Let me begin by divulging that I type this with only one eye, which is tiring, irritating and just plain odd. So, please forgive me spelling and grammar mistakes, should they occur. It's really my own doing, and if you care to read on, you will find out why...
Once upon a time, I was twelve. It was my first year of high school. Picture, if you will, a scrawny, nervous, pale-skinned child with no need for a bra (and reminded of it every day by the nastier classmates), but wearing one anyway, purchased from a specialty shop because you can't just go to K-Mart and get a 10AA. It was, surprisingly, a bit lacy.
I digress. I was a keen student, however, owing to the fact that I had come from a tiny Lutheran private school boasting a student body of about 200, I was adrift and struggling in my new public high school of 1000 rowdy hooligans. The popular girls knew about sex, I knew about roller skating. The popular kids had school bags with things like 'Billabong' and 'Quicksilver' embroidered on them, while I lugged my Noosa District State High bag around, absorbing every snide remark about it as fuel for a future killing spree. I'm kidding about the spree, but, really, what unpopular and bullied kid doesn't think about at least beating the faces in of all her persecutors at a later date?
Anyhow, I really had no choice but to just learn, as I certainly wasn't making an impression on my fellow students, and I settled into a nice little group of misfits who just kinda did our own thing, and tried to band against the slutty (cool) chicks. Once I threw an orange at one and got her square in the back. Yep. That's right, I shot her in the back.
None of this really has anything to do with my one eye. I'll get to the point. In year 8 biology, I had to do an assignment on a disease, disorder or condition of my choice. I chose Beriberi, which is a disorder caused by a vitamin B1 deficiency. I made up a children's book, with the protagonist (and Beriberi sufferer) portrayed by a little dragon who rode a skateboard (when the Beriberi wasn't getting him down) wearing Reebok pumps. I am not kidding about these details. I was obsessed with Pumps and used to draw them all the time, from varying angles. I do not know why I chose a dragon.
Whilst researching Beriberi, I came across (in a medical dictionary) a nifty little thing called Bell's Palsy. Now, Bell's is basically a disorder of the nerve that causes muscles to move in the face. It usually only affects one side of the face, and can look like anything from this:
Or sometimes even this:
However, sometimes it's cool, cos you are excused for looking sleazy, like this:
I have no idea why, but I became convinced that I had Bell's. I looked at the picture in the book, read the symptoms, scrutinised my face in the mirror, poked and pinched it softly and sighed. I went downstairs, with the family medical dictionary open to the 'B' section and held it up under my face, coughing softly to get everyone's attention. My family looked away from the box and took in my general weediness, probably noted how I was struggling with the weight of the book and wheezing slightly from asthma and the little 'ahem'. I soberly informed them that I was reasonably sure that I had Bell's Palsy. Barely a moment passed and they burst into laughter. They then resumed watching the telly and Dad took the book from me and said that I was banned from reading it and to get to my room, finish my homework and stop being silly.
Now, that may seem like a funny story, and I guess even I have to admit I was a bit of a ninny. My family didn't forget it. Over the years (and until this very year), every time I got a cold or was a little bit sore, or ailed with pretty much anything, whoever was in closest proximity to me would reach over, pat the back of my hand and say 'you sure you're not coming down with Bell's Palsy?'
Ha, ha, ha. Yeah, yeah, I was a nerdy kid who read a medical dictionary, blah blah.
So, Imagine my surprise, when, just over two weeks ago, I woke up and couldn't close my left eye. A couple of hours passed and then I couldn't move the left side of my mouth, it felt like I had been to the dentist, except that it was a Sunday and I cannot remember the last time I went to a dentist. Now, this was on the back of three days straight of the nastiest headache I had ever had in my life (maybe it was a migraine, I have never had one before), and I had been taking absolutely any medication I had in the house to dull the pain and get some sleep. So, you might say that I was kind of 'fuzzy'...
By that night, I was, for the second time in my life convinced that I had Bell's. The locum I had around thought it might be shingles, which is closely related, though I had no sign of a rash.
So, I text my family this: 'Hey guys I don't wanna stress you out but (and I am not kidding) I think I have Bell's Palsy... I have noticed today increased paralysis in my face...funny now I wonder if I'll get Beriberi haha'
I have almost no recollection of sending that text.
