The day before I gave birth to our fifth child, I developed Bell’s Palsy. Bell’s Palsy usually goes away within a few months. He just turned one year old. I still have it.
That morning, my breakfast tasted really weird. I thought, pregnancy is weird. I was a few days past my “due” date and no baby in sight. I get enormous when pregnant and this time was no exception. I am HUGE. And I am uncomfortable. And cranky. And well, pregnancy, yanno? I just thought this whole things-taste-off thing was just..pregnancy.
That is, until I took a drink of water and it dribbled down my chin. I realized my chin was numb. My tongue was numb. When I checked headed to the bathroom to check out what was what, I saw it. My entire right side of my face had dropped. Drooping. I called the doctor, then my husband.
I think I knew it wasn’t a stroke, but only because my mother-in-law is also afflicted with Bell’s Palsy and has dealt with the lingering aftermath for over ten years. I kind of knew what was happening, but still, maybe it was a stroke. I immediately headed into my doctor who ruled out a stroke within a few minutes. I officially was diagnosed with Bell’s Palsy.
Bell’s Palsy affects more pregnant women than any other population, for unknown reasons. It is categorized by a paralysis of one side of the face. It is extremely rare that both sides of the face are affected. The nerves that move your face come in from each side of your skull, behind your ear. For unknown reasons (sensing a trend?), those facial nerves can become inflamed. When inflamed, they can be damaged, causing this paralysis.
For most people, Bell’s Palsy goes away within a few days, weeks, or at most a few months without any lasting effects. There a few treatments given upon diagnosis, prescriptions of steroids and an anti-viral medication, that are not even known to be helpful or not. For the rest of us, there is no timeline. No idea how long you’ll have it. Nada. It usually gets better, more facial movement comes day by day. But it can be slow.
The biggest health risk from Bell’s Palsy is losing your eye or gum disease. Turns out, when you can’t move the muscles around your eye it doesn’t stay closed like you might imagine. No, it refuses to close. It stays wayyyy open, zombie like. Your eyelid droops. You can’t blink. When you do regain the ability to blink, it doesn’t blink all the way. Many people have to attempt to tape that eye closed at night, I never really could do it well and I was lucky enough that if I slept on that side of my face the pillow mostly kept it closed. And the affected eye sure doesn’t blink at the same time as the other, normally functioning eye. You are fun at parties.
Your gums get soft and strange because you aren’t moving your lips over them like you normally would. You don’t chew on that side because if a piece of food gets over there, you have lost it. Like, can’t get it back. Your tongue doesn’t work well enough to push it back over. You have to go and retrieve it. Eating can be upsetting, half your mouth doesn’t work inside and out, and you might drool.
My Bell’s Palsy is a lot better than when it first manifested. Every few days there is some teensy more bit of moving I can do. But it is beyond slow. My son has never seen me smile and this breaks my heart. We just went on vacation and my pictures look like I am grumpy.
I am at the most beautiful place here (Ruby Beach). I am BEYOND HAPPY. But you can’t tell. In the end, I know I am so, so, so fortunate. If I had to get an illness, I’ll take this one. I won’t die. I’m mostly not in pain (the regeneration of the nerves can cause pain, but mild). I am fine. I have a happy, healthy family I can provide for. I just need to get over the fact that currently and for however long, I have this disorder. That I look like THIS. It’s some part vanity, and a lot of losing identity, that has made this difficult for me.
I’m working on it.