I think my face should get a purple heart

Nearly four years ago, I awoke on a Monday morning to discover that the entire right side of my face was frozen. Nothing moved, from my hairline to my right eyebrow to the right half of my nose to the right side of my mouth to half my chin.

It was a little disconcerting, although it did bring back fond memories of hangovers in my college days.

At first, I thought that maybe I had had a stroke but I quickly discarded that theory because (1) I was in total denial; and (2) I was in total denial. However, I did indulge in a little paranoia by running around the house in search of some aspirin to shove down my throat just in case because I vaguely recalled a TV commercial where some woman with really bad hair sat on a yellow couch and talked about how one day she was just sitting there and the next thing she knew, she was having a heart attack or a stroke or cancer or whatever and she quickly jammed aspirin into her mouth and saved her own life.

I remember thinking wow, good to know and by the way, what the hell happened to your hair?

So I went in search of aspirin but all I could find was Children’s Tylenol and an old bottle of Vicodin from my c-section five years prior. I downed a couple of Tylenol just to feel like I was accomplishing something but I stayed far away from the Vicodin because I clearly remembered how I took one pill all those years ago and within ten minutes, felt as though my uterus would explode through my incision and go flying into the toilet along with the two gallons of vomit that spewed out of my mouth. No way was I going to take the chance of hurling up my innards again because how was I supposed to heave up a lung with half my mouth frozen nearly shut? What if it got stuck? What then? As if I didn’t have enough to worry about without having to explain to an ER nurse why I had a bloody organ stuck to my teeth.

Then I thought that maybe my muscles were just tense and that massive amounts of heat would relax them so I took a scalding hot shower but all that got me was first degree burns on my fanny, leaving me with three numb cheeks instead of just one.

Then I called my doctor since, coincidentally, I was scheduled to have an MRI that very morning to rule out a diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis because for several weeks prior, I had been experiencing weird symptoms such as slurring my words or forgetting them entirely and trouble focusing both my eyes and my thoughts and to those of you muttering under your breath And this is strange behavior for you … how? I respond with a resounding SHUT UP, NATE. AND MOM.

Because fine … truth be told, it wasn’t that strange for me to completely forget myself in mid-sentence or address my kids as YOU, THERE, WITH THE GLASSES – NO, THE SHORTER ONE or put an entire pork tenderloin in the dishwasher. Were it not for the occasional balance issues that hampered me, I might not have been worried at all. But they did hamper me, especially when they caused me to stumble into Wegmans as if I had just celebrated my last semester in college with ten shots of Alabama slammers during Ladies Night at The Inn Between.

Not that I have any idea what that actually feels like.

My doctor told me to hightail it into his office before the MRI to see what was up. And so I grabbed five year old Helena and threw her in the car and raced to his office. The entire drive, she kept staring at me and then finally asked why I kept winking at her and I was all I’m not winking, sweetie, my eye won’t blink and she was all But why? Why won’t your eye blink? And I was all Because my face is frozen and she was quiet for a moment and then worriedly asked Were you making faces at Daddy? and I was all SEE WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU MAKE ANGRY FACES AT MOMMY OR DADDY? IT FREEZES THAT WAY.

Because what kind of parent would I be if I didn’t take every opportunity to turn a bad situation into a learning experience?

My doctor ushered us right in and have I mentioned lately how much I love that man? If his wife would just ease up a little, I’d adopt him in a heartbeat. So what if he’s older than me? I think it’s legal in 47 states. Maybe 48, if you count West Virginia, but then again, I’m pretty sure everything is legal in West Virginia as long as you don’t get caught.

To make a long story short … well then, I’d have to rewrite this entire post. Who’s got time for that?

So, I’ll just hurry up and tell you that my doctor diagnosed me with Bell’s Palsy. And while I did wind up going through a battery of tests for MS, they all turned out negative and my doctor theorized that my symptoms may have simply been a precursor to the Bell’s.

My doctor couldn’t say for certain what caused the Bell’s but he theorized that cold sores were a contributing factor, those morbidly obese, soul sucking leeches that periodically use my lips as port-a-potties, unleashing a literal shitstorm of bloody canker sores, weeping blisters and monstrous scabs for weeks at a time.

Four days into the Bell’s, I sat in my doctor’s office and cried and he let me, without even glancing at his watch.

See why I want to adopt him?

