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MARCH 7, 2008    

Dodged a bullet today

I noticed it yesterday while I was eating my lunch. The grapes felt odd in my mouth, round, flavorless objects that my tongue couldn't seem to maneuver around properly. As I began to focus on it, I realized my mouth felt sort of numb, like when the Novocain the dentist gave you has begun to wear off. Strange. I've never experienced anything like that just out of the blue.

The numbness spread to my lips, which began to feel somewhat out of my control. You don't realize how much coordination an ordinary act like eating takes until you aren't able to manage it completely. When things didn't get any better after about an hour I began to worry. I already had a doctor's appointment scheduled for Friday morning, but this semi-paralysis had me concerned. Concerned, hell! Scared is what I was. The checklist for signs of a stroke began to scroll through my memory.

I called the nurse at Neighborhood Family Practice and told her what was happening. After a brief conversation she told me to take an aspirin, watch for more symptoms, and be prepared to call 911 if things got worse. So I taught my class without any incident other than the occasional slip-up in pronouncing a word that my lips couldn't quite manage. I don't think anyone noticed.

I went home after class and things didn't get worse. In fact my tongue regained most of its sensation and my lips seemed a bit more under my control. I talked to my doctor who pretty much repeated the nurse's advice. Worst case scenario, new symptoms develop, get to the ER quick. Otherwise we'll talk in the morning.

So, long story short: After a fitful night I saw the doctor at about 9 a.m. I expected to be sent for a CAT scan to check for brain damage, especially after my vision began blurring on the way to the doctor's office. But that's not what happened.

Al's eyes, one closed and one partly openWe talked. I described all the symptoms I could think of. He checked a variety of reflexes, said "walk on your heels," "shrug your shoulders," and "blink." I did. He said "blink." I did. I thought I was blinking just fine but as you see in the photo one eye wasn't closing.

After a short pause the doctor announced "I think you have Bell's Palsy." That sounded a whole lot better than a stroke, but it didn't sound good. He left the room for a couple of minutes and came back to explain that Bell's Palsy is fairly common (affects about 1 in 5000 people), can cause all the symptoms I reported (and more) and usually goes away on its own after a couple of weeks.

Whew. Dodged a bullet today. Although the best diagnosis would have been "This is