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Bell's palsy.

The name alone is enough to strike fear into the hearts of those who don't know exactly what it is. It brings forth mental images of people stranded in motorized wheelchairs, unable to fully communicate or take care of themselves. That, of course, is cerebral palsy and is not what I'm talking about. That affects a lot more of the brain and thus a lot more of the body.

Let me walk you through my last few days:

Thursday night I went into the ER thinking I had an ear infection. I was told that I didn't, but instead had a Eustachian tube dysfunction and that there was little to nothing that could be done. I had to keep taking my allergy medicine and let it clear up on its own in about a week. Friday I finally got my ears to pop (which was recommended to me by the physician I saw) and almost immediately the left side of my tongue went numb. Saturday night, while working, I realized I was having some trouble smiling fully, that the left side of my mouth wasn't responding the same way the right side was. I figured I was being a hypochondriac.

This morning, when I got up, I could not fully smile. I had trouble eating, I wasn't blinking the same way I was last night, and the left side of my face feels oddly numb, as though a dentist's anesthesia is just barely starting to wear off.

Today, after a long ER visit and a CAT scan, I have learned that I have Bell's palsy.

So let me tell you what this means to YOU: It means that when you see me I will not fully close my left eye when I blink. I cannot fully smile, nor can I puff out my cheeks. I look like a total idiot when I laugh, trust me. I have difficulty eating and drinking (the only positive side-effect of THAT being that I will potentially eat less and slower, which I should have been doing in the first place) and yes, I am aware of it. I have rather painful earaches and headaches that you will probably see me react to. If you see me popping tiny pills, it's okay - I'm on prednisone. It's a steroid, so if you notice that my cheeks are getting puffy or that I'm gaining a little weight, yes, I know, and no, I'm not proud of it. The swelling - if any occurs - should go away after my ten-day dosage is gone. It's a little creepy watching myself smile or try to squeeze my eyes shut, and I can only imagine how it will look to you when you see me. Be warned.

What this means for ME: Bell's palsy, with early treatment, usually begins to clear up within several weeks after the symptoms are at their worst (and there's no telling if this is as bad as it will get or not; rarely, both sides of the face can be affected). There's some confusion within the medical community as to what causes it: a virus, a version of herpes (I am NOT trying to tell you that I have herpes so shut up right now), or something yet unknown. Bell's palsy is a catch-all diagnosis given when doctors can't figure out what else might be causing facial paralysis, but my CAT scan was all right and the numbness and unresponsiveness is confined to my face, so tumors and a stroke have been ruled out. To me, this means that an overweight girl with self-esteem issues has been given one more reason not to like herself. I could begin to recover while taking my medication, but more typically it takes between three and six months to begin to recover, and after that, most patients are almost completely better within a year after the original onset of symptoms. There are other potential problems/symptoms that can begin at any point in time, including memory problems and difficulty with balance/walking. Obviously, my speech is a little off. One of the biggest concerns is that when one eye won't fully close (like with mine), a lot of bad things can happen to that eye if it isn't kept properly lubricated and if the dust and dirt aren't kept out. I may need to wear an eye patch, at least at night. Residual effects are totally possible, and there's a chance that after recovering - however long THAT takes - I may have lingering facial nerve problems.

Bell's palsy is basically when, for whatever reason, a very crucial nerve in the face becomes inflamed (hence the prednisone to help reduce the swelling and, hopefully, the symptoms). The face's reaction is to shut down, because without the reaction of the nerve, it doesn't know what to do.

So that's that. I have Bell's palsy.

Here's hoping for recovery.