My Experience with Bell's Palsy: Part 1
March 27, 2011
I will never forget that unforgettable day of March 27, 2011, the day it all started. It was a Sunday afternoon and I was preparing lunch for myself, my partner and mother-in-law. We all sat down in our dining room and proceeded to partake in a mid-day meal with good talk and good food. Upon tasting my food, I felt a bit of a numbness on my tongue. The sensation was that of a burnt feeling when you taste something too hot. I felt like a part of my tongue was scorched and I could not really eat without feeling its lack of sensation. I carried on the rest of the day confident that it will go away in a few days. The next day, my right eye started feeling "funny". I was constantly closing it because it felt like it was drying out. I also found that I couldn't "wink" that eye but I chalked it up to its dryness. I had contacts in so I figured that was the cause. On Tuesday, I was brushing my teeth and when I was about to gurgle the water dripped out of my mouth. I could not hold water because my right side had no movement. This was when I went into full panic mode. Every condition that I knew of flooded into my mind while we drove to the emergency room. Did I suffer a stroke? Did I have a brain tumor? Was I going to die and leave my loved ones? I can still cry now thinking about the fear and tremor that my mind and body went through those 10 minutes on the way to the hospital. My little girl in the back seat, not yet 3 years old. My partner who had miraculously entered into my life less than 2 years ago. Will it be all taken away with a threatening illness that can take my life? I was so afraid of the unknown.
Once we reached the ER, the doctor asked me to perform a series of movements. Raise my eyebrows, close my eyes, wink with each eye, open my mouth, stick out my tongue. She diagnosed me quickly without any other tests and informed me that I had Bell's Palsy. I had no idea what this meant. I never heard of the condition. Was it going to get worse? What other parts of my body will this affect? Will my body follow? How will I function as a mother? Quickly we learned that Bell's Palsy only affects the face and that the symptoms could worsen within the next few days before it gets better. But how did this happen? The doctor did not give me the straightforward answer I was looking for. She danced around subjects like ticks, tick bites, Lyme Disease and herpes despite my assurance that neither applied to me. Nonetheless, she shrugged it off and ended with "No one really knows why it happens." We were also told there was not a set time frame on when I would be recovered, it could take anywhere from a few weeks, to a few months. I still had concerns and the doctor offered a CAT scan to rule out any other possibilities. Thankfully it came back fine and she prescribed me prednisone and acyclovir. I was given my prescription and told to make an appointment with a doctor within the next few days. I was sad this happened to me. I was relieved it wasn't life threatening like I originally thought. I was scared because of the little information the doctor seem to know about this condition. I was self-conscience because half of my face had taken a hiatus and was no longer functioning. I was hurt and felt alone. I was embarrassed for my partner and daughter who had to live with me like this. I felt hopeless and distraught. The day was sunny and light but for me a dark cloud hovered. Despite the array of feelings I was going through in a matter of minutes, I needed to know everything about this illness. Who, what, where, when and why were the questions that pooped into my head as I scurried and searched.
What is Bell's Palsy?
Bell's Palsy was named after Charles Bell (he studied and desribed the nerve) and is a paralysis of the face that results from the 7th cranial nerve being damaged. This leads to an inability to move and control the facial muscles on the affected side. The fallopian canal is where the facial nerve passes through and is the prime spot where inflammation and compression occurs which will lead to the nerve malfunctioning. One of the causes is Herpes Simplex 1. Many people do not realize if they have been exposed to this virus. It can often happen during childhood when kissing a parent or through towels and/or utensils. The virus can exist but never show signs. It can remain dormant and reactivate due to certain triggers such as lack of sleep, excessive stress, upper respiratory infection and/or illness. These "triggers" are not definite and 100% proven but are the leading and common assumptions. When the virus reactivates at the facial nerve, the body release antibodies which causes an inflammation. If the inflammation occurs in the fallopian canal, the nerve will be compressed because of the tiny and limited space. Other causes include Lyme Disease, flu-like illnesses and another form of Herpes (Varicella Zoster Virus). It can also be caused by enviornmental factors as well as physical. In turn, no one really knows the cause of Bell's Palsy.
Initially upon talking to doctors and reading a few sites online, one can get the misconception that Bell's Palsy is rare and uncommon. However, it affects approximately 40,000 Americans every year without preference of age, gender, ethnicity and lifestyle.
