The other day, I was reading on BBC news, a reporter's story of how his face went on strike and it reminded me of my own experience with Bell's Pallsy
Sometime in 1979, at the ripe old age of 6, I came home from kindergarten with stickers on my face. You know, the kind that kindergarten teaches give students on their assignments: gold stars, blue squares etc… When I came home from school, my mom giggled and asked what we did at school to involve putting stickers on my face. I told her that we didn’t play with stickers, but that mid way thru the day, the teacher looked at my face, panicked, and covered me in stickers. So off my mom went and peeled them off. After she peeled them, she told me I could “stop making that face now” “what face?” I replied? Well, it turns out, partway thru Kindergarten class that day, half of my face decided to go on strike.
In the weeks leading up to me coming home with stickers on my face, I felt sick, my parents had taken me to the doctor and the doctor reported that all was fine. My mom thought my whining about not feeling well was a bid to get out of school but when she peeled the stickers off and realized I wasn’t faking it, she rushed me to the hospital.
It turns out I had strepthroat, which led to an ear infection, which led to pinching my facial nerve which led to paralyzing my face. And add to the mix, I also had scarlet fever. The first few nights in the hospital were hell. To this day, I clearly remember the nurses waking me up and putting me into a bath of ice water because my fever was dangerously high.
Though I was young, I remember a lot about my hospital time. Well, scarred for life is probably a better word. You see, of all the units they put me in, somehow I ended up in the burn unit (I’m assuming due to the neverending Canadian hospital bed shortage) The girl I shared a room with was a French Canadian girl whose flannel nightgown had burned to her body (fire retardant textile legislation was still a few years away). And even though I was only 6, the image of Michael, the boy whose house caught fire while he was trapped in the basement, would roll his head to toe bandaged body down the hospital hallway screaming in agony. That’s just something that stays with you forever.
I remember little about my actual Bell’s palsy treatment, but I do remember going into the room with the doctor while he hooked me up to something I only remember as being Frankenstein like. It was a device that had wires connecting to my face and sent electrical shocks to my face to stimulate the nerve. I guess it was painful, because my stoic German grandmother was the only one who could be in the room with me and even she was crying.
After my hospital stay, I had to go see Dr.Cohen to monitor my progress. Part of how he monitored my progress was to say to me “Ok now Kathy, what noise does the horse make” While my face was paralyzed, I guess I could make a pretty good “neigh” sound. I would make the sound, Dr.Cohen would give me a lollipop and I’d come back the following week. Once I couldn’t make the noises anymore, my face was back to normal and the lollipops stopped.
Today, when you look at my face, you’d never guess that my face was paralyzed and I count myself as extremely lucky because the only residual effect I seem to have from either the Bell’s palsy or scarlet fever is a dire fear of anything that has the potential to give me an electric shock!