Bell’s Palsy – What Stress Can Do To You

by Elizabeth Vierra Hall


Sunday, May 24, 2015, was a weekend I’ll never forget.  It was Memorial Day weekend.  As I got up to begin my normal morning routine, I was puzzled as to why I couldn’t hold the water in my mouth to rinse while brushing my teeth.  Why was my eye not blinking, and why was my lip drooping.  I suddenly realized that I couldn’t feel the right side of my face.  I was paralyzed!   I think the shock of what I saw in the mirror prevented me from truly believing this was happening.  I kept staring into the mirror and asking myself what the heck was going on.   I’m too young and in good health to have this happen.  Was it a stroke?  Worried beyond measure, I called my cousin who is an RN and described to her my symptoms.  She said that she was 99.9% sure I had Bell’s palsy.

Bell’s palsy?   What is that?  She told me that there is no known cause, and that it would eventually go away.  She recommended I go to the doctor.  Well, as luck would have it, all the doctors’ offices and urgent care facilities around were closed for the holiday. Well great.  You know what that means; an ER visit.  Not to put down the ER rooms,  but it immediately conjures up a huge expense that, even with insurance, will take me a year just to pay off my portion, not to mention the long wait that I am never really thrilled about.  However, I was more scared NOT to go.  So as I drove myself to the ER, I was praying this would not be something serious.  After the exam and CT scan results, the doctor confirmed that it was Bell’s palsy.  He said there is no known cause, but is believed to be one of two things; viral or stress-related.  Thinking back on the past week, I did have one of the most stressful weeks ever at work.  The doctor asked if I had any pain or odd feeling around my ear.  You know, I did!

It was the Friday before.   I remember because I was having a “discussion” with another department’s employee about an ongoing issue that still had not been resolved, and I remember that suddenly I felt like I was getting an ear ache.  My ear felt like it was plugged and I could hear myself talking.  Kind of like when you have an ear infection, only there was nothing wrong with my ear.  That’s where Bell’s palsy starts, and then radiates down the 3 main muscles of the face.  That was it!  Stress.

I was thanking God that it wasn’t a stroke.  How long this would last would remain to be seen.  It could last anywhere from 2 months to 6 months.  The ones that last longer are usually the cases where you don’t regain all your muscle strength.  Oh boy.  Now we wait and see.  The risk of losing my eyesight was very high due to the fact that my eye lid would not blink.  You see, blinking helps to keep the eye moist, and if it dried out, well, I’m sure you get the picture.  Who knew blinking was so important.  I had to keep my eye taped up and wore an eye patch.   During the day, I had to use moisture eye drops several times.  I couldn’t wear my contacts and had to wear an old pair of glasses which did nothing for my vision.  This made going to work very uncomfortable and hard to concentrate at the tasks at hand.  Eating and drinking was next to impossible.  I could only drink through a straw on the opposite side so that I wouldn’t have a mess all down the front of me.  Have you ever tried to suck down hot coffee through a straw?  Exactly!  Coffee was no longer an option.  Same with eating; I had to wear a dish towel like a bib, and eat small bites on the opposite side of my mouth.  Only half my mouth worked.  If food were to travel to the paralyzed side, my tongue would not work to shift the food back over, so I had to use my finger to sweep back what was on the paralyzed side back over.  This was an experience like no other.  It’s the little, everyday body functions that we take for granted.

My next thought was to figure out what I could do to help speed up the recovery process.   The not knowing how long this was going to continue was scary.  Was there any therapy recommended?  The doctor didn’t give any advice; just a wait and see.  Yeah, right.  If you know me, you know I don’t do “wait and see” very well.  I shared my story on Facebook.  To my surprise I received many comments, messages, texts and phone calls.  Apparently Bell’s palsy is not that uncommon.  Of all the advice I received, I chose acupuncture.  Since I’m not a fan of needles, this was always something I said I would NEVER do.  I hate needles; but like the old saying goes, desperate times call for desperate measures.

On recommendation of another cousin of mine, I went to an acupuncturist, and within 2 visits saw remarkable improvement!  After the third visit, I was close to normal.  This took about 3 weeks.  My doctor who had teased me that I was going to a “witch doctor” was absolutely amazed at my progress. The look on his face was a “Kodak moment”.  Gotta love it when you can push past the normal; the expected, and prove something.  So, aside from a little pain deep down in my cheek muscle – and only when I push on it – I am back to normal! So where does this all lead?  No matter our age.  No matter how fit we are, or intelligent, or how well we’ve always been able to handle our stresses and multi-task…you can still be so over stressed that your body says ENOUGH!  STOP IT!

​It’s time to make some life changes.  Your body needs you to.  That doesn’t mean you are weak; not at all.  It means you are being brave in changing your life around to take care of you; something we’ve been taught is selfish, and that is so very wrong.  You must take care of YOU, without feeling guilty. Yes you can!  It doesn’t have to take hours out of your day, and it doesn’t have to cost you anything but your time.  Our world is becoming such a crazy, unhealthy, whirlwind of white noise and garbage and “have to’s” that we are like robots being sucked into it all thinking if we don’t comply we’ll be left behind.  Baloney!  Don’t buy into that.

The most important thing in your life is YOU!  YOU matter!  YOU are important.  I am not a doctor, a clinician of any kind, nor do I have walls of certificates that say I can change your life or that I do this for a living.   I’m just your average working woman, mother, friend, neighbor just like the ones in your community.  The only difference may be that I may have had a few more experiences like no other that could be a catalyst in helping others who are struggling with everyday life and who are seeking some peace, solace, and heck…maybe a laugh or too.  Won’t you join me?  I think we’d be good together.

Here’s to the new you!


Photo by Elizabeth Vierra Hall