Thursday, January 1, 2009

An Odd Anniversary

New Years Day of 200_ I awoke to the sound of laughter in the kitchen. What didn't have me jumping right up was a sound I didn't hear - that of a newborn baby crying. This particular child was only three weeks old and it hadn't been an easy time (anyone who's given birth for the third time in three years and did the last one around Christmastime might possibly understand where I'm coming from). I'd actually ended up back in the hospital shortly after the birth because a portion of my right lung had collapsed due to how big the baby was, and a tendency of tiny feet to press upon the aforementioned portion of my body.

Like I said, not the easiest time.

Realizing I might have the chance to catch a few extra minutes of precious sleep I turned onto my side, closed my eyes, and tried to recapture any sort of pleasant dreams that had escaped me. The only problem was my left eye didn't close. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't get it to close. I began to notice other oddities: the skin on the left side of my face felt odd - like the feeling one gets as the Novocaine wears off after a dental appointment, my tongue also felt a bit numb, and the whole side felt sluggish.

I immediately got up and dressed, then went to the bathroom where I brushed my teeth and took a good look at my face. There was no doubt about it, something was wrong. Even as I watched for those few minutes, the symptoms grew worse. I walked into the kitchen, tried to act nonchalant, and told my husband I think we needed to head to the local Insta-Care.

He went straight into action, and before long my mother was watching the kids while we headed off. I distinctly recall trying to remember if I'd suffered a stroke during the night. I didn't think so (I laugh at myself now, but it was quite traumatic at the time!), but how was I to know.

Just a note - I'm much more familiar with the actual signs of a stroke now.

The doctor reassured me first thing that I hadn't suffered a stroke, then told me I had something called Bell's Palsy. I had never heard of it before in my life, and to be honest the doctor wasn't able to tell me a whole lot. Because it's not a life threatening disease there hasn't been a whole lot of research put into it.

Basically "they" (don't ask me to define who they are, please) believe BP is related to the Herpes Virus (which produces things like cold sores and Shingles), though no one can tell just what will trigger the condition. There is no rhyme nor reason to it - it attacks all ages, all races, both genders. It can appear on either side of the face, or even on both in extreme cases. People have been known to experience partial paralysis which disappears within a few days, will have complete paralysis which heals completely over time, while few will have permanent lasting effects. While most who experience this only get it once, there are others who have had it more times.

For myself, I had the complete paralysis. The doctor gave me a choice at the office. Odds were much of the paralysis might leave if I took a heavy dose of steroids and a viral medication, but I would have to stop nursing during that time. I simply wasn't willing to do so. I'd had the experience of not nursing with my first child due to extreme problems and didn't want to risk not being able to continue to do so even after the meds were out of my system.

For the first three months I endured an awful lot. I had to put a medicine on my eye at night at tape it shut, the effects of which I still struggle with as the eyelid retrained itself not to close without pulling up my cheek. Another side effect was the inability of my eardrum to work correctly, so everything came across as loud. I took to wearing an earplug every time I went outside, and a lot of the time when I held the baby. I still occasionally have problems with loud sounds. My eye began to water a lot, especially every time I ate. It's a bit ridiculous to have to hold a tissue in my hand so I can wipe away the tears so they wouldn't drip into my spaghetti. And yes, I still have a problem with the occasional watering eye, in particular when it's cold and windy outside.

There was a lot of pain as well, specifically on an area behind and below the ear, sort of right underneath the jaw. That side of my face became extremely sensitive, at times so bad I couldn't sleep on it at night. My sweet baby (whom we lovingly and laughingly referred to as our "Bobble-head Baby") would frequently bang his head on my face.

The psychological aftereffects were just as bad. I found myself developing defensive gestures, and recognized it even as I was doing it. For example, when I laughed or smiled my hand would automatically rise to cover up that side of my mouth. My hair parts naturally on the right side, and I began to wear my hair down more often so it would cover the left side of my face. I took to placing my finger on the corner of my mouth and pulling slightly so I could be understood better (one of the greatest ironies of Bell's Palsy - because there is no control of lip muscles you can't really say the letters "B", "P", "F", and "M").

I hated being introduced to new people, not knowing if I wanted them to ask about it, or just ignore it altogether. It put people off, and I can't say I blame them. I remember one morning just before we were heading off to church, I found some pictures in a bag I hadn't had a chance to look at yet. I'd tried to smile, and the effect was horrid. I began crying. It couldn't be helped. My first instinct was to rip the picture up, but I think it's still lurking around the house somewhere. I never wanted to have another picture taken of me again. I felt beyond ugly. Smiling no longer happened naturally, which was particularly heartbreaking as I love to smile.

The first ray of hope occurred almost exactly three months to the day. I was in the bathroom looking in the mirror, and tried to smile. And for the first time in three months I made a movement on purpose: there was a tiny move at the corner of my mouth! I'd experienced a lot of involuntary muscle spasms, but this was the first thing that happened because I wanted it to happen!

Healing was slow going, and has never been complete. You can mostly tell when I take a picture, especially when I'm not aware it's being taken and smiling wide. I still hate having pictures taken, and try to be the one behind the camera. But I have hope.

That first day my husband gave me a priesthood blessing, where I was promised a full recovery. I've received enough blessings and promises over the years to know it doesn't always happen in the ways and times we expect, but I have faith that one day I'll be able to smile without feeling self-conscious about it. I was given an extra special booster the same day I saw the picture of myself - mere minutes after I'd stopped crying my oldest came into the kitchen and told me I was beautiful. You have no idea how much that was needed.

Almost two years later I got BP again, but this time I knew the warning signs, wasn't nursing or pregnant, and was able to take the meds. There was no paralysis that time.

In the hopes I can help someone else who might possibly experience this same thing, here are some of the symptoms you might experience before the paralysis hits in the hopes you can get into the doctor:

I'd begun to get a cold in my neck. In particular there was a pain in the area towards the front, sort of next to the throat. It felt like a stiff neck I couldn't get rid of, not even with pain relievers. Food and liquids tasted weird on that side of my tongue at least a day beforehand. I was excessively tired (but blamed it on the baby. Others I've talked to have said they were tired as well). Remember to keep an eye on the other symptoms I mentioned above: drooling, sensitive ear, numbness in the face, sluggishness of the facial muscles, and a watery eye.

1 comment:

Goldibug said...

Wow. That's a lot to deal with. It sounds like you're handling it really well though. I'm enjoying these stories of your life. Thanks for sharing them so willingly.