Dude, Where’s the Right Half of My Face?

03.1.2009 | 4:22 am

You know how there are certain moments that you recall more vividly than others? I had one of those last December, just before Christmas. I was sitting in a meeting at work. A coworker said something funny, and I laughed. But it felt wrong. That is, it seemed like the right side of my mouth was lagging a little when I smiled. Weird. The whole rest of the meeting, I was doing diagnostics: probe cheek with tongue — yep, I can still feel everything. Smile: Hm, that didn’t feel right. Hey, what’s that metallic taste in my mouth?

I didn’t want to alarm anyone, so I didn’t tell anyone what was going on. When I got home, I helped with the dinner and kids like always — nobody could see that anything was wrong, but I was noticing more and more that the right side of my face was not reacting properly. My right eye wasn’t closing on its own (I could close it along with my left eye, but I couldn’t wink, and regular blinks were left-eye-only). The metallic taste was increasing. Everything sounded very loud and irritating in my right ear.

Once the kids were in bed, I spent some serious time in front of the mirror, checking what my face could and couldn’t do. If I tried to open my mouth as wide as I could, only the left half opened — the right half just sort of hung there. If I tried to scrunch my face up, only the left half responded. I couldn’t raise my right eyebrow. But I could still feel the right side of my face just fine.

I had become Two-Face, nemesis of Batman.

Finally, around 10pm, I told my wife what was going on. She panicked a little — probably reflecting the panic I was letting slip through — and sent me off to the hospital. During the twenty minute drive to the hospital, I had plenty of time to self-diagnose. By the time I got there, I was certain: this had to be a stroke. It was only a matter of time ’til the rest of the right side of my body shut down.

When I told the emergency room admitting nurse that I couldn’t move the right side of my face and that I thought I had had a stroke, she hustled me right past all the other people waiting in line. As far as I was concerned, that validated my concern. I was going to have to learn to be left handed, and wouldn’t be able to walk, and… and…

Then, the doctor asked me a bunch of questions — did I have a metallic taste in my mouth? Did even moderate noises bother me in my right ear? — and gave me a CT scan. I made some serious personal resolutions.

Then he told me I had Bell’s Palsy — an inconvenient but not dangerous — and usually not permanent — inflammation of the 7th sciatic nerve. He prescribed a regimen of steroids and anti-inflammatories to help rebuild and de-inflame (just invented that word, thanks for asking) that nerve.

Over the next few weeks, I ballooned. I gained 10 pounds and had to buy new pants. I avoided talking to people, and especially avoided laughing around people. And, little by little I regained control of my face.

Which brings us to now. I’ve finally lost that steroid-induced weight, and I’ve actually done a pretty good job of keeping those resolutions — the ones that matter, anyway. And I’ve decided: If that Bell’s Palsy ever comes back, I’m not going to take another round of steroids. I’d rather wind up a little lopsided-looking in the end. Hey, it’d match my personality.

PS: This post rescued from my old Spaces archive. Originally posted June 8, 2005.


  1. Comment by BikeCopVT | 03.1.2009 | 5:54 am


    How on earth did you manage to keep your cool for so long? Furthermore how on earth did you hide this from so many people for so long? You have nerves of steal, and an impressive ability to just deal with everything life throws at you. My hat goes off to you.

    Win Susan
    Elden Won!

    P.S. when are the team jerseys getting the big reveal?

  2. Comment by Di | 03.1.2009 | 7:58 am

    I would’ve freaked. Bell’s Palsy would come to mind because I knew someone with it, but I would still freak. Heck, BP is freaky.

    I’m loving the archives. :-)

  3. Comment by Janet | 03.1.2009 | 9:21 am

    I was in dentistry for 20 years, and over that time saw many with BP. Most all felt the same way- Steroids were just not worth it. You’re an amazing man…these archives are pretty cool.

  4. Comment by VA Biker | 03.1.2009 | 10:10 am

    Question: in the almost 4yrs since this post, have you had a recurrence of BP? Just curious.

  5. Comment by oilcanracer | 03.1.2009 | 12:21 pm

    ya know….popeye comes to mind while reading this. maybe he had bells palsy also.

    i will eat some spinach in your honor today.

  6. Comment by Tinker | 03.1.2009 | 1:01 pm

    I had a bout with bells palsy thay went about as you described, but the steroids put me right in to Diabetes. The Doctor said “why didn’t you tell us you had never been tested?”

    “Why didn’t you tell me that steroids were implicated in diabetes?” 90MG of Prednisone. Every day. (I stopped taking the steroids,and took raft loads of aspirin, which has been my policy every since then.) Did I mention that I got a rash from prednisone? (Minutes after I took it, I’d get a red reticulated rash over my entire body, and an hour or two later it would go away.) An allergy! to Prednisone! (This was the harbinger of things to come, had I but known.)

