August 11, 2012, two days after I attended a leadership conference, and heard the words ‘bell’s palsy’ for the first time, ever, I woke up knowing my instinctive diagnosis had been confirmed. Room service was at the door with our breakfast. I remember keeping my head down, letting her in, fumbling with the bill for gratuity, and being incredibly quiet. When she was gone, I went to the bathroom and tried to brush my teeth, but the water and toothpaste just poured from my mouth. The entire left side of my face was paralyzed. It just wouldn’t work. I couldn’t close my eye. I couldn’t smile a full smile. I couldn’t talk well. I went to bed with a perfectly working face, and overnight, everything changed.
I felt nauseous, just from the reality of what was happening, so I skipped breakfast, and I showered. Shampoo stings like a bitch when you can’t close your eye! As we packed our things, and readied to go, I was terrified. Although I knew what the condition was called, I didn’t know anything else. And, those unknowns were terrifying.
My husband and I decided to start with a walk in clinic, in hopes of just verifying the diagnosis. Although the physician on site did believe it was Bell’s, he felt more comfortable referring me to the nearest emergency room. There aren’t any diagnostic tests for Bell’s Palsy, so it’s all based on a clinical evaluation. When the ER doctor came to my room, I told him I had been on a google streak, and I truly believed I had bell’s palsy. The doctor asked, literally, just a few questions, and confirmed I had bell’s palsy. I was given steroids and anti viral drugs to try and reduce the paralysis, but I was also told there were no guarantees the medicine would help, and only time would tell. It was the shortest emergency room visit I’ve ever had!
So, you ask, what the hell is Bell’s Palsy?!
Bell’s Palsy is caused when the cranial nerve is compressed. The nerve runs behind your ear, hence my earache, and when the nerve swells, because it’s located in a cavity, there’s no place for it to expand. The pressure essentially causes the nerve to die. Once the nerve dies, all of the movement it controls, also dies.
There are many thoughts on why this occurs, but trauma and infection seem to be the consensus, at least among my doctors. They believed the constant drainage from my chronic sinus infections, coupled with the stress of my parents’ deaths, and my son’s depression, wore my body down. To add salt to the wound, many years ago, I was involved in a terrible car accident, and a lot of damage was done, all to my left side. The doctors I spoke with, although a significant amount of time had passed since the accident, felt that trauma could have also played into this diagnosis.
A week before our conference, I had commented that things were finally starting to come together. My parents’ estates were in the final stretch, my son’s depression was more controlled, school was beginning soon, as we could finally have some normalcy back in our lives. When I finally allowed my body to relax, my body literally began to break down. The reality is no one is completely sure why this happened, and frighteningly, there is no guarantee it won’t happen again.
This is the second in a series documenting my diagnosis, feelings, and progress with Bell’s Palsy. To read more about my experiences, view all of my posts here.