A week of so before my 40th birthday last August, I was struck with Bell's Palsy. Bell's Palsy results in a loss of facial muscle control, usually on one side, and is actually a diagnosis by elimination, ie, after the doctor rules out causes such as stroke or brain tumour, the diagnosis will be Bell's Palsy.
I started writing about my scary experience but never got round to posting it. But here it is, maybe it could help someone out there. According to my blog reader Mariposa (YY), who's a medical doctor, Bell's Palsy tends to strike those between 15 and 45, and also affects more pregnant than non-pregnant women. Er, no, I'm not and was not pregnant :P
This was written on 28 August 2009
It all started a week plus ago. Probably Wednesday night when I felt an achy sensation behind my ear, near to my neck. Somehow I felt this wasn't my usual neck/shoulder ache.
Went for a massage in the morning with Hsien. The 2 hour Javanese scrub/massage was excellent but while it eased up the knots in other parts of my body, I noticed the ache behind my ear was still there. Wondering if it was an ear infection.
Woke up with slightly numb feeling near my eye. Didn't have a good feeling about this. My friend Karen, who had given birth just 2 weeks back, was craving for sashimi, and we decided to go for Japanese buffet lunch at IMM. I wasn't good company cos I knew something wasn't right. My mouth was feeling numb, and so was my tongue, and when I told Karen about my eye, she noticed that my right eye was blinking slower than my left.
Called my friend Li Ping cos I remember a mutual friend of ours had a similar experience after she gave birth and for that friend, her face drooped completely and it took months before she recovered. I was getting worried.
Went to my friend Slim's house where she was having a session with our acupuncturist friend Dr Liu. Dr Liu said she's seen many cases in China and it's not a biggie. The Chinese believe this is caused by cold wind...I'll talk about possible triggers later.
Had an acupuncture session at Slim's place and went home feeling more at ease. When I told Hsien about what Dr Liu said about wind, she gingerly suggested that I sought a second opinion. Decided to sleep on it.
Woke up feeling worse than the previous day. Getting worried now. Walked to Paragon to see a GP, who said it was Bell's Palsy. Referred me to a neurologist but said I should go to Tan Tock Seng Hospital's A&E first. Went straight to TTSH A&E, my first ever experience going to an A&E in Singapore. Bloody expensive, $85 and I didn't even get to see a neurologist or any specialist, I still had to see a GP. Was given a blood sugar test, blood pressure, ECG and everything turned up normal. GP was a very nice Filipino chap and after a couple of tests, diagnosed it as Bell's Palsy and referred me to an ENT specialist. He said my case was very mild and he could hardly tell; I was given a 4-hourly anti-viral 10-day course medicine.
Face is as numb as the previous day if not worse. Nothing to do but take my medicine till I see the ENT specialist on Monday. My right eye was not closing well and I had to tape it shut when I went to sleep lest it became too dry.
Another acupuncture session, this time at Dr Liu's clinic near Tanjong Pagar.
To TTSH again. Hearing test done, generally okay but not perfect. ENT specialist was a young and very cute doctor with excellent bedside manners. He ruled out Herpes Zoster virus as my inner ears were fine. Confirmed it was Bell's Palsy. Assured me mine was a very mild case and I should recover well. Gave me a 10-day course of Prednisone (steroids). I was concerned about the side effects but he assured me it's fine if taken on a short-term basis.
Another massage, a birthday treat from Li Ping at Beyond Beauty. Massage was good but I was distracted. Went for tea at Cedele after that, and talked to Li Ping with my sunglasses on the entire time. My eye was getting too dry cos it's not blinking enough and I even had to hold it down myself. At night, I continued to tape my eye shut to sleep. This is important to prevent cornea injury. Sunglasses is also important to prevent dust/particles from entering the eye. Ideally, stay home and don't go out lah.
Feeling much worse. Very dry eye, face number than before. Ache behind the ear comes and goes. Kept going on the net to research more about Bell's Palsy, so that I'd feel better! Symptoms said to peak around the 4th-5th day after first symptom. I hoped this was the peak.
Taped my eye shut for the night.
Not sure if it was the taping of the eye, but my eye was slightly swollen when I woke up. Felt worse than the previous day. Hsien dropped by in the morning to drop me a book and some toys for Sean and she said she could definitely tell the right side of my face was different, especially the eye. By late morning, my eye felt better but still very dry.
Lisa came by to pick me up for Japanese lunch. When I told her I had Bell's Palsy, she said she could hardly tell. She's had friends with Bell's Palsy and their faces drooped terribly. Lunch was good and I was starting to feel a little better.
By evening, my eye didn't feel dry anymore. I didn't tape it shut to sleep at night.
Woke up feeling better. Another acupuncture session with Dr Liu. Love these sessions, very relaxing. Brian checked and said he can no longer see the white of my right eye when I close it.
720am now, woke up feeling better than yesterday. Numbness still there but I believe the worst is over.
Different people have been telling me what they think are the causes but no one really knows for sure:
1. Dr Liu says it's due to a sudden wave of cold air blasting against my face. Can't rule this out cos I was sitting while surfing the internet in a position in my room with the air conditioning blasting against my right side. She said she sees partial facial paralysis cases often during winter in China.
2. Lisa says a friend of hers who lives in Australia opened the door of his refrigerator one day and after a blast of cold air from the fridge, felt his face droop immediately.
3. A doctor says it's a latent virus which remains dormant till triggered when my immunity is low. Possible since a couple of weeks earlier I was down with flu, which I suspect was H1N1.
4. My own suspicion which has no proven medical basis...it's a side effect from the Tamiflu I took for the H1N1 I had two weeks earlier.
Bell's Palsy takes 2-3 weeks to recover from for mild cases, and up to 3-6 months for more serious cases. It is self-limiting, ie, patients recover even without medicine, but for some patients, there can be permanent residual effects.
I'm grateful that it took only about 3 weeks for me to recover fully. I prayed really hard for healing and trust me, it was a very humbling and scary experience. Scary cos you wonder if you'd ever recover and if you'd recover completely. Humbling cos we often take our health for granted, and when something like this happens, you no longer are preoccupied with the trivial things in life like money or possessions, you just want to get all better again.
Here's to good health for all of us!