Tuesday, May 18, 2010

For Whom the Bell Tolls

This is not about Hemingway’s book. It’s about Bell’s palsy. In case you are not familiar with Bell’s palsy, this is what Google Health has to say about it, “Bell's palsy is a temporary form of facial paralysis that occurs with damage to the nerve that controls movement of the muscles in the face.” What does that mean? One side of your face is paralyzed. On May 10, 2010, Bell’s palsy and I had our one year anniversary. Instead of celebrating, I reflected. It’s been a very long year.

On Mother’s Day last year I noticed something really strange happening to my face. I was going through my normal morning routine getting ready for church. I was brushing my teeth and when I tried to rinse the toothpaste out of my mouth I couldn’t. The water sprayed out of the left side of my mouth. Really weird! Sort of like when you go to the dentist and your mouth is numb. I had no control of my lip. I told my husband about it, and he thought I might have a hive on my lip. By the way, I was 36 weeks pregnant at the time. Pregnancy does all sorts of weird stuff to your body so we thought that might have something to do with. I continued to get ready for church. I even took a Mother’s Day photo with my two-year-old in front of the house before we left for church. It would be the last photo of me smiling for months. During church I continued to notice the strange feeling in my face. Little did I know, the paralysis was setting in. I was gradually losing control of the muscles on the left side of my face. We left church and had lunch with my family. I decided to call my OBGYN to discuss the problem. I was convinced that I was having some sort of allergic reaction and needed to take some Benadryl. I thought I’d get the okay from the doctor to take some Benadryl and everything would be fine. I even remember putting the Benadryl in the car in case the doc told me to take it. Instead of telling me to take the Benadryl, the doc told me to go to Labor and Delivery. We packed some snacks for our 2 ½ year old and headed to the hospital.

Once I arrived at L&D I was admitted. That was a very surreal experience. I had on the hospital gown and was hooked up to the monitors as if I was in labor and about to have the baby. The resident on call (remember it was Mother’s Day) checked me over and assessed the situation. She gave me the diagnosis of Bell’s palsy. At this point, I could still blink, wrinkle my forehead, lift my eyebrows and smile. She told me that it would get worse, but I don’t think I fully understood what she was telling me. My options were to take steroids or do nothing and let it run its course. I’m overly cautious when taking medicine and especially so when I’m pregnant. I asked what the effect would be on the baby, and the resident gave me the textbook answer. She said there’s no research to show the side effects. Based on that information I chose not to take the steroids. We left the hospital and went home.

By the time we made it home (1 ½ hr later), I had lost the ability to blink. The next morning my face was totally paralyzed on the left side. I couldn’t blink, wrinkle my forehead or smile. I was cautious in reading information on the internet because it usually freaks me out. I sent an email to my close friends asking for their prayers. A good friend of mine is a nurse in L&D, and she told me that it was okay to take the steroids, and it wouldn’t harm the baby.

On Monday morning, I decided to go to work. I finally got in touch with my OBGYN (not the one on call) and he prescribed the steroid Prednisone. I’m glad I made the decision to take the steroid, but I’m afraid I started taking it too late. There’s a window of opportunity, usually within the first 48 to 72 hours of noticing the symptoms for you to take the steroids and it have any positive effect stopping the paralysis. I took the steroids, but it didn’t help the paralysis. I wonder if I would have taken it on Sunday before my left side was completely paralyzed if it would have made a difference. I’ll never know.

It would be four more weeks until my scheduled c-section. Several people told me the Bell’s palsy would improve once I had the baby. We had scheduled June 1st to be the date of our c-section. I was pretty miserable with the Bell’s palsy, and I wanted to move up the date of the c-section. My doctor’s schedule was full so we kept the June 1st date.

I went to work the first week that I had Bell’s palsy, but I was really on edge emotionally and depressed about the situation. I took a week off from work. I stayed at home and cried a lot. I watched sad movies and cried and cried and cried. Keep in mind I already had out of control crazy pregnancy hormones raging. I had so many mixed emotions. I felt selfish, vain, and guilty because I was upset and angry that my face was paralyzed. The best advice I received through the entire experience came from my doctor’s nurse. She said what’s happening to you isn’t the worst thing that can happen to someone, but it’s the worst thing happening to you right now. It seems simple, but it was profound. Could there have been a lot worse things happening to me? Yes! BUT, was this the worst thing happening to me at this moment in my life? Yes! I had to work through a lot of feelings and emotions. I think about people who have lost their babies or had unhealthy babies…that’s truly heartbreaking. So, I felt a little selfish being upset about my paralyzed face. At the same time, I still wondered, why me?

