For a few months at the beginning of 2015 I had the smooth, taut, wrinkle free skin on my face that we all try so hard to recapture. No frown lines, laughter lines, creases or any other class of wrinkles.
On half of my face only.
I was hit full force with a bout of Bell’s Palsy when my second child was exactly 4 months old. My son’s birth wasn’t exactly a walk in the park (what birth is?), there was a lot of stress in our lives with trying to sell our apartment, family drama, a baby that just didn’t get the concept of sleep; I was tired. Oh so tired. And also refusing to acknowledge the murky waters of post-natal depression I had found myself in (that is deserving of a whole other blog post which I will get to). Basically I was run down, not looking after myself, stressed and exhausted. A sitting duck for an opportunistic passing virus.
I woke one night with an unusual headache, so unusual that I texted my headache buddy (if you get a lot of headaches you will know what I mean) to try and describe the new feelings with the latest visitor. It passed and I got on with things. Then two days later I took my daughter grocery shopping and I just felt awful. I remember lying my head on the handle of the trolley in the nappy aisle and crying. I figured I was coming down with something. On the drive home I thought the sun was especially strong as my left eye seemed to be getting blinded. At home I noticed my eye wasn’t really blinking properly.
I had heard of Bell’s Palsy and suspected this was where the not fully closing eye was headed. I rang the out of hours doctor (it was a Sunday) and made an appointment for that afternoon. The left side of my face deteriorated by the minute, it was terrifying. The two sides of my face appeared to be existing totally separately, if I smiled only half of my mouth moved.
The GP agreed that Bell’s Palsy could be responsible but also as I described dizzy spells I had been experiencing and how I had been dropping things a lot she sent me to A&E thinking I might need a brain scan, in case it was actually a stroke.
I was whisked through A&E which was quite a shock to me as I expected a long waiting time, but is seems a woman in her early thirties potentially having a stroke will give you an advantage there over broken bones and the likes.
A number of doctors saw me in the hospital, and looked at my failing face. By now I couldn’t move my eyelid at all or move my mouth on the left side. The entire left side of my face was frozen, paralysed and just sitting there. Waiting for the muscles to remember to move, but the muscles had checked out. Bell’s Palsy was diagnosed (no need for a brain scan in the end), I was prescribed a lot of steroids, eye drops and told to keep my eye patched to protect it.
Patching an eye that refuses to stay closed is like trying to get an octopus into a string vest. I felt enough like a side show as it was with my immobilised half-face, was achy and miserable from the virus and trying to keep up the mommy front (I even had a breast pump brought to me in A&E). It was all just too much.
My eye was the biggest challenge. I had to sleep (sleep being a very loose use of the word) holding my eyelid shut with my hand. I needed to manually blink my eyelid with my hand every few seconds. Imagine that. Pay attention to how often you blink, and imagine having to make sure you pull your eyelid down that often, or your eye dries out. Eye drops and eye lubricant were essential. I used all methods of taping my eye shut to try and rest it, but it would pop open immediately inside the layers of tape and padding. I did eventually discover a trick to try and keep the eye closed, which made for a great pirate costume. I would put enough padding on my eye to make those green maternity pads look like light liners and then use one of those little black sun-bed goggles to hold it all in place (hubby was dispatched to a tanning shop to source these little gems), and it worked for awhile at least. I slept like that – one sexy bed time look I tell you!
I was in a low place, I couldn’t go outside for the walks which were my lifeline when at home with a baby as my eye could so easily be damaged. There was no joy to be had from my favourite foods as my left side of my mouth wouldn’t close so eating and drinking became something I just did for fuel behind closed doors.
My mother has a wonderful physiotherapist and she told her (in the early days) about what I was going through. She practices acupuncture and told me to get to her as soon as I could. So my treatment now expanded to include regular pins and needles up and down my arms and legs – I had been so worried there would be needles in my face but that wasn’t the case. Whatever “lines” she was working on hit the spot. Session by session there were little improvements and by the last one I could force my eyelid to close if I tried really hard. Amazing progress given she admits she was worried when she first saw me as I had the worst case in respect of my eye she had seen.
It is a testament to her that there are no lasting effects at all. Most people are left with some slight paralysis but I have escaped unscathed. I have noticed that when I yawn my left eye tends to close but that is a small price to pay.
I wanted to share my story as when I was googling incessantly trying to read other people’s stories it was hard to come across a complete experience. There were forums where people discussed their recovery but very little one-stop-shop beginning-to-happy-end stories. So here it is. I know that Bell’s Palsy is fairly common in the third trimester of pregnancy and I can only imagine how scary that must be for a mother-to-be to navigate along with all of the other changes in her body.
These days I still use all the fancy potions, creams and lotions I can get my hands on to try and try the skin clock back to my early twenties; but I don’t bemoan the existence of those lines anymore as I can’t tell you how happy I was to see them all come back when my facial nerve kicked back to life and things picked up where they left off. The grass is always greener and everything comes at a price. Embrace those lines, they’re evidence you’ve lived, loved and laughed.
If you would like to read more about Bell’s Palsy and the science-y medical aspect of it here are a few linkys to get you started –
Also, if anyone is going through this and has any questions, please feel free to ask.