You may have noticed that I have been missing from my morning radio show for the past three weeks. Part of that time was a scheduled holiday vacation. The other part wasn't so much fun. Here's what happened.

Here's What Happened to Me

As we ate dinner on New Year's Eve, my wife, Beth, stared at me across the table and asked if I was feeling alright. She noticed that I was blinking my left eye frequently and thought it was strange that I was only blinking one eye.

I dismissed the question with a joke and we continued with our meal. Later in the evening, however, she brought the eye blinking up again and said she could still see me doing it.

By noon on Sunday -- New Year's Day -- I noticed I was having trouble chewing my food at lunch and my mouth felt the way it does when you have novocaine at the dentist. I couldn't control my lips and my teeth to take a bite of food. It also seemed like I was beginning to slur my speech.

I thought back to the questions about my over-blinking eye from the night before and, for the first time, started to become concerned that there was something wrong with me.

That afternoon I put myself through a quick round of tests to see if I had any other bodily issues or limitations. Everything seemed fine except for my mouth. The numb feeling wasn't going away. I tried whistling to show that I still had the dexterity to do it and realized I couldn't whistle. I tried several times, but nothing came out. I became more concerned.

By dinner, the problems chewing had become more obvious. Later, I searched for stroke symptoms and read that it is common to have trouble chewing or swallowing your food after having a stroke, a condition known as dysphagia. Another sign of a possible stroke is slurred speech.

I kept this finding to myself and went to bed early thinking that I might have to go to the emergency room the next day if the symptoms continued. I slept poorly as thoughts of worst-case scenarios filled my mind. At one point, I almost got up and went to the ER at about 3 am.

The next morning, I told Beth about how I was feeling and she drove me to the emergency room.

My First Mistake

When you go to the ER and tell them you think you're having stroke symptoms, you immediately get everyone's attention.

The check-in nurse was the first of several medical personnel to point out to me how poorly I had handled realizing my problems. With the first recognition of my symptoms, I should have seen a doctor immediately. If you are having a stroke, the most help can be given to you if you act in the first four hours. I had waited more than 30 hours since my wife had noticed my eye-blinking issue.

What's Wrong with Me? My Diagnosis

Within 20 minutes of arriving at the ER, my condition was correctly diagnosed. I told the ER doctor what I was experiencing and after he had me do some simple body tests and asked me to smile and lift my eyebrows, he told me it was probably... Bell's Palsy.

I wasn't able to lift my right eyebrow or the right-hand side of my lips and mouth to smile because the right side of my face was frozen with temporary paralysis.

What Is Bell's Palsy?

According to one medical definition, "Bell’s Palsy is a condition that causes a temporary weakness or paralysis of the muscles in the face. It can occur when the nerve that controls your facial muscles becomes inflamed, swollen, or compressed.

The condition causes one side of your face to droop or becomes stiff. You may have difficulty smiling or closing your eye on the affected side. In most cases, Bell’s palsy is temporary, and symptoms usually go away within a few weeks or months".

My Treatment

The next step at the hospital was to confirm the Bell's Palsy diagnosis and eliminate the chance that I really did have a stroke. I was given five scans; a CT scan, two ultrasounds, and two MRIs of my brain, one with contrast. Everything pointed to Bell's Palsy. The hospital decided it would be best to keep me overnight anyway for observation.

Other than physical therapy for your face, though, there really isn't anything else that can be done for Bell's Palsy.

What Causes Bell's Palsy?

Healthline says Bell’s Palsy occurs when the seventh cranial nerve becomes swollen or compressed, resulting in facial weakness or paralysis. The exact cause of this nerve damage is unknown, with some medical researchers thinking it's triggered by a viral infection.

Others say stress or having been sick recently could be potential triggers. So could a recent physical trauma or even sleep deprivation. My 1:30 am wake-up time certainly qualifies me for that possibility.

My Continuing Challenges

It's a week later and I continue to suffer from these effects of Bell's Palsy.

The first problem is continued slurred speech from the frozen nerves on the right side of my mouth. If you hold your face up with your fingers in that area, it seems to help clear up the speech slurring, so I will probably be holding my face up while talking on my radio show when I return to work this week. I don't want people to think I have been out drinking before I came in to work in the morning.

The second issue is eye-watering. Sometimes, I just can't stop crying. Because my face is suffering from palsy, I can't fully close my eyelids on my right eye.

This is known as lagophthalmos and it leads to dry eye syndrome and excessive tear production. I am wearing a bandage over my eye forcing my eyelids together to close when I sleep, and when at a computer screen for an hour or more, which is something I do every day at work.

Between the slurred speech and the eye-watering, doing my radio show should be an interesting challenge until things return to normal. Hopefully, it won't be too much of a challenge for listeners!

But, I will take these problems anytime, compared with the issues of having had a stroke.

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