    Seemed to help as much as the steroid. Of course I was taking the aspirin on my own initially anyway. A few years later I had another bout with Bells Palsy, right side instead of left. Ever hear of Ramsey Hunt Syndrome? Bells Palsy with unexplained constant pain. (yes, bells palsy is also unexplained, but adding the sensation that your ear opening wants to close up, and is painful to boot, is just SO MUCH NICER.)

    Anyway, they were on opposite sides, and so balanced each other out. (Still got the gift of diabetes, though,and Unexplained allergic reactions to most drugs, as well.)

    So, It could be worse…

  7. Comment by Brian | 03.1.2009 | 2:55 pm

    I’ve seen quite a few patients with Bell’s Palsy with exactly the same worry as you presented with so no loss of face for your ‘panic’. (BTW I’m going to give my medical student the first bit of your post bit-by-bit tomorrow and see how long it gets them to come up with the correct diagnosis.)

    Minor correction is that it’s the 7th cranial nerve not sciatic (which is where you get back pain radiating down into your leg). It’s the facial nerve. We had a suitably obscene mnemonic to remember the order of the 12 nerves which if you want I’ll email you with. NOT suitable for a family friendly blog.

  8. Comment by Clydesteve | 03.1.2009 | 3:00 pm

    I had a friend in college get BP. It bugged him, but most of us enjoyed it while it lasted because Danny was less handsome with 1/2 of his face sagging. Kind of brought us down to our level.

    He did not take prednisone, but it went away by the end of the term, as I remember.

    So, if it comes back, I expect you would be safe to avoid the pred. That stuff makes me feel like a different, crankier person.

  9. Comment by fatty | 03.1.2009 | 3:34 pm

    va biker – nope, hasn’t recurred. though i believe that by revealing this fact i have invoked exactly the jinx which will bring about recurrence.

    brian – how weird that this whole time i’ve been saying sciatic nerve instead of cranial nerve. i wonder how i got that wrong in the first place. anyway, thanks for the correction. and please email me (fatty@fatcyclist.com) with how your students do with figuring out what it was.

    tinker – yeah, i’m pretty much down on steroids now. in addition to what they did to susan and what they did to me, your description of what they did to you sounds pretty awful. i’m sure they can do a lot of good in certain circumstances, but i will for sure ask a LOT of questions if a doctor ever recommends ‘roids for me again.

    bikecopvt – the team fatty jerseys will be unveiled a week from tomorrow. you heard it here first!

    everyone who’s said nice things about how i handled this episode – you need to understand that my case wasn’t as bad as some and i didn’t do anything brave or unusual in dealing with this. but still: thanks.

  10. Comment by Heidi | 03.1.2009 | 6:52 pm

    Omigosh, if anyone who reads this entry ever thinks there’s a possibility of a stroke, get thee to a hospital STAT! Time is of the absolute essence.

  11. Comment by rita | 03.1.2009 | 7:36 pm

    brian – there’s a curious thing about the 3rd cranial nerve and bladder ca. You might find it interesting, at least for your ‘files’. rita@rocklandbike.org if you want to hear about it.

  12. Comment by Phil | 03.1.2009 | 7:57 pm

    We were having a bicep building contest at work, and one lady was lagging. Then she got Bells Palsy and got put on ‘Roids, which made her pack on muscle like there’s no tomorrow. She would have won the contest but she quit before it ended. Good thing too because she would have knocked me out of the prize money.

  13. Comment by Amber | 03.1.2009 | 8:22 pm

    I was on steroids for 3 months for my asthma… gained 40 lbs. in those 3 months, along with being absolutely mean and irritable (couldn’t stand the sound of my boyfriend breathing or eating!!) The steroid weight is almost impossible to lose, as I’m sure you know.

  14. Comment by Steve | 03.1.2009 | 11:51 pm

    An ex came down with Bells Paulsy several years ago… no steroids to fix the problem. just B-12 shots in the thigh 2x daily for about a week. She was without symptoms within a week.

    If I remember correctly, the ER doc wanted her on steroids, but a buddy of mine with some expertise in alternative treatments suggested the B-12.

    Should be noted that she was diagnosed within hours of showing symptoms and was on the B-12 shortly thereafter. couldn’t even guess at the doseage right now.


  15. Comment by Bander | 03.2.2009 | 11:26 am

    Nice try Phil, but the type of ‘Roids they put you on for Bell’s palsy doesn’t help build muscle, it tears it down.

  16. Comment by Janet | 03.4.2009 | 11:25 am

    I had a mild form of Bells Palsy where my eyelid drouped and the corner of my mouth was downturned a little….thankfully it cleared up on its own without medicine. It was scary to go through and soundsl ike yours was even scarier. Glad though you are better.


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