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.