What lessons did I learn from the situation? So many!

Be able to laugh at what life hands you. I felt so ugly having the Bell’s palsy and being huge and 36 weeks pregnant. After so much crying I was able to find some humor in the situation. I told everyone I was a paralyzed, pregnant, puffy, eye-patch-wearing-pirate. I wore the eye patch because I couldn’t blink, and my eye dried out easily.

Be thankful. I Thessalonians 5:16-18 16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. It was at the same time both difficult and easy to be thankful. Despite the circumstances—paralyzed face, I had so much to be thankful for. I had a husband who loved me and told me I was beautiful despite the paralyzed face. He supported me and made me feel beautiful even when I looked in the mirror and felt ugly and unattractive. I had a healthy, happy two-year-old son that never once looked at me in a strange way. I was still his mommy, and he loved me. That was precious and made my heart happy. I had a healthy baby boy on the way who wouldn’t know the difference. The new baby wouldn’t care if my face was paralyzed or not.

Be patient and wait. Psalm 37:7 Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices! It seems to be a general theme in the Bible. Learning to be patient and wait is so hard to do. There’s not a cure for Bell’s palsy. The cranial nerve which controls the muscles has to heal and that takes time. The healing time is different for every person. In some cases it takes a couple of weeks or in my case months. It’s a helpless feeling not being able to do anything to speed along the healing process. All I could do was be patient and wait.

Be thankful for the ultimate healing—Forgiveness of sin. (this lesson is from my husband) Today we take for granted all of the medical technology available. We are fortunate to have a cure for almost everything. I’ve seen friends and family members deal with more serious, life-threatening conditions like cancer where there is no cure. It’s a helpless feeling. With all of the advances in medicine there are still some things that lack a cure. Jesus offers the ultimate cure and the ultimate healing—forgiveness of sin. My husband reminded me of this in the Bible. Jesus heals a paralytic. Mark 2: 1-12 1And when he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. 2And many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even at the door. And he was preaching the word to them. 3 And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. 4And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay. 5And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "Son, your sins are forgiven." 6Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, 7"Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?" 8And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, "Why do you question these things in your hearts? 9Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Rise, take up your bed and walk'? 10But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins"—he said to the paralytic— 11"I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home." 12And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all, so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, "We never saw anything like this!" Despite the challenges in our life we still have this to cling to “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Thank you, Jesus!

Bell’s palsy was as an opportunity to see life from a different perspective. I’m thankful that it’s given me the ability to reevaluate my life and see what’s important. It was probably one of the most humbling experiences I’ve ever had. (try wearing an eye-patch around, you get a lot of stares) It’s so easy to get caught up in appearances and forget what’s important. It’s so easy to be consumed with the things of earth that are temporary. This life we have is temporary. Our bodies and health are temporary. I’m grateful for the chance to take stock of the things in my life that are meaningful and eternal. Proverbs 31:30 Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.

This photo was taken when Ben was ten weeks old. I'm so thankful for our photographer, Lauren. I was so apprehensive about having these photos taken because my face was still paralyzed. I'm grateful that she has the gift to capture sweet moments like this.


  1. I cried reading this. It made me feel for you all over again. I am truly blessed to have such a wonderful friend!

  2. What a wonderful attitude you have. Thank you for sharing this story and for reminding us to be humble and know what is important in our lives. I love the bible verses you added to your story... beautiful. Blessings to you!!


  3. I had no idea about your health issues! So happy that you shared your story here. Your attitude is inspiring. (And that photo is beautiful!)

  4. Wow, this is so touching. I feel like my husband's cancer, my lupus, and our son's Asperger's have taught us similar lessons. You gain so much perspective through trials. I'm so glad you healed. That beautiful photo hides any ugliness or sadness that you were feeling at that time. It is just precious of the two of you!

  5. beautiful reflection!
    praise jesus for giving you such grace in your trials. your response to suffering is encouraging to me.
    thank you!
    and you are beautiful-what a darling photo! xo

  6. so touching. thank you for sharing it.


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