Wednesday 27 December 2017

Bells Palsy: The Day I Lost My Smile!

Saturday 29 July 2006.  The day I lost my smile.

The first day of me learning a big lesson in humility.
The first day of a few months of pain.
The first day of realising just how vain I was.
The first day of realising how strong my faith in Christ had become.
The first day of the rest of my life... my life with a wonky smile!

30 year old woman with bells palsy for 5 days

The above photo was taken 4 Aug 2006. I can literally only move one side of my face, look at my forehead and the lack of wrinkles on that side. I also have a droop to my mouth still at this point.

30 year old woman with bells palsy for 3 months

The above photo was taken 14 October 2006. Still no wrinkles by the side of my eye on one side and my smile won't lift properly.

My Bells Palsy Story
I started to feel a bit strange from the Monday before, a terrible headache and very low earache, then from Tuesday I had the weirdest taste in my mouth (a bit metallic) and some numbness. By Thursday the taste was so bad I had made a dental appointment assuming I had something very wrong in my mouth.

My husband and I drove to my parents on the Friday night and I recall sitting in the car telling him that was eye felt fat and I was super tired; I could hardly keep my eye open. We both thought that a busy week at work had taken its toll and thus upon arrival at my parents we fell into bed and I slept soundly, unaware of what was happening to my face whilst I slept.

I got up earlier than my husband and went downstairs where I chatted to Mum and she was looking at me very weirdly, she then said I was slurring and my face was a bit droopy on one side. So off I went to look in the mirror and she was right, something weird was happening to my face but I wasn't in any pain so I did not panic and just wondered what was going on. I didn't think it was a stroke but it sure did look like it, so I went to wake my husband and told him 'no hurry, but when he could would he take me to the emergency doctors please'. He wakes with a jolt and asks what is wrong and then looks at me and 'says we need to go now'. Off with go with our 2 year old and they leave me at the doctors while heading off to the park, no need for us all to sit around - I am sure I am fine.

The nurse does not look so sure that I am fine! In fact she is very, very concerned and wants to call an ambulance to take me to A & E now. No thanks, I say my hubby will drive me there soon. I've no idea where my calmness came from and by this point I really do look like I have had a stroke. Half my face has fallen and I can not close my right eye, I also can't smile, I'm slurring and I still have that awful taste in my mouth.

Roll forward a few hours and we've been to A&E and they have given me some steroids and confirmed the diagnosis, I have Bells Palsy. This is temporary facial paralysis, normally on one side and normally people fully recover from this with very minimal problems. The recovery is often within a week. Yay, I knew there was reason to be calm. Thanks be to God.

We stayed the weekend at my parents and I have to take it easy as my right eye will not close at all. The hospital recommended taping it closed and patching it for periods during the day, I also had to use artificial tears as dryness could lead to scratches on my eye, which would be very detrimental. I go to two wonderful services at my parents local Church and get prayed for by some lovely women. I shed my first tears since this has happened and I'm even more upset to see I can only cry out of my left eye.

A Couple of Weeks after the Onset
Roll forward again, this time a week or so and nothing has changed there has been no improvement to my face. Why is this? I discover that the severity of the palsy (or paralysis) depends on the damage to the 7th cranial nerve. The more severe, the longer the recovery period. By this point I am in agony and that's not a normal feature of Bells Palsy. Here is part of my diary entry for Wednesday 5 August 2006 (Day 13).

"The pain is getting worse, I never expected this. For me I thought paralysis would be just that but no, my face on the poorly side feels like it has been beaten black and blue, just to touch it hurts."

The doctor soon diagnosed me with facial neuralgia and gave me some drugs to take for it, these knock me out and stop me driving but the carbmazpine along with co-codamol and nurofen seem to do the trick and the pain starts to subside.

I found it really difficult at the time with the pain and the way I looked. I spent a lot of time online gaining support in Bells Palsy Forums.

Longer Term Recovery
In the end I am off work for about six weeks with the facial pain, as well as the tired and scratchy eye that still hurts. I think one of the worst things was not being able to eat or drink properly. As I could only use half my mouth everything would spill, so I had to use a straw to drink very small amounts. After about six weeks I went back to work as I could effectively blink again and the pain had reduced a lot. Then after about four months it was much less noticeable and my face did seem to be making some recovery from the physiotherapy that I was having.

Roll forward another year and I still had a very wonky smile and in July 2007 when my girls were born there was a scare after their birth that the Bells Palsy might have been reoccurring. Luckily it did not but I am now always aware that when I get too tired or too stressed my face takes the strain and droops a little.

Four years later and the residual symptoms remain, I can not frown on one side, I can not blow bubbles or blow kisses, I can not blow up balloons, I only cry from one eye, my eyes water when I eat, I blink less often with my right lid and of course that wonky smile remains, although I have learnt all the tricks in the book to hide it.

It's now December 2017 and I've just added to and re-published this post. So now it is 11 years after I had Bells Palsy and I never fully recovered. Generally it doesn't impact my life on a day to day basis, but I never got a full, symmetrical smile back and as I age I find my crows feet and facial lines are quite different on each side. I don't suffer any pain any longer thank goodness but I still sometimes get that feeling of having a fat eye when I am exhausted. I also have some silly lasting effects, like crying from one eye only and one eye watering when I eat food that is even mildly spicy.

The photo below was taken on 27th December 2017, thankfully I don't normally look like this. I have accentuated my facial expression to show you the residue that is left 11 years after. My smile still isn't complete, I have less forehead wrinkles on one side and one eye does not open as wide. I still can't do things like pucker up or blow up balloons, as the muscles on one side of my mouth just never regained the strength they lost when the cranial nerve was damaged.

44 year old woman with bells palsy, after 11 years

As you can see from the below picture with one of my daughters (taken in October this year, I've now mastered how to smile for photos so that it is not noticeable anymore)

Becoming more Christ-like
Do you know why I 100% believe this happened to me? Because I was not listening to God and His will for me. I had made myself so busy and so stressed with tons of things. I needed a wake up call, one strong enough that it would get me to re-assess my life and give up some of the tasks and start to be a better wife, mother, employee, friend, daughter etc etc

It worked! I stood down from most of my roles, I took some steps in faith by applying for jobs I believed God wanted me to go for and by November 2006 I was pregnant with my wonderful twinnies. What a blessing they are. We had been trying to get pregnant since 2004 with no luck but then when I least expected it I feel I was rewarded for my faith in the Lord. I knew that all would be OK and I knew that losing my smile was not the most important thing in the world.

I still look at photos and hate my asymmetrical smile, but you know what this imperfect face is slowly teaching me - humility! I am very aware that I can be flawed with Pride at times. In the past my sense of self-importance has been out of control but nowadays I am pleased to say that I can recognise this character defect and do work to help keep it in check!

So there I am, laying myself bare again! A chance encounter with a viral illness changed my life and shaped my character and helped to make me the imperfect Christian I am today.

If you ever suffer any of the symptoms I mentioned and wonder if you have Bells Palsy, please get yourself to the doctors as soon as possible as the steroid treatment is most effective if started within 72 hours of the onset.

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