Bell's Palsy: My Journey

  


NOTEEven though I have worked in the medical field for 21 years typing medical reports for hospitals such as neurological institutes, I am not qualified to give advice, but I can share my own present experiences with Bell's palsy.

June 22, 2021 - I woke up to find something odd about the way my mouth moved. I stuck my tongue out with my mouth closed and my frenulum (that dimple above your upper lip) moved to one side strongly. 

As I had no headache, no confusion, no difficulty finding words, and my left arm and leg were working great, I recognized immediately what I was dealing with. 




Bell's palsy is an annoying temporary condition that can scare a person for its similar presentation as a stroke.  It should be evaluated by a professional as other conditions, such as stroke, could be the explanation. 


One side of the face droops with paralysis so that the eyelid on that side cannot close or blink, the eye gets dry, that corner of the mouth droops so that you drool easily. 


Within 24-48 hours it hits its worst. For me, most people wouldn't realize I had an issue unless I had to smile or make an expression, then the asymmetry would show. My speaking voice, as well, sounded sputtering like Elmer Fudd.  The eye on the left side was droopy so much that the upper lid area was blocking some of my vision. 



Classic way to tell if it's Bell's Palsy - the affected side of the face's forehead won't wrinkle when you squint. 


My mother and sister both had Bell's palsy in the past and so I recognized it quickly. It can tend to run in families, the propensity. I had a week earlier had a cold sore on my lip (a very classic viral culprit). It is extremely rare for me to get these, so I recalled it immediately when I had problems on the same side of the face. 



(above - a great template for measuring your recovery) 


Celebrities have also had this and are back to happy normal.  You can get this at very young ages, as well (more on that and the celebs later in this post)

Angelina Jolie
George Clooney
Sylvester Stallone
Pierce Brosnan
Roseanne Barr
Terrence Howard

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Here's more info - 


Mayo Clinic:  Although the exact reason Bell's palsy occurs isn't clear, it's often related to having a viral infection. Viruses that have been linked to Bell's palsy include viruses that cause:
Cold sores and genital herpes (herpes simplex)
Chickenpox and shingles (herpes zoster)
Infectious mononucleosis (Epstein-Barr)
Cytomegalovirus infections
Respiratory illnesses (adenovirus)
German measles (rubella)
Mumps (mumps virus)
Flu (influenza B)
Hand-foot-and-mouth disease (coxsackievirus)

The nerve that controls your facial muscles passes through a narrow corridor of bone on its way to your face. In Bell's palsy, that nerve becomes inflamed and swollen — usually related to a viral infection (for me a cold sore on my lip on that side just a week to a few days before). Besides facial muscles, the nerve affects tears, saliva, taste and a small bone in the middle of your ear.


VeryWellHealth: The chances of recovering from Bell's palsy are very good.  Many people recover in as soon as 10 days. About 85% of people will recover within three weeks, although recovery can take months in some cases.

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TIPS FROM MY EXPERIENCE

Eating/Drinking: For me, I accepted that I need to take time to eat and drink. It helps to use a straw, but even then I need to physically hold the straw with my fingers as my lips don't coordinate well to hold it in place. Sometimes I had to move my lip out of the way to bite into something and eat it, but with no sense of taste on that side of the tongue and chewing on that side awkward, I ate from the right side.

Eye:  I use eye ointment at night. I am using Systane lubricant gel.  I wear an eye patch when I sleep, but I also during the day wear it for periods of time. It stays moist under the patch at night and with the gel and in the daytime since I can't blink away irritants, keeping it on now and then keeps stuff out of the eye. I also use eye drops during the day. I avoid being near fans and because I can't squint against bright sunlight, I am avoiding the outdoors and if I must go out, dark glasses! 

Emotional state: It's really easy to get depressed with this as you are uncomfortable, feel unattractive, can't do things you normally want to do, and worry about whether you regain your face any time soon. Just know that you will get back to your life and this will be a distant memory, sort of like the flu. You are bedridden for a time, but know life goes on after recovery. 


Time off: Patience has been key for me. I told everyone I work with and friends and family that I would be taking several weeks off. I would not be available online except emergencies. I would not be going out and doing things. The lack of stress and relaxation helps the inflammatory process too.  

Supplements: I chose to do 1000 mg of B12 every other day,  zinc, echinachea, multivitamin, and 2000 mg of vitamin c, some turmeric and ginger in warm water with black pepper and some coconut oil. I seek to try to reduce inflammation as much as possible, as quickly as possible, so those were my personal choices. 

Exercises: I was immediately doing facial exercises 3 times a day and also blowing bubbles and practice chewing gum on that side.  I later did some research and inquired and found I should NOT exercise the face early in the condition, as it can cause synkinesis (moving out of sync), but I should just massage the face. This is kind of like twisting your ankle and it swells. When it's inflammed, you don't want to start doing exercises or you extend the length of the injury.  

I found out that past  the first week, you can do some gentle exercises where you use the hand to help the movements. Only 5 repetitions of each exercise twice a day. These are so helpful. 





It is what it is. As I was under mores stress than any human being should ever have to handle and had a cold sore on the left upper lip, I realized this was a bomb waiting to happen and so reducing stress is critical. I had to say - I am suspended from my duties until I get my face back online.

