversation with my husband Chuck. He said something funny and I of course laughed at his joke. As I laughed, I noticed that it felt like only part of my face was moving. I told Chuck that my face felt weird and asked him if anything looked off. He said it looked like only the left side of my face was moving. I immediately went to the bathroom to check out my face in the mirror. What I saw was shocking and terrifying!
The whole right side of my face was frozen and slightly droopy. It was also almost completely numb, including the majority of my tongue. My first thought was the worst, that I had a stroke. I’m only 38 years old, so the chance of it being a stroke was slim, but my mind has a tendency to always think the worst. I also thought that maybe I slept funny and it was just asleep, like when your foot falls asleep. I kept slapping it, trying to wake it up, but it didn’t work.
A good 30 minutes or so went by before I finally decided I needed to seek medical attention. Chuck and I went to the nearest Emergency Room. I was so scared that they were going to tell me I had a stroke. My heart was pounding and my hands were clammy in anticipation of a diagnosis. Due to COVID restrictions, Chuck was not allowed to come into the Emergency Room with me, so I was left to deal with this shit on my own. I was so scared!
The nurse at the front asked me why I was there and I explained that half of my face wasn’t moving and felt numb. I was wearing a mask and she asked me to remove it so she can take a look. I removed it and she examined my face. I was so fearful of the situation that I began to cry like a baby. She comforted me and explained that I was in the right place for help. I was immediately seen by a doctor. They did some strength tests with my hands, bloodwork and some other tests. They finally had an answer for me about the diagnosis. I had Bell’s Palsy.
Bell’s palsy is a condition that causes a temporary weakness or paralysis of the muscles in the face. It can occur when the nerve that controls your facial muscles becomes inflamed, swollen, or compressed. The condition causes one side of your face to droop or become stiff. You may have difficulty smiling or closing your eye on the affected side. It’s sometimes caused by a virus, which I didn’t have and sometimes caused by stress, which I was not under. So in my case, the main cause was unknown, which made it even more frustrating that this was happening to me.
It’s now two months later and I’m still experiencing facial paralysis. I followed up with my primary physician a couple times after going to the ER, and she explained that it usually clears up in a few weeks, but in some cases it can take months. I was hoping I would be a usual case and that my face would return to normal in a few weeks, but apparently that isn’t the case as it’s two months later and my face is still partially paralyzed. My right eye has not been able to close fully this entire time. I have to wear an eye patch outside when it’s windy, put artificial tears in my eye to keep it moist, and sleep with a night mask. By the end of each day my eye feels exhausted.
I’ve gone through a slough of emotions during these past two months. Anger, sadness, disbelief and embarrassment of the way I look. The worst emotion of them all though is FEAR. Fear that my face will not return to it’s normal state. I don’t like to voice that fear and really even hate writing it in this blog post, but it’s the truth of what creeps into my mind at times.
To help with this condition, I’ve gone to acupuncture a couple times and have been doing physical therapy twice a week. Both help to stimulate the nerves and are hopefully helping to wake them up eventually. I believe my face will return to it’s normal state, but the waiting part is hard. Every morning that I wake up, I hope I will look in the mirror and see my smile that I love, instead of this crooked smile I am not fond of. I believe I will see my smile again and am looking forward to the morning that I wake up, smile and see myself again.