I’m not sure if you noticed the absence of a post from me in your inbox last Saturday.* I’ve been immersed in some in-depth research on both intense pain and life disruption. I hope to finish up with the first very soon. Not sure how long I’ll be researching the second.
We were in Oregon last week for a visit when I began having some serious, just-keeps-coming back pain. It was intermittent during the day and much worse at night. I did what I could to manage, my exhausted brain not quite going to Hamlet’s “to be, or not to be” lengths, but definitely looking for oblivion. I buckled up in the back seat for our drive home on Friday, reasoning that if I had to do a lot of thrashing around and contorting to manage the pain, I would be safer not doing that beside the driver.
Saturday morning I was groggy after yet another terrible night featuring a certain amount of “I can’t even.” I poured a bowl of cereal and wondered what kind of relief I might get using the massage jets in the tub. Munching away, I found I was having a little trouble on the right side of my mouth (can lots of ibuprofen make your mouth feel weird?), but my focus kept returning to the back pain.
I’m not sure at what point during the day I realized that my face was feeling progressively more foreign to me. El Guapo does a little schtick where he acknowledges my impressive skills at raising one eyebrow while lowering the other, and shows how, by using his hands, he can do it, too. I guess you could say that my eyebrows were now walking in his moccasins. Though my left eyebrow was easily raisable, I couldn’t raise the right without using my fingers. Nor, it turned out, could I get my right eye to close completely.
My favorite First Responder is my brother-in-law Clark, a paramedic who’s willing to offer his opinion to family members about what’s going to need medical attention and what will sort itself out.
Because my symptoms came on very gradually, I was pretty sure I hadn’t had a stroke. Clark asked me some questions, gave me a few instructions, tested my grip strength and my balance. Then he asked me to smile wide, to which he responded, “Oh! Wow! You should go to a doctor.” (In addition to being a great paramedic, he’s a talented structural engineer, which is good, as he wouldn’t be able to count on poker as a livelihood. He’s got no poker face at all.)
“Bell’s Palsy” is the diagnosis that followed more tests at the urgent care place. A few fun facts: cranial nerve VII (the facial nerve) is the one leaving me unable to raise my eyebrow or chew properly. About 1.5% of people are affected at some point in their lives. I know statistics don’t work this way, but I’ll still say, “you’re welcome,” as if I’ve now somehow made you even less likely to have it yourself.
Bell’s Palsy is generally temporary, which is wonderful news. Less welcome is the news that “often signs of improvement begin within 14 days, with complete recovery within six months.”†
Though I might say it’s a little sluggish, the affected side of my face is not numb. I’ve got plenty of sensation, just almost no control (much like parenting a teenager). But the consequences in my life are more far-reaching than I imagined. And as so often happens, “you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.”
I can chew without a problem, but that’s only the first step in getting food down to my stomach, and with the right side of my face on vacation, it’s something of a chore.
I also had no idea how much goes into a simple task like rinsing toothpaste out of my mouth. I may need to get a squirt bottle to help me.
I don’t think of myself as caring much about my looks, so presenting a strange face isn’t too much of a concern, but I do try to avoid causing people to start back in alarm. I also don’t relish having to give a long explanation to all and sundry. I may just go with “temporary pinched nerve” and see how far that gets me.
An eye patch serves both to keep my eye completely shut (the primary long-term danger from Bell’s Palsy is possible permanent damage caused when the eye dries out and the cornea gets scratched), and to draw attention away from my lopsided smile. A crooked grin is said to be charming, but there’s probably a continuum from charming to alarming, and I’ll feel better with more distance between me and the alarming end.
So much for my personal research on life disruption. My deep research on intense pain is, I hope, drawing to a close. My nights are improving–I’m not spending as much time asleep as I would like, but I’m also not spending nearly as much time gritting my teeth or gasping in pain. I like the trend.
It seems mighty odd that these two research projects would get handed to me at nearly the same time. One complication of this confluence was that the instructions about medication to treat the first (there were precise dosages and schedules, but it felt a lot like treating ibuprofen as popcorn at a movie) was in direct contradiction with medication instructions for the second (avoid ibuprofen entirely). I’m glad to say that some expert advice from the pharmacist helped sort it out, but sad to say that I can’t lay my hands on a clip from What’s Up Doc where Judge Maxwell is explaining to the bailiff about his medications (“This yellow pill is to remind me to take this blue pill.” “What’s the blue pill for?” “I dunno. They’re afraid to tell me.”)
All in all, I’m researched-out. Maybe this week I’ll try something active. Just so long as it doesn’t involve overtaxing some key back muscles or lifting my right eyebrow.
*If you like a little something from me twice a week, by far the easiest way to arrange that is to put your email address (if you use email) in the box to the right, and then click on the link you receive shortly thereafter. Twitter or Linkedin are other options. My previous Facebook path to you has wandered off.
†Though Wikipedia isn’t the source of all light and truth, it’s often a reasonable place to begin research. And it did start me down the path to calling the doctor back to ask that he prescribe a corticosteroid (said to improve chances of full recovery, though not to improve chances of enhanced olympic performance). The statistics aren’t definitive, but the possibility that I might not recover fully is 100% terrible to me, so I’m just fine taking prednisone for several days in hopes that it will increase my own personal odds.
[Images: research.southwales.ac.uk, Wikipedia, Wikipedia, gunnars.com]