The right side of my face drooped and felt like a heavy, lopsided bowling ball. My left side overcompensated so, when I smiled, I looked as if I were constipated and won the lottery simultaneously. I spent every waking hour physically holding my eyelid shut with my finger because a patch was not an option and the alternative of having my eyelid stitched shut by my opthamologist to ward off dryness and infection made me throw up a little in my mouth. Every night was spent smooshing my face into my pillow to keep my eyelid closed. The entire right side of my mouth was unusable so eating was a tedious chore and drinking was even worse – I could not use a straw and a glass of water was simply a bath waiting to happen. I drooled incessantly 24/7. And the pain in my ear was as if someone had taken a butcher knife, doused it in gasoline, lit it on fire and proceeded to stab me in the head for weeks at a time.

But the worst part of it all was the not knowing. Would it ever go away? When? There were no guarantees with Bell’s. Most people fully recover. But at one point in my life, I drove a 1975 rust colored Datsun with actual racing stripes running up the side. The entire floor fell out onto I490. While I was driving it.

I wasn’t most people.

I occasionally tried to shirk my responsibilities and obligations and more than once I yelled NO, I DID NOT WASH YOUR JEANS. I WAS BUSY HOLDING MY FACE ONTO MY SKULL SO IT WOULDN’T SLIDE OFF. But, life goes on. Between playdates and concerts and curriculum nights and open houses and grocery shopping and volunteering and Halloween (could I have asked for a better costume? I think not) there was little time to feel sorry for myself.

The worst of the Bell’s lasted about four weeks at which point, to my relief, I felt a twitch in the corner of my right eye one night. A week later, I was approximately 80% recovered. It took another six months before I would pronounce myself back to normal, although my right ear remained incredibly sensitive for more than a year, which may explain the compulsion to administer multiple whistle enemas to one particularly obnoxious official at Zoe’s swim meets.

Today, unless I told you, you’d never know that I had Bell’s Palsy, unless you happen to catch me in mid-yawn, at which point the right side of my face tends to sag a little. This is totally due to the Bell’s and not to some unfortunate combination of middle age and gravity.

I learned quite a few things from the Bell’s, such as:

  • To be grateful for a temporary bump in the road instead of a more permanent one
  • That objectively, you know perfectly well that there are far worse things in the world than having your face temporarily frozen into some grotesque grimace. However, that should not preclude you from wailing WHY ME upon occasion. Being introduced to your ex-husband’s drop dead gorgeous girlfriend while holding your eyelid shut and spitting saliva on her by simply saying hello, qualifies as such an occasion. Wail away, sister. Amen.
  • That every cloud has a silver lining and my patent for a bra to help support lopsided bowling ball faces everywhere is currently pending! I’m waiting for QVC to return my call.
  • That what at first seems horrific soon becomes ordinary, especially in the eyes of children. Those would be all the children who did not piss me off by losing all muscle control and collapsing like wet noodles onto the floor of Target while screaming at the top of their lungs because their mothers wouldn’t buy them something shiny like a new vacuum cleaner, thereby compelling me to lean over them, point to my face and whisper I PITCHED A HISSY WHEN MY HUSBAND BOUGHT ME A HOOVER FOR OUR ANNIVERSARY AND LOOK WHAT HAPPENED TO ME. THINK ABOUT IT.
  • That when a doctor lets you rest your deformed face on his shoulder and cry and then gives you a hug and tells you that “we” are going to get through this together? He’s totally worth a $40 co-pay and quite possibly an illegitimate child.
  • That my husband will always love and desire me, even if I look like death on a cracker, proving once again that women need a reason, men need a place.
  • That I am resilient and when all is said and done,Β  life is what you make of it. Sometimes it’s rainbows and unicorns, sometimes it’s a bloated, flatulent walrus. You might as well deal with it and put on happy face, even if it is a bit crooked.



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36 thoughts on “I think my face should get a purple heart”

  1. Avatar

    Your face *should* get a purple heart, honey.

    My husband got Bell’s Palsy too, and he’s a medical provider. I hesitate to think what was going through the mind of his patients when he walked in looking like death warmed over on one side, and death frozen up on the other… =)

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    What a nightmare – and you describe it all with your usual sharp wit.

    I too am “one of those people” – I got shingles 7 years ago, of those who get it a few get it down one side of THEIR ENTIRE BODY, a few of those end up with some residual nerve pain for a time after, for a few of those the pain will remain for up to a year, for a few of those, the pain will last…..and last…..and last πŸ™ Still flinch and wince when someone brushes against my arm, still on medication for it – ouch!