My symptoms progressively got worse within the next few days. Before getting to the emergency room, one could not tell anything was wrong with me unless I tried to drink from a cup or hold any type of liquid in my mouth. It would dribble out. However, by the end of the week, my right side was drooping and whenever I talked my mouth tilted to the left side because my muscles on the right had no control. My affected eye was "popped" open and could not fully close. It did not blink all the way like my left eye and this caused an immense amount of dryness. I made an appointment with a wonderful eye doctor who prescribed me eye lubricant and drops. I had to keep my eye lubricated throughout the day with these artificial coatings because my eye could not close long enough so it can protect itself from the debris and wind whenever my eyes were open. Nights were the most depressing times for me because of the chore I had to perform before I go to bed. Every night without fail I had to lubricate my eye with the ointment. It had the consistency of vaseline and it made my vision extremely blurry. I then proceeded to force close my eye all the way down and taping it down. Then I had to cover it with some sort of gauze or patch so it would not pop open in the middle of the night. My partner helped me every night. I was ashamed at how much I had to depend on her. She took on so much weight because of my inability to do so much. We could not go outside whenever there was even the smallest gust of wind because no matter how much ointment I had, it would only last a few moments until my eye became so dry it turned blood shot red. I had regular appointments with my optometrist to monitor my eye and ensure my cornea did not get scratched or suffer from any injury from my Bell's Palsy. It felt like I was battling two sicknesses at once. It was draining, in part because of my weakened immune system. My energy was low and I was tired often. In addition to maintaining a certain level of eye care, I was embarrassed to do simple things people easily take advantage of like smiling, frowning, puckering, pouting etc. You don't realize how important your mouth and lips are until you no longer have the function to smile. Eating at the table with the family made me feel uncomfortable because I did not want to be the focal point of stares and questions.
I scheduled a doctor's appointment and it did nothing to lift my spirits. The doctor had no sympathy and was no real help. He said all I could do was wait it out. I went to another doctor who knew less about the condition and tried to refer me to a neurologist which made sense to me considering Bell's Palsy is a malfunction of the facial nerve. When my appointment with the neurologist arrived I was slapped with a statement that still rings in my ear today, "If you haven't improved yet, you will most likely stay like this." What?!? Excuse me?!? It had been over 3 months. My daughter and partner were waiting for me in the waiting room so I knew I could not show a hint of emotion until we arrived home. That evening, I did everything I could to not think about those cruel words. I kept myself busy and moving so I wouldn't break, collapse or let my loved ones worry about me. But at last, late that night I burst into tears and cried until my eyes were swollen. I was infuriated at the lack of knowledge and information doctors had. I was pissed off at the neurologist that performed no real tests on me and could give me that indefinite answer. I had lost all hope. I was aware that most Bell's Palsy cases were recovered within 3 months. I was told this by doctors in addition to looking at a few sites online. I was just over 3 months and still experiencing discomfort in talking, eating and blinking. I had not changed from the initial onset. Every morning up until 3 months, I would wake up and jump to the mirror to see if there was any change. One does not know how much this affects everyday living. Self esteem and confidence is the motivation for so many things. I did not want to go outside my inner walls that confined me to my bedroom. I did not want to talk for fear of what someone may think. I could not pronounce certain letters because they would come out slurred and distorted.
My partner and I went through various articles and research on what could speed up the recovery. With Bell's Palsy, nerves were essential. Having damaged nerve meant the source of damage had to be stopped before regeneration could occur. The answer to this problem initially came from the doctors who prescribed me prednisone and acyclovir. Prednisone is a synthetic hormone that is used as an anti-inflammatory agent. I took this everyday for 5 days at a dosage of 60mg. This was supposed to stop the source of inflammation and allow the damage to be limited. Acyclovir is an anti-viral medication used to stop the spreading of the herpes simplex. Together, according to doctor's, they formed the top solution in combating Bell's Palsy. I felt that after taking these medications for the allotted time, it did little if anything to improve my condition. The medication left me feeling dizzy, lightheaded and towards the end of treatment made me feel jittery. It is said these medications are effective if taken within 7 days of the onset of Bell's Palsy. I did and again found little help in them. So we embarked on natural remedies that could increase my immune system. B vitamin is essential in promoting a healthy and functioning nervous system. In particular, B12 supplements were added to my diet. The Vitamin Shoppe became our go to for any vitamins or supplements we needed. We bought the highest dosage of B12 and I would take two tablets, one in the morning and one at night. Methylcobalamin is a form of B12 that aids in the growth and maintenance of nerves. We also piled up on Acai juice (100% pure) that was high in antioxidants which help protect cells from free radicals that can be damaging to them. We bought oils like Spearmint, Tea Tree and Eucalyptus which we used to soothe the right side of my face. The affected side of my face began to ache because of the lack of movement. It was sore and we wanted to stimulate blood flow. The oils helped in massaging my face and also we felt it provided healing qualities like relaxing the muscles and aiding them in movement. Eucalyptus in particular has stimulating and anti-inflammatory properties.
So we stopped seeing doctors and put all our faith in mother nature. Everything I drank and ate had some sort of natural substance that could build my immunity, motivate regeneration of nerves and balance my body's make-up. I tried to remain positive that all these efforts would pay off but it was becoming increasingly more difficult as the days turn into weeks and then into months. Everyday was a mission and journey to get better, to recover, to gain what was lost.
Helpful Links on Bell's Palsy
- Bell\'s palsy - MayoClinic.com
Bell's palsy — Comprehensive overview covers causes, treatment of this usually temporary facial paralysis.
- Bell\'s palsy - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Bells palsy, Ramsey Hunt syndrome and facial paralysis information: Causes, symptoms, residual effects, treatment and exercises. Active Bell's Palsy forum & chatroom for support.