• Mags Rafael-Salvador

Bells Palsy and Me

Updated: Apr 29

Last March, I was doing a lot of work, I wanted to continue with my day job and at the same time start a personal start-up, that’s my goal this 2017. It’s in my dream board and I am very eager to make it happen. Well, contemplating doing an extra work, planning a new business and processing our documents for an upcoming family travel took a toll on my health and maybe weakened my immune system. Two weeks before I was diagnosed with Bell’s Palsy* (BP) my daily routine would be sleeping with an average of around 4 to 5 hours per day, worked for a minimum of 10 to 12 hours daily, travels to and from office and home around 3 to 4 hours and approximately 3 hours of me time (mommy duties, doing errands, preparing for work). Headache was always present, I can’t even define it as migraine because I am not sure how migraine feels, because I was always receptive to a paracetamol, this time though it didn’t work. My right eye was twitching, my taste buds was weird (I ate an imported Strawberry Jam and it tasted metallic), and I was restless. Maybe it was my body telling me “you are tired!” I believe this basically sums up why I was affected with this viral disease, my immune system was weak.

Fast forward to weekend, I tried to sleep longer to rest, only to wake up with quite a numb feeling on my right cheek. I was thinking maybe it was because I slept on my right side hence the numbness. I knew that something was wrong when I brushed my teeth and I can’t seem to stop drooling while at it. It was a Saturday, a family day I’d be busy doing mommy duties and bond with the kiddos. It feels weird later that morning as I can’t smile straight, then I kept on drooling, I can’t sip from a straw and it felt really unusual. As the day went by, just doing the normal Saturday chores I was still fine and thought I can still sleep on it that night. We had dinner out and we always do a groupie or a fam-selfie, my two boys were kidding around saying we need to smile instead of doing a wacky face. Turned out my smile was already off and my lips were all exaggerated on the left side and crooked. Going home I was worried but I didn’t show it to my kids and husband as I do not want them to worry.

I prayed that night asking for help and for divine intervention to heal my condition, I woke up on a Sunday finding it worsened, now I can’t even close my right eye. We had to attend a school event of my eldest son in a University in Manila, it’s just me and my eldest son. My husband and youngest son stayed at home to finish some chores. In the middle of the event, I can already feel that the right side of my face is numb, I can’t smile properly, my eyes can’t be closed and I can’t breathe. I thought I was having a mild stroke, I drank water, calm myself and sat on a bench. I was nervous, but I tried my best to hide it, approached my son and said “I think I need to go to the hospital, stay here, will call or text you if I need you there.” So I walked and brought myself to the Emergency Room of the university hospital to ask for help. When I arrived, they asked me what’s wrong, then I said, I can’t feel my right cheek and my smile is crooked. The nurse asked me to take a seat and rest for a minute since I came walking from outside, in the summer heat. They took my blood pressure and ask the name of my cardiologist I was thinking OMG am I having a stroke?

A doctor asked me to do some strange exercises that I don’t know if I’m doing correctly, then someone from the back said I am clearly having a Bell’s Palsy syndrome. Upon hearing people around me agree that yes it is Bell’s Palsy, I was like “what is that?”, I was ushered to a bed and said they’d contact my cardiologist just to make sure then recommend a neurologist for me. My cardiologist is a personal friend so she talked to me and assured me I am not having a stroke but a mild case of paralysis on the right side due to Bell’s Palsy, she said that it’s temporary and joked that I need not worry because I’d be pretty again after a few months. I cannot smile right there as my brain was working overtime absorbing the time frame she mentioned. A few months? Seriously?

It was then that I decided, I needed to call husband to be with me when I’m checked by a Neuro. I cried, it was the first time that I went to ER without someone to hold on to which was basically my fault because I didn’t want them witnessing my pain. I was a supermom and my threshold for pain is gazillion times more (evidence of 18hours labor before succumbing to a C section for my first born) than normal. But since I am not aware what Bell’s Palsy was I was scared, and as information savvy as I am, I googled and watch videos from you tube the following days and it got me more worried.

I rested for two days, and went to Neurosurgeon on a Tuesday. He confirmed the diagnosis and gave me prescription medicine to boost my nerves, taught me facial exercises I should do religiously. He advised me to take things easy and not be stressed for the next few weeks. I was quite relieved when he explained to me that this is just temporary, he also wanted me to see a Rehab therapist so they can start the rehabilitation of affected facial nerves soonest possible time. The doctor also said that it’s good that we were able to get help within the first 48 hours because the treatment would be a lot easier and the nerves would respond better than if we delayed the doctors’ visit.

The Rehab doctor I consulted says it’s a mild Bell’s Palsy. He recommended 7 therapy sessions (to be done for seven consecutive days) starting the next day. During therapy, Rehab Therapist needs to do an infrared heat lamp exposure to the affected area for 20 minutes, electrify the nerves (a total of 7 cranial nerves if I remember correctly) for another 20 mins, facial massage for 10 minutes and lastly facial exercises for the last 10 minutes. All in all, an hour of therapy per day for seven straight days was given. When I went back to the Rehab therapy, there was a huge improvement already, I got to close my eyes ever so slightly and my eyebrows on the affected area was also able to move, but then again I am still at 50% recovery rating. So then, I had a follow up visit with my Neurologist, and same with the Rehab doctor he affirmed that I am on my way to recovery soon. My meds should be taken continuously for three months, just to make sure I get all the nerve supplements I need to keep this viral infection away for good. For good measure, I still needed to finish seven more sessions of Rehab therapy, this time we only did the sessions during Saturdays.

I went back to work after two weeks and a half and I was still on 70% restored facial muscles. At first, I was shy and I didn’t really interact with people but then again, my family, friends and colleagues were a powerful support system all throughout my journey with Bell’s Palsy so the next few days I was working systematically as if nothing happened. After the 7 weeks session, the therapists said I’m on 90% already which was really unexpected, most that I have seen in google, social media and other medical references that some had this for a year or more and some didn’t really recover. Hence, I have been very thankful ever since and I tried helping others affected with Bell's Palsy by reassuring them and sharing my therapy which has been effective for me.

Learnings are plenty, Bells Palsy, is not uncommon and according to doctors I’ve spoken with and readings from the internet it is more likely to arise when your immune system is weak and at times of physical and emotional stress. Piece of advise, get more sleep, eat more vegetables, exercise and avoid extra commitments.

Now after four months my family and friends says there are no traces at all. Though I am not off the hook yet (there is no study that proves BP won’t affect again those who previously had it), I believe prayers, discipline and healthy living would help me boost my immune system. No more BP for me please, and for those whose affected by it, there’s hope. Now, I listen to my body more. When I feel tired, I slow down and rest, no more exerting too much effort and being over workaholic. When the body complains, we need to listen, it just goes to show that we are humans and we need nurturing and to feel loved. I therefore conclude, it’s when our body is in optimal health that we can truly be more productive and happy.

#bellspalsy #health #listentoyourbody #facialexercises

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