So, yep. Went to the doctor the next day and told him about the days leading up to the visit, finishing with 'so, I really think I might have Bell's Palsy...' to which he replied 'I think you do too'. By then it was pretty much settled in: I couldn't close my left eye, move my left eyebrow, use the left side of my mouth, basically the left side of my face was useless. I could feel it if I touched it though.
The prescribed treatment from the doc was prednisone, anti-viral medication (I thought the whole thing about viruses was that there was nothing you couuld take for them but anyway) and rest, lots of it. The problem with that is that I have things to do. Things like a PhD, roller derby, keeping fit and singing in a band. On the day I was diagnosed, we had a gig booked in five days. Bully.
But rest I did. It was useless to try to do anything with my study, since I was taking codeine every four hours for the pain still. Also, Bell's affects your cognitive ability anyhow, so I was screwed on both fronts. Actually, screwed on three fronts, cos I had only one eye (it's now two weeks after I began this post). I was ridiculously out of it. I will provide an example:
The day before the paralysis set in I was in terrible pain, so taking anything I could get my hands on to rest and kill that pain. I was so high that I woke up, and from my bed, put this on the wall of the private facebook group for my roler derby team:
What's the snake pit, you say? Well, it's basically a sand hill running track in Taperoo, across from the beach. The track length is 392 metres, up and down, the Police use it as training. It's a living hell, but it snaps you into submission in no time. My point is, I could not stand up straight without wobbling, I have no idea why I thought I could run the friggin snake pit! Thankfully, only two people in my team wanted to do it so I was able to back out when I realised that the codeine haze was wearing off and that my head was about to explode.
So, with nothing but time on my hands to sleep and recover, all I had to do was focus on the band. Tuesday night we had our first practice after I got sick. I had just had accupuncture on my face for the first time. Lemme tell ya, there is nothing quite like walking into a Chinese Traditional Medicine clinic, with one eye patched up and only one side of your face smiling, you look like Jack Nicholson's Joker on crack. I had nothing to lose though, and despite the fact that having ten or so little needles stuck in your face is not most people's idea of bliss, I am 100% convinced that it was accupuncture that made the biggest difference in my recovery. My accupuncturist is a dude called Sam, and he is mondo cool. He plays bass in a band and says 'hey man' when he greets me. His supervisor the first day I went was a guy called Kevin (which isn't a very asian name but he's very asian), who is the master of needling. Sam is the next in line. He was so excited to be able to treat Bell's, and even more excited that we had jumped on it so soon. Apparently that's the key - the window of opportunity in those first 48-72 hours. So, lemme take this moment to say this: Sam is the man. I have seen him six times now in three weeks, and I know it was his skill and general coolness that got me back on track. In short, Sam rules.
Anyway, we had our first practice after that first accu session. I was worried about being able to accunciate, but it turns out that doing covers of Nirvana, Hendrix and The Living End etc doesn't really require much eloquence. I was pretty knackered by the end of the night though, my mouth got real tired and I could clearly feel that I was talking out one side of it. All in all not a bad practice though, and I knew we would be able to do the gig.
I caught the train down south, where we were playing at Tash's (the drummer and one of my best mates) sister's birthday. I got some weird looks on the train, on account of my pirate patch, but I did not care, at least I have all my teeth and my pants did not have suspicious stains all over them. We set up and had a bit of a sound check, then left to get some food. By the time we returned, there were people already drinking and having a jolly time. I milled about away from the crowd, as I was still dealing with depth perception issues and also they smoke inside, which makes the task of singing for me even harder than it naturally is. Mercedes arrived with a veritable cornucopia of eye patches for all to share! She had made me a special glitter lightning bolt one for the gig and made herself a matching glitter heart one.
Let me interject here with information about my girlfriend. She is truly amazing. When I got sick, she had to play nurse maid for me when I was in all that pain. To top that off, she then had to do pretty much everything while I was recovering, since I was so incredibly fatigued. In fact, I still am. I'm sleeping way more than normal still and am tiring so quickly at derby and things like that. She cooks every meal we eat and still finds the time to make us glitter pirate patches. You should be so lucky.