    I used to be really healthy ’til I married a doctor! – he should carry a government health warning!

  3. Avatar

    omg. total purple heart. and hugs. your grace and humor is a wonderful inspiration. i look forward to your posts every day.

  4. Avatar

    What an ordeal. I think I’ll save this and read it again next time I’m whining about the dust I haven’t had time to shoo out the door.

    And I just realized that I remember when this first happened to you. It’s been a long time I’ve been cyber-stalking you!

  5. Avatar

    I’m so sorry that you’ve been going through this — but I am completely inspired by you. Is that possible? Can I become inspired by reading one blog post? I believe so. You do deserve a medal. A huge one. For reminding us that hills are just hills — and the mountain is the climb.
    Big hugs to you!

  6. Avatar

    WOW!!!! What a story. You make it sound like it was more funny than serious!!! I have missed reading your stories, btw.
    I haven’t been blogging, due to my home computer going to doggie heaven, I mean hard drive heaven. It took me several months to affort a new one, for the third time since 2009.
    I hope to see come back and visit me at my blog again.
    Take care,

  7. Avatar

    ahh…Andy. You know how much I admire you right? Well in case you forgot…I DO admire you! I’m not sure if I could or would continue to function!

    and I had to LOL at THIS “worriedly asked Were you making faces at Daddy? and I was all SEE WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU MAKE ANGRY FACES AT MOMMY OR DADDY? IT FREEZES THAT WAY.” I say that to my kids ALL the time! Stop it or your face will freeze that way πŸ˜€

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    you might be the only person on earth who can make me laugh at Bell’s Palsy and not feel mind-numbingly guilty about it. I’m glad it went away. My friend had that, her doctor said it was brought on by stress…although I am not sure why her house burning to the ground 2 days before Thanksgiving would be stressful.

    Thanks for the giggles….

  9. Avatar

    Good for you, for being so honest adn kudos for being witty at the same time!

    My aunt got Bell’s Palsy many years ago and never fully recovered. She still has a crooked smile and a slight lisp, but is otherwise OK. You are fortunate.

    Keep fighting the good fight, and thanks for making us laugh (and wince at the same time)!

  10. Avatar

    I can’t even begin to imagine all that you have been through. You are able to talk about it with such wit and I applaud you for that! You are right, your face does deserve a purple heart!

    Stopping by from SITS!!

  11. Avatar

    Holy merde! You’re such an inspiration. I had no idea. And here I am bitching about the aging of my skin. Thanks for sharing your story. I agree, what a wonderful doctor (and husband!). Smooches.

  12. Avatar

    I feel ya!! I had it in 2006, got diagnosed on my 30th birthday. Happy flippin bday to me!! Like you, it started a week or two before the actual facial issues started. Your doc was better than mine though, I called him, & he freaked me out by ordering me directly to the hospital, mentioning a stroke. Ack!! Funny, the first sign that something was amiss was while eating lunch @ work. My diet pepsi tasted just like greasy fried chicken. Ewwwww!!!!! Were your taste buds affected in all sorts of crazy ways too?

  13. Avatar

    Oh man, that had to be scary to have that happen all of a sudden and have no clue what was going on! Thank goodness you’re okay. But only you could take a situation like this and still find the humor (I’m always saying that about you, aren’t I? But it’s SOOO true, I just can’t help myself).

  14. Avatar

    Thanks for sharing your story. You gotta keep your sense of humor, right?

    Several years ago, a boss of mine was diagnosed with Bell’s Palsy. Her doctors told her that it might last up to six months, but she was better much sooner than that. I hope you recover quickly! I had never heard that canker sores could be related…That’s not good, I’ve gotten those all my life and have one right now.

  15. Avatar

    Wow, I really needed to read this. I am so happy I found your blog. You are so dang funny. I almost peed my pants! (almost) I just had to have a biopsy, now I have to have surgery, and it’s all a bit freaky, but I’m trying to maintain the attitude that’s it’s going to be part of my life, so I just need to add it to my list and get on w/my day to day which will keep me sane. Your story really lifted me up. Thanks. πŸ™‚

  16. Avatar

    as soon as I heard the “half my face was paralized” I knew you were going to say Bell’s Palsy. we thought my grandma had a stroke at christmas a few years ago, all of sudden the side of her face was all droopy.

    i never knew about the correlation to cold sores. she had shingles a few years ago too! irony I think not!

