Last Wednesday morning I woke up early as usual, wondering what time it was, if Paco had left for work yet and what the heck was wrong with the left side of my face. I felt like I had a bee sting, someone had maybe injected my lower lip with Botox and someone else had socked me in the jaw, all at the same time. How odd, I thought, I don’t remember being in a barroom brawl at my cosmetic surgeon’s office yesterday.
By the time I dragged myself out of bed Paco had left for the office so I had no one to give me a second opinion on whether or not I was imagining this or did, in fact, have some strange malady. I decided that whatever it was probably wasn’t fatal but not getting to the office on time could prove to be, given how unpredictable my deeply flawed and bi-polar boss Mr. S can be. I put on my game face (and some clothes) and went to work.
Once there I emailed Paco:
Me: “I woke up with a swollen jaw this morning. I look like a chipmunk. Do you think I should call Dr K? The left side of my face is flushed and swollen, too. It doesn’t really hurt, just achy. Or should I call my dentist? My teeth don’t hurt but there’s definitely something causing this.”
Paco: “Well, I don't know. You might have just slept funny... too much on one side. If you're not in pain, it might go down during the morning on its own. I've sometimes slept on my face and feel a little beat-up the next morning. Maybe you took too many sleeping pills last night. You're not mixing them with Brandy again, I hope?”
Me: “No, no. This is more than that. I think if I had slept on it funny it would be going down by now. I’ll give it awhile longer before I call Dr K. Maybe it will go away on its own.”
My sypmtoms grew worse, however, so I went to see Dr. K, our wonderful internist who is brilliant, funny, energetic, inquisitive and YOUNG. He is younger than me by at least 20 years and always looks like he just got home from school and is in search of his afternoon snack. He swung open the examining room door and started talking, as usual, before the door was completely open.
Dr. K: (all toothy smile holding his lunch box) “Well, tell me what’s wrong with you today…oh my, I see it already!? (walking over to my hunched frame sitting dejectedly on the examining table). “Okay, now smile, do your lips like this, frown, smile again, wiggle your eyebrows. Hmmm. OH, I KNOW WHAT YOU HAVE! (Oh, oh, I know the answer! Choose me, choose me! Dr. K, there in the back. Please tell us your answer!) and Dr K said “YOU HAVE BELL’S PALSY!!!” Somehow I knew he was going to tell me this. Sister K had had it a few years back and my symptoms were similar to hers. So I said “I thought you would say that. So how did I get this? Where did it come from? I can’t move the left side of my face, my lip is swollen and my left eye is drooping. And I haven't been anywhere near Dr H's office in months" (my aforementioned cosmetic surgeon). After Dr K explained that no one really knows what causes it he nevertheless wrote out several prescriptions for mega doses of steroids and an anti-viral drug and I was soon on my way, after being cautioned to call him immediately if my symptoms grew worse, blah blah. I also had to cancel my upcoming visit with Dr H, which was far worse than waking up with Bell's Palsy. But certainly cheaper.
I spent this past weekend hyper-focusing on my Jumbo Weekly Pill Holder, you know the one you see next to your grandmother’s bed that contains approximately 37 different pills per day so she doesn’t get mixed up on which ones to take when? That was me. I was by turns jumpy, irritable and bone-tired from all the meds but gradually I started to feel better and am now down to the last 20 or so pills. I went back to Dr K this morning and he was even more excited to see me this time since my symptoms are so much improved. He was all smiles, having just discovered the fudge brownie left over in his lunch box. He is so cute and cheerful, so cuddly and smart, it made me happy that he was happy. I hated to burst his bubble but I had to ask him something. “Are you sure I have Bell’s? I mean, I feel so much better and I can move my face again. I thought this was supposed to last for months and months,” I said. Was I cured this fast? A dark cloud fell across his face, his science project in ruins, the judges pinning the Blue Ribbon on the moldy bread experiment display instead of his homemade Neutron Bomb formula. “Yes, you did and do have Bell’s. But you got here in time and we started treating you early enough to alleviate your symptoms quickly.” I felt terrible that I had questioned his diagnosis. I had to make this right before he called his mom to come pick him up early. “I’m sorry, Dr K, I don’t mean to second-guess your diagnosis. What do I know? I’m sure I have it and you got me on the right meds quickly and I will no doubt recover much faster now. Thank you so much. You are a wonderful doctor.” His mood brightened and he perked right up. The judges had reconsidered and the Blue Ribbon was his after all! “No, no, second opinions are often vital, don’t worry about it. But your symptoms are classic and I am sure you have Bell’s. You’ll be fine. I’ll see you in 6 months.”
In the meantime, the steroids are making my face slightly puffy and causing my wrinkles to be somewhat less noticable, thus saving me the cost of the Juvederm. Maybe Bell's Palsy isn't so bad after all.