Anyhoo, the gig. It was amazing. A cool guy and talented musician that I had never met before, Chris Pine played some smooth tunes to start the night off which was sweet. Then Liss and Jars did an accoustic set, which was also sweet. Then we were up. Now, I'm not saying that Liss, Jars and Tash were pissed as newts, but I will say that I didn't ingest a drop of alcohol that night, in case it interfered with my recovery... having said that, by the third set some funny shit was happening:
- Tash had dropped her drumsticks more than once, and at one stage was playing with one fat stick and one slim one. Another time she was playing just kick and hi hat whilst digging around frantically on the floor for anything stick-shaped,
- Liss at one point thought we were playing a certain song next, but we weren't, so she started playing that for a second, then squealed and quickly switched songs,
- Jars skipped a song in the playlist and started playing the next one in line instead,
- we had skipped playing a new song by The Offspring cos we weren't sure we were ready (we had played it only once all the way through) and Tash (well mashed by now) just got cheeky and started playing the drumbeat to it. The crowd went crazy for it, so we all looked at each other and were like 'well, I guess we're playing it' and it went off without a hitch,
- I had my little music stand out and down in front of the stage, which I hate to do, but with my confidence a little shaken there are 2 or 3 songs I need hints for the lyrics. That got knocked down twice and bent back the wrong way,
- Tash's Dad had to act as bouncer at the front of the stage cos some rowdy boys were singing along at the top of their lungs (I'm not kidding, I couldn't hear myself and I had a fold back)right in front of it, and then they put their feet up on it and played air guitar,
- More than once, people hit the deck on account of raucous dancing and had to be helped up and
- People were asking us all night 'are you gunna play the 'fuck you' song?'... what they meant was Killing in the Name. What is so cool about that is that it wasn't just Tash's sis Tenneale who was asking, Tash's Mum was too. She is so small and adorable and she told me: 'last time after your last gig, I was in the shower the next day and I couldn't stop singing it... "fuck you I won't do what you tell me, fuck you I won't do what you tell me"... I love it!'
So, I would say that if you judged such a thing by the amount of people dancing, how drunk they were and how much they asked for encores, then it was our most successful gig yet, and all while I had one eye taped and sung out of only one side of my mouth, without the assistance of alcohol.
So, now all future gigs I am going to wear the patch for a song or two, just cos now it's my lucky charm.
It seems that the recovery rate of Bell's differs from one person to the next. Before I got it, I knew three people who had been afflicted. Now, I know, or know of more than thirty. It's actually more common than you think. One thing I have discovered for myself is that the sooner you jump on it, the sooner you will see improvement. If you fnd yourself with a bung face, see someone straight away. Mainly cos that's also sign of a stroke, but if it is Bell's, go to the doc. Get the drugs, but bloody get yourself to a good accupuncturist straight away, and the main thing is try to have a positive attitude, that's what I did. People reckon it is caused by different things: Western medicine says it's a virus. Chinese medicine says it is wind. Popular belief says it's stress and I know for sure that I had a mad breakdown/stress day about four days before the headache first set in, so why not be as positive as I could be for my recovery, to cover all bases.
One last thing I will say is the thing about the wind. I did everything I could, everything people told me to kick this thing, there was no scoffing at anything. I have worn a scarf every day since I got it and it's pretty much gone now. But, I kinda feel jipped by this wind thing. I mean, I can wear a scarf, sure, but as a sufferer of IBS also, there are just some days when you can run but you can't hide.
So, our next bout in a week. Not as prepared as I wanted to be, but I'm on skates again, so that's a positive thing:)
Tricks:)Oh, and p.s. most people think a pirate's favourite letter is R, but its actually the C!
Now, here is a little photo account of my journey til now with the bizarre affliction known as Bell's Palsy...
This was the first day I noticed something wrong. Yup, mong.
This was after I had been to the doc. I had to sip through a straw. I still spilled it.
This was two days later, with some improvement already.
And this was another couple of days later...
The day of the gig, 6 days since I got the pawlsy... note that the sleazy look is my BAD side.
But then you can see the difference when I smiled...
The patch for the gig...
This was taken at the bout, one week after my mouth went bung. I immediately saw the resmeblance. I am wearing a Goonies shirt here, believe it or not.
And this was about two weeks after the diagnosis. It's even better now, two days shy of three weeks, behold:
Back to goobertown.