Me time. I have pulled out movies I love to watch, books I meant to read, spending the day on the couch with breaks to get on the elliptical and gently exercise. Basically, I've had time to do things for me instead of others.  

Gratitude is important.  I say thanks every day to God for allowing me a condition I can recover from and for all the great things going on in my life. I have found that gratitude is a fast healer.  Each muscle twitch or change and I say "thank you, thank you, thank you!"

NOTE: I will update (below) as I know how others with the condition like to hear how people have resolved the issue and the time period they resolved it in. It helps get through the days to stay focused on the recovery. 

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UPDATES

Day 8 smile

Thankful for small things. Excited because I can raise the left eyebrow a bit, muscle on left side near nose to mouth corner is moving. Seems to be right on track, though tedious. I will be happy when I can talk more normally without puffing air out of the corner of my mouth as if I'm on Novacaine, and no more drooling when I drink and having to use a straw. I suspect by Day 12, I should be having a huge jump. I will keep this updated - 


Day 13 smile

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Day 16

Routine. I don't want to say I've gotten used to the routine, but it does become routine. Gel and eye patch at night, vitamin C, zinc, and B12. Testing now and then to see if anything changed. I have movement near the side of my nose, eyebrow a bit, and even with movement near the corner of the mouth, it won't turn upward yet in a smile. So, I go through my days knowing that as soon as the inflammation lessons (the seventh cranial nerve outlet is near the ear), I will get more signal to the face. It's like a garden hose that's clamped and water won't flow. 



How long? It helped me to learn that there are about three types of this disorder - each a different degree. A great many are the superficial one that lasts perhaps 3 weeks to a month or so. The next level up can take 3 months to 6 months and the worst can take a year or slightly more to fully recover.

Frame of reference. I reflect back to 2008 when I had my Achilles surgery. I wasn't walking for a few months and then with a boot and eventually when I was allowed to walk, I had plantar fasciitis, extreme muscle loss, and had to work my way back to a strong right leg again. If I had known beforehand how long it would take, I would have been depressed, but in your day to day life you adapt to limitations and then with determination make big gains. I figured this face thing was going to be similar in persistence and completion, no matter how long it takes!

CELEBRITIES

Here's a great reference - celebs who are just fine now- 


Angelina Jolie had it in 2016
(here's her smile now)


George Clooney 
had it in middle school (that smile is perfect)


Katie Holmes 
(even though she recovered, there is a trace of it in her smile which makes it kinda naughty looking) 


Pierce Brosnan
(had it in the 1980s while filming and had to move camera angles to hide it)


Roseanne Barr
(had it at 3 years of age)


Terrence Howard
(had it in high school - and just look at that handsome face!)

The takeaway - it can hit any age but is most common from 16-60.


Medications. Doctors offer steroids and antivirals to help hasten the natural process, but I have a family with very bad reactions to steroids, so I opted to do the wait. I watch my nutrition, rest, pushed aside all stress, and found zen outlets like meditation and drawing on a giant chalkboard to keep me centered. A huge priority is the protection of the eye from drying. I use eye drops and the patch on and off all day, avoid going out in sunlight or wind, and use the ointment gel each night with a patch while I sleep. 

Day 18

A photo would look similar to the last.

No Comparisons:  But, I can say that it's tempting to surf around YouTube looking at vids done by people who recovered, but sometimes it makes things worse. You see someone younger than you who nine months later is struggling still. Then, you see someone who was through it in 3 weeks. You aren't sure what your timeline is and you really aren't sure if you recover your old face again. I have confidence that it will all be back in place and no one would know, except me and I will watch those tiny tiny things until they finally get right again. 

Patience: There is definitely no rush when it comes to this. It's not like a diet and an extra hour of exercise or cutting calories gets you there faster. The body heals how the body heals. You can take supplements, rest, do exercise, but each person is an utter snowflake so stop comparing your case with others.

Progress on Day 18:  I am starting to get some itching here and there on the left side of my face and as I go to scratch it, I realize I didn't have any such sensations before. I can see a bit of wrinkling on the forehead if I frown and that tiny patch of wrinkles makes me smile. The skin feels warm and alive now instead of cold and still. I get muscle twitches here and there, aches which seem to be part of this. 

Progress on Day 27:  Forcing a blink is easier on the affected eye and the muscles around it loosened some so I feel less like I'm looking out through a hood. The eyebrow goes up and down at about 70% of what it used to and the brow wrinkles on that side now. The muscles around the nose and corner of the mouth are active. When I smile now, instead of the corner going down, it stays straight and when I smile, my dimple shows in the cheek. There is still a fair deal of dead feeling in the cheek area, but it does move somewhat when I smile. I've been taking good care of the eye, protecting it from bright light and wind, lots of lubricating eye drops, and wearing blue light-blocking glasses to shield it, as well as occasionally wearing the patch during the day and always putting in gel and wearing a patch during sleep. My attitude is a bit better. I feel very far behind on all the irons I had in the fires, but I did realize that for all I was doing and all the immense stress I've been under the past few years, I needed to slow down and focus on health and well being. I am being much kinder to Sharon now. 



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