    So glad it is MS lady!

  17. Avatar

    That happened to me but mine ended up being MS. I have shingles I get them in my ears on my face all the time too what happened to you sounds like what happened to me my face froze then my legs stopped working. I fell flat on my face I woke up in the hospital woke up with them saying ugh by the way.. you have multiple sclerosis. me goin’ huh no i dont yall said it was lupus 12 years ago why you sayin now its this. make ya mind up fool! I hate these shingley cold sores they get in my ears they hurt so bad they get in my nose in my eyes talk about hurt. Dr just looks at me and says ThATS NOTTTT imprsssive. I think it might be a cold sore.. a zit… maybe shingles… (yeah wanna kick him somewhere see how he is impressed with that huh?)

  18. Avatar

    Dude! I totally had Bell’s Palsy when I was – wait for it – a senior in high school. Oh, it gets better. It was the FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL when I stopped being able to do normal things like blink and eat and drink. I had to reschedule my senior photos for two months down the road and I was seriously worried that I would NEVER get a date to prom. 14 years later I am still traumitized. I feel your pain, sister. πŸ™‚

  19. Avatar

    hey, West Virginian here…….

    but I kinda agree with you (“but then again, I’m pretty sure everything is legal in West Virginia as long as you don’t get caught”)…….

  20. Avatar

    Just proves that ‘into every life, some rain must fall’. It’s all how you handle it, isn’t it? I’m SO glad you handle it by writing, that way we all get to benefit. Thanks!

  21. Avatar

    Hi there! I read your car story which was absolutely hilarious! Thanks for the chuckle, then scrolled down to read that you’ve been suffering with Bells. I haven’t had Bells {at least not yet, who knows!?! right??!} … but I did have an eyelid reconstruction last Fall that required my eye be sewn shut for 2 months! And I was mortified by the whole thing, but now I’m cancer free. It was basal cell caused from the sun. But! What I wanted to tell you is that the sewing shut of the eyelid is not all that bad. It seems kinda weird and you think you’ll wind up looking like Frankenstein’s Bride, but actually, it just looks like you’re winking! And if it protects your vision, which is a precious thing that you need your whole life, it’s worth protecting!

    Hopefully, you are already on the road to recovery! Be sure to take a good multi-vitamin and do some research on what vitamins are best for your ailments! When I started taking vitamins, I went without a cold or URI for about 2 years! Now that I’m not taking them as regularly, the colds & sinus infections are back.

    If you don’t have to do the eye thing, that’s great. But if it is a true concern, really, it *ain’t* so bad. My blog may have a photo of me with my eye sewn shut on <— that's my scrapbook site. I believe it was the 1st post back in December …

    I liked what you said about appreciating the little bumps in life, that is so true!

    {Hugs} Juls~

  22. Avatar

    I really like how you describe your experience with bells palsy..I had it 3 years ago and was freaking out until it started to get better after 2 months. Today is almost unnotisable..George Clooney had it when he was in high school and he seems to be doing okay.

  23. Avatar

    My sister found your gem of a blog and sent me a link. You are a witty and wacky writer and I love your bog. I am currently a bit afflicted with Bell’s and am trying to stay sane and keep it in perspective. I say “a bit” because today I am not owning it like I should, sometimes you just need a day off. Like you, I’m not like most people….AND like you I have oddly pointy elbows (I wonder if there is a link between pointy elbows and BP.) Anyhoo…so glad that you recovered and hope that I do the same. Meanwhile, I will continue to hold my face up with one hand and type with the other :)

    1. Avatar

      Vickie – how odd that you commented on this post today! I had chosen it this past Friday to be my regurgitation post this weekend!

      I’m so sorry you’re dealing with Bell’s – it is as suckfest, isn’t it? I hope you achieve a full recovery – and I’m glad you have a sense of humor about the whole thing. It’s times like these where I think finding the funny or the bright spot is what is going to carry you through the entire ordeal. It did for me, anyway. I’ll be thinking good thoughts for you and sending anti-lopsided face karma to you.

  24. Avatar

    On day 4 of my second round of bells. The first time was 4 years ago and took a few months but it did go away. The left side of my face smiled through that whole post. Thank you thank you for the laughter. Wow I needed that!

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