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When Your Whistler Stops Working…

or… For Whom The Bell(‘s Palsy) Tolls

Saturday, November 17th 2012 began like many other Saturday’s before it. The pre-sunrise landscape found me puttering along to work to grab a few counts while the line was not running. maintaining the (performance review-determining) goal of 100% (no typo there) Inventory Accuracy in a major manufacturing environment is difficult enough as it is. That the Assembly line runs now with no break in between three 8-hour Monday through Friday shifts makes these non-Production Saturdays all the more golden. Not because they allow for a much needed break… but because they are the only opportunity we have to count.

And so, a-counting I went.

As I slogged back to my desk to enter my results into the Magic Spreadsheet which would tell me whether or not I needed to begin job scouting, I noticed a funny feeling on the left side of my face. Or maybe a non-feeling. Or, I guess more of a non-ability-to-move-the-entire-left-side-of-my….FACE! Oh my goodness! What is happening??

OK…well…ummmm…

No pain anywhere. No arm pain, no chest pain. OK. That’s good…right?

My neck had hurt like the dickens the previous two days… maybe I pinched a nerve? Hmmmm.

Ah well.

And so, with a shrug I plugged away at my data entry.

I proceeded to shuffle on home and mentioned to my wife, almost in passing, “Oh…by the way. I can’t move the left side of my face”. After I assured her that aside from my freaky facial paralysis I felt fine, she marched me to an Urgent Care.

As friendly as the doctor was, after checking for signs of stroke, he basically said… OK… you should be fine. We suggested to him a diagnosis of Bell’s Palsy before being sent on our way. This diagnosis had been provided via phone by Dr. Sister-In-Law. When presented to Urgent Care doc, he said… hmmmm. Yeah, that’s what it must be. So, for a small co-pay and an hour of my time, I received a diagnosis that had already been provided free of charge and within minutes of simply hearing about my symptoms. Go fig.

Sunday came and brought with it much appreciated prayers and well wishes from Church family. Sunday night sucked me back to work to put in a quick 4-hour shift (so I could leave on vacation after Monday). System issues turned that 4 hour mini-shift into a 10+ hour overnight slog. But that allowed me the permission to not go into work on Monday. My faced may have drooped a little more due to staying up all night… but I was officially off for the next week.

I was able to go to my primary Doctor on Monday and he confirmed the gimpy face condition and prescribed an anti-viral and a steroid pack. He gave us some good information and some welcome comfort and allowed us to get on the road with peace of mind (and a freaky deaky face).

 

Turkey doesn’t taste quite the same with half a tongue. Well, only half of a functional tongue. Well… it still functions, but I can only taste on half of it.

 

So… Bell’s Palsy.

 

Probably caused by a virus. A spiteful virus, at that. It afflicts the 7th Cranial Nerve which passes through a narrow canal on either side of the base of the skull and then branches out across each respective side of your face. Either the nerve or the canal becomes inflamed and so information is unable to be transmitted past the point of inflammation. Since the stoppage occurs before the nerve branches out, it affects the entire side of your face: eyelid, nose, mouth, forehead, etc.

This nerve only affects the muscles, so the affected area is not numb and retains the sense of touch. The eye muscles are unaffected (controlled by a different nerve… but the eyelid and eyebrow cannot move.

The end effect can result in a post-transformation Harvey Dent-ish look. For reference (and nightmares) here is me trying to smile:

 

The Phantom of the Auto Plant unmasked

 

Since blinking is conducive (…well… necessary) to Contact Lens wearing, my amazing wife took the initiative to get me glasses, so now I can Clark Kent it with the best of them. The left side of my face is in a temporarily permanent state of unamused. It seems to be better to allow my right side face to mimic the left. Attempting to smile produces a look that is useful for scaring small children, so it’s probably best to remain Mr. Dour for the time being.

 

That time being is supposed to be a week (too late) or two. But maybe a month or more. There is occasional (fairly excruciating) pain at the inflammation point… but that seems to be manageable with the help of Excedrin Migraine or Aleve helpers.

All in all… this is just a weird thing. It is difficult to describe the experience. Proper annunciation is a task (and near impossible). Drinking requires a straw (unless I wish to dribble obnoxiously). Eating is equally challenging, as everything must be chewed on the right side of my mouth in order to keep it in. The eye, blinkless, tends to get dry at times… but lubricating drops fix that.

 

I suppose the very best way I can describe this experience is: annoying.

It is simply a nuisance more than anything else. But, it could have been worse. A lot worse. I am thankful that God saw fit to use an annoyance to help me get a little more focussed on taking my other medications. I am in relatively decent shape… a little overweight… but who isn’t?  But, my body does not like me. I have mistreated it somewhat and it must feel quite scorned. In true overly dramatic fashion, it has decided to grace me with Diabetes, High Cholesterol, and High Blood Pressure. All at 33 years of age.

Feeling good and not being morbidly obese has led me to pretend I don’t have these (serious) health issues. I had been “off my meds” for a good bit of time when the Bell’s tolled. It was kind of the proverbial wake up call. If it weren’t this temporary bout of palsy, it could have been something much, much, much worse. And I would have brought it on myself.

So, the Bell’s Palsy is not simply something to grin and bear though (especially since grinning is impossible). It’s actually a blessing (in a Quasimodo-face disguise).

 

Without a working whistler, you can’t whistle past the graveyard… but, in truth, this Bell’s Palsy has probably helped me avoid the graveyard completely (at least for the forseeable future).

 

 

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