Monday, April 23, 2007

Birding with Bell's Palsy

Even though I like to think I'm no longer vain about my appearance, I'm not emotionally prepared to post photos of myself with Bell's palsy. It's interesting karma that I'd develop a Dick Cheney sneer when I'm trying to smile--I've said enough nasty things about him over the years that it's funny that my mouth suddenly looks like his. Funny, but singularly non-photogenic.

I still can't whistle, which has been very frustrating--I didn't realize how very much I use whistling to call Photon and communicate with my neighborhood birds. My left eye can't blink easily, and doesn't close quite all the way so needs to be taped down when I'm sleeping, and my vision is starting to be rather blurry--not a pleasant development during spring migration, but when WOULD blurry vision be a pleasant development?

We humans use our faces for a lot of communication. Once when I was a licensed rehabber I cared for an Evening Grosbeak who had head injuries from hitting a window. Apparently she suffered some nerve damage to the skin muscles on half her head. Songbirds don't use facial expression for communication, but they do raise and lower their facial feathers in part for the same purpose. This poor bird's feathers were loose and raised on one side, and she couldn't control them. Blue Jays and some other crested birds raise and lower their crests to show how territorial or non-aggressive they are. Watch a flock of jays at a feeder or bird bath--their crests will all be plastered down unless a stranger or potential predator shows up. Once I was speaking in Wisconsin with my education Blue Jay Sneakers when another speaker showed up with an education Great Horned Owl. Sneakers took one look at it and up her crest went! But I went on speaking, and when she looked at me, down it went again. She glanced at the owl again, and up the crest went! Back to me, and down went the crest. Up-down-up-down-up-down! It was one of the funniest things I've ever seen.

So avian or human, we're supposed to have body language to show others what's going on inside our heads. But with this silly Bell's palsy, I'm not doing that so well right now. My case is milder than many--my face isn't drooping for one thing--so I haven't freaked out anyone so far, despite the disconcerting Dick Cheney smile. Whatever else my expression may say to you, just remember I promise not to shoot you in the face.