Laura Erickson's For the Birds

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

How I spent Stress Day

I woke up today feeling vaguely weird--my whole face felt sleepy or something, and I felt like I had something in my left eye. But I had to drive to the Twin Cities with Tom and so off we went at 7 am.

Half way there, in Hinckley, I bought a cup of coffee. I took a sip and it dribbled out of the left side of my mouth. It was hot coffee, but it didn't feel hot on my lip or chin. Or rather, it didn't feel hot on the left side of my lip or chin. It was like I'd had a shot of novocaine on that side.

The sky was clear, and we watched a couple of crows chasing a Bald Eagle and lots of Red-wings and stuff, so I wasn't too focused on my mouth. But then as the road curved to the east, the sun poured in, and I tried to close my left eye for a second, but it wouldn't close. I simply could not wink on that side.

I was still focused on the lovely day and getting Tom down to the U of M (where Sandhill Cranes flew over the parking lot!) Then we headed north again, and stopped at a Hinckley Subway for a late lunch. And that's when things got REALLY weird. I couldn't open my mouth right to bite into the sandwich, and when I did get a bite, I found myself chewing on my lip! It was bleeding, but I couldn't even feel it. So then I went to the bathroom and took a look at myself in the mirror. I found myself with a smile as crooked as Dick Cheney's and an eye that wouldn't close.

This was pretty scary, to say the least. I didn't have my palm pilot and didn't know my doctor's phone number, so I called Russ and asked him to call and find out what I should do. Tom drove the rest of the way (we passed a loon in one of those lakes along I-35), and then Tom brought me straight to the emergency room where Russ met us.

They made sure it wasn't a stroke--that was a relief! It turns out I have Bell's palsy. No one knows what causes it for sure, but it's a frequent complication of Lyme disease, so they are doing a blood test for that.

Fortunately, this isn't a bad disease, just a weird one. I'm afraid I'm going to look pretty asymmetric for a while. And until I master drinking without it leaking out the left side, I may retreat to a corner to eat. I have to tape my left eye closed when I go to sleep because it doesn't close properly--the cornea can be easily damaged. But the facial paralysis is usually gone within several weeks, and even if it lasts several months I can hardly complain after the relief I felt that it wasn't a stroke or brain tumor.

So that was how I spent "Stress Day." But imagining what a horrible day some people are having, mine was a piece of cake.


  1. What a scary thing to happen. I'm glad the doctors were able to diagnose the Bell's palsy quickly and relieve your mind that it wasn't something much worse. I hope the symptoms fade fast.

  2. Scary, Laura! Glad it wasn't something worse and hoping you can eat in public again real soon! Hang in!

  3. Hi Laura,
    I'm glad you went to the doctor. My good friend was diagnosed with Bells Palsey a few years back and her doctor thought it was brought on by stress ! Now when she is under stress, her head shakes very gently, but noticeably. The shaking has replaced the paralysis.
    Get some rest and take care!

  4. Holy Crap! I'm so sorry to hear about the Bell's Palsy. A friend of mine got when she was pregnant a few years ago.

    Get better soon.

  5. Good luck with your recovery. Fingers crossed you get your whistle back early too!

  6. Along with all the others, I wish you a speedy recovery, Laura. Be good to yourself and please let us know how you're doing.

  7. I'm glad it wasn't a stroke, and I join everyone else in wishing you a quick recovery (and your whistle back soon). Take care!

  8. Laura -

    I just want to say that I had a Bell's Palsey episode in 2002 and am still birding. My Bell's is on the right side of my face, but my symptoms are similar to yours. Although only 85% of my function returned (most people get 100% better within a year), I still am able to bird and still enjoy it immensely (although I have a few problems, I've learned to work around them). I wish you the best of luck in your recovery!!


  9. I actually found your blog looking up Bell's palsy since I developed it a week ago and while, like you, I'm not particularly vain, I'm frustrated with my eye, the difficulty eating, and the distraction when I laugh or smile and I can feel that it's wrong, among other thigns. Would you tell me how yours is coming along?

  10. Mine lasted exactly two weeks. Then for another two weeks or so you could sort of tell I'd had it, but I have had exactly no side effects or anything. I hope yours goes as well. WIthin hours of my first symptoms they put me on steroids and an anti-viral. Apparently the steroids are the most important thing.

    Good luck!

    Best, Laura

  11. Bells Palsy is often caused by Lyme disease, a bacterial infection If steroids are given to Lyme Disease victims, their disease will be worse because steroids depress the immune system. Lyme Disease is not always ruled out but should be before steroids are considered

  12. I spend a lot of time in areas where Lyme Disease is a real possibility, so they did a blood test to see if I'd ever been exposed, but I hadn't. However, my understanding is that the steroids are given to shrink any swollen tissue that may be pressing on the facial nerve, and that if it works at all, it's because it's administered very early in the course of the disease--I think earlier than the results of a Lyme disease test would be available. My case of Bell's palsy lasted at the extreme short end of the spectrum--exactly 2 weeks after it appeared, it was pretty much gone. So I do think the anti-inflammatories and the anti-viral were completely appropriate and effective in my case.

    That's the trick with medical diagnosis, though, especially with a tricky disease like Bell's, in which there are several possible causes, but no one has completely figured any of it out.