Sometimes Bell's Palsy Never Goes Away
What is Bell's palsy?
According to information from the Mayo Clinic (http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/bells-palsy/basics/definition/con-20020529):
"Bell's palsy causes sudden weakness in your facial muscles. This makes half of your face appear to droop. Your smile is one-sided, and your eye on that side resists closing.
"Bell's palsy, also known as facial palsy, can occur at any age. The exact cause is unknown, but it's believed to be the result of swelling and inflammation of the nerve that controls the muscles on one side of your face. It may be a reaction that occurs after a viral infection.
"For most people, Bell's palsy is temporary. Symptoms usually start to improve within a few weeks, with complete recovery in about six months. A small number of people continue to have some Bell's palsy symptoms for life. Rarely, Bell's palsy can recur."
Another definition from WebMD (http://www.webmd.com/brain/tc/bells-palsy-topic-overview):
"Bell's palsy is a paralysis or weakness of the muscles on one side of your face. Damage to the facial nerve that controls muscles on one side of the face causes that side of your face to droop . The nerve damage may also affect your sense of taste and how you make tears and saliva. This condition comes on suddenly, often overnight, and usually gets better on its own within a few weeks.
"Bell's palsy is not the result of a stroke or a transient ischemic attack (TIA). While stroke and TIA can cause facial paralysis, there is no link between Bell's palsy and either of these conditions. But sudden weakness that occurs on one side of your face should be checked by a doctor right away to rule out these more serious causes."
What I Look Like Today
My Bell's Palsy Story
My story is simple at the beginning. I woke up with it one morning in 2007. I open my right eye but my left was already open, stuck open I was to soon find out. I immediately felt the numbness of the entire left side of my face. Jumping out of bed, I ran to the bathroom mirror too see the disaster: my smile was crooked with only the right side of it working normally. My nostril was dead on the left side, no feeling at all. My left eyelid would not work no matter how hard I tried. It was stuck in the "open" position. My eye still went back and forth but the lid would not blink at all. I thought I had had a stroke.
Seven years later, as of September 2014, I still have it. It is not as debilitating but just as humiliating, frustrating, and depressing as ever. My pictures practically tell the story.
What I Did
After completely freaking out, my wife tried to reassure me as we quickly made a doctor's appointment. The doctor was able to see me that day and tentatively diagnosed it as Bell's palsy but sent me to a specialist for confirmation. At that appointment, it was again diagnosed as Bell's palsy though not 100% certain. I had electro-pad therapy with a TENS unit that made me extremely uncomfortable. Let me try to describe it for you: Little pads, about an inch around, connected to wires. The pads are attached to your face using an adhesive backing. When attached they are then turned on and the intensity of the charge regulated according to need. It feels like little pins and needles sticking you over and over again. Very annoying.
I needed to find out what to do about my left eye and the fact that it would not close. The doctor recommended an eye patch, either adhesive or elastic, to be worn at all times to protect against dust, dirt and dryness. I had to always have "natural tears" eye drops handy to help keep the eye moist.
Eating and drinking suddenly became a challenge. Although I could still chew on my left side, I had no feeling so taking a piece out of my cheek was something I had to be watchful of. The only way I could drink was to use a straw for without it it just dribbled down my left side. Remember after the dentist, when you are full of novacaine and numb? That's exactly what my mouth felt like.
Symptoms of Bell's Palsy
Bell's Palsy Facts As I Know Them To Be
1. It might never go away
2. It effects you for the rest of your life
3. It changes the way you do things (like eating, drinking, smiling, etc.)
4. It forces you to make decisions you otherwise would not have to make (should I go out? Are they taking pictures? Can I eat normally?)
5. There is no cure
Seven Years Later
Seven years later I still have Bell's palsy though I have more control over it now. I am able to lift the left corner of my mouth slightly but I still have a crooked smile. My let eye closes fine but still has a sag to it. Also, whenever I try to smile, my left eye tends to close up so I rarely take photos of myself anymore. If I do, it will from my right side.
An Example of Bell's Palsy
Changes to Your Body, Changes to Your Attitude
Bell's palsy changes they way you act, the way you live and the way you interact with others. For me, interacting with others was one of the hardest things to do because I was always conscience of the way I looked to others. I had to wear dark glasses and remember to not smile or it would lead to questions being asked for which I had no answers.
It changed my life in that the way I slept, ate, drank, and ran about my daily life was no so simple anymore. Now I had to think before I did anything. Before I drink this, I should get a straw. Before I eat this, will it make me look funny by chewing only on one side?
Sleeping was a challenge in that I could never sleep on my left side anymore. If I did, I would find my pillow would have a large wet spot from where I drooled. I also had to wear the eye patch day and night which was becoming increasingly uncomfortable.
It totally changed the way I acted in my daily life such as taking a shower. If I removed the eye patch, the water would run into my eye. If I wore the eye patch, it was more difficult to wash my hair. Brushing my teeth, I had to pull the left side of my lip away from my face in order to reach in there with my toothbrush. I had become stigmatized so radically that it changed the way I was thinking about everything in my life.
And my attitude began to change, as well. I grew increasingly frustrated by the lack of a cure or even complete knowledge as to what I was specifically going through and experiencing. All I got was that I had a 75-80% chance of it being Bell's palsy and I would need a barrage of expensive tests to prove otherwise. I chose to stick with this diagnosis.
Bell's Palsy - Before and After Photos
Bell's Palsy is Nothing to Fool Around With!
If you think you might have Bell's palsy, immediately schedule an appointment with your primary care physician. The sooner you seek help the better you will be. The treatment (TENS unit electro-shock therapy, facial massage exercises) is not pleasant but won't take up much of your time. There is nothing that can be done about the way it effects you personally, only you can deal with that. Do not be afraid to seek help and advice from others, especially those who have experienced Bell's palsy themselves.
I was told Bell's palsy would only last a few months. That was very wrong. Then I was told it could last up to five years. I had hope. After the five-year anniversary passed, I became depressed. It has now been seven years and, though I am much better physically, I am still the same insecure, frustrated and depressed individual inside. I have resigned myself to the fact that I will have Bell's palsy until the day I die and I'm fine with that. Not really but it sounds good when I say it.