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, 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.