Whoops, Looks Like Your Smile's Broken!

It's been 10 months. I still get the occasional thumping and muscle spams on the right side of my face, which reminds me that it's about time I blog about my little brush with a certain something called 'Bell's Palsy'!

First things first, here are some facts you might want to know about this facial paralysis.
  1. It's a pretty common condition (we're talking about 1 out of 70 here!) but it may still come as a shock to those who get it.
  2. It's not fatal! In fact, the prognosis for the condition is pretty good, even without treatment. So it's really nothing to worry about.
  3. If you HAVE to worry about something, it'd be 'synkinesis' - the dreaded miswiring of nerves after trauma. So yes, #FACIALEXERCISESEVERYDAYORDIE.
  4. The recovery period varies for different people. Some recover in a matter of days, some take years (usually the older folks). It took me a little more than a month - just enough for me to melodramatise things a bit!
  5. No one knows the exact cause of Bell's Palsy, so uh... preventing it from happening can be kind of tricky! Oh, and it happens overnight.
  6. It's kind of funny. It can be funny. Heck, your friends will find it funny anyway.

So yeah, here it goes. I really hope it doesn't happen to you or a friend - but it's best that you know what it's like anyway!

It was a Thursday, and I can still recall how my lips felt a little odd that morning. They felt stiff and swollen each time I pursed them, but looked completely normal in the mirror. My right eye, on the other hand, felt extremely dry. I went to work anyway, not knowing that they were telltale signs of an impending facial paralysis till a colleague pointed out how my right eye was blinking much slower than the left over lunch.

Upon their insistence, I went to see a doctor immediately.

Day 1: Not worried just yet.

He told me that it was no biggie - nothing a little medication can't cure. It was, however, some form of infection in the brain (LIKE HOW IS THAT NOT A BIGGIE?!?!) and that I should see a neurologist ASAP.

Puzzled, I headed straight off for Pantai Hospital.
And that was where the neurologist dropped the bomb on Bell's Palsy.

"No, it's not Bell's Palsy! The doctor told me it's some small infection in the brain!"
"Ah, he probably didn't want to scare you."
"Like how is THAT not scaring me now???"

Truth be told, the only thing I knew about Bell's Palsy back then was that Alexis Denisof (and other actors such as Katie Holmes and George Clooney) had it too. So if they can still act - it's nothing to worry about!

He then explained that Bell's Palsy is a form of facial paralysis that is caused by an infection to the cranial nerve VII (read as "seventh cranial nerve", but also known as the facial nerve). Symptoms include problems controlling the facial muscles and closing the eye on the affected side of the face. It's almost like a mini stroke - but you can't move your forehead at all.

And the line to rule it all?

"Since it's only your first day - expect it to get much worse."


That sure got me contemplating about living life as Two Face Number Two (Three?), but in all seriousness - I had to start treatment immediately or risk having half my face droop lower and lower with time.

"Holyfuckitydoodle. What do you mean that I might stay like this forever?"

I was given a 6-day leave, as well as a week's dose of steroid pills and nerve vitamins. Prolonging of the condition will only weaken the muscles even more, resulting in a longer recovery period - which I absolutely CANNOT afford. I was also told to return for a check-up should I see no improvements at all.

And as the heavens would have it - I SAW NONE.

This is how bad it got on Day 5

I had problems eating, drinking and gargling as I was unable to seal the right side of my mouth tight, or open it wide enough to fit a spoon into it! My inability to close my right eye was also fast becoming a nuisance, what with the eye patch I have to keep on at all times to protect it from dust and dirt.

Finding the whole situation less funny by the minute (the effortless one-eyebrow raised aside, I can only embrace such a whimsical face for THAT long - and it's really weird having random kids pointing at my eye patch), I rushed back to the hospital and with a zim zam alakazam, I was checked in for three days worth of intensive treatments. Here's what they put me through.

Steroid Injections
For this, they inserted an IV tube into my wrist, which hurt less than I expected. I was more worried about yanking the tube out by accident during my entire stay. I also learned that taking a shower with one hand is NOT easy. The side-effects of steroids, however, are a bitch. I got SO FAT after my stay, and I'm still paying the price to get my face moving again!

Brain Scan
No biggie. It was actually kind of cool putting your head through some fancy-looking hoop!

Nerve Diagnostics
Highly unpleasant. It's like having your face stapled multiple times. And I felt like I was given the most impossible task in the world when the doctor told me to "relax" and keep my eyes open WHILE bracing for another shock of pain. I've had my eyebrow pierced before, and THAT hurt so much less.

Electric Stimulation Therapy
Who knew that shocking your face with electric currents can be that enjoyable? These sessions were also followed up with an ice massage to further stimulate the muscles. I still do this at home.

VERY depressing. Imagine looking into a mirror, and willing your face to move, again and again... only to no avail. A very slight tremble, at most. I was also given a facial exercise sheet that included pouts, frowns, lifting of the eyebrows, grins and smiles - most of which, I could not do. Oh, and those repeated chants of "A E I O U" which I ALSO couldn't execute perfectly.

Day 29 : Almost there!

It took about 26 days for me to regain full mobility of my right eyelid; and 40 days to reach an almost back-to-normal smile.

I also sought out acupuncture once every two days. (Yes, I had about 15 needles shoved into my face per sitting). I can't tell you exactly if it worked. It could have sped up the entire process as there was a sudden spike on my recovery curve, but I can't be sure as I was already getting better naturally.

The journey may not seem that long - but it sure felt like it as there were days when nothing seemed to be progressing; and days I'd see a little lift in my smile but wasn't too sure if I was fooling myself into seeing it - or that it's really happening.

Day 33 : Spotted another slight lift in my smile!

That said, I learned that the key to geting through it is patience. It's hard to stay positive all the time when people can't help but feel sorry for you - that when you want to smile, your face just betrays you, but you just got to.

Remember, it's a temporary thing and it won't last! Thank your lucky stars that it's nothing more serious and joke about it with your friends if you like! You'll come out of it beaming like you never did before!

PS, I will be posting up the photos I took to keep track of my recovery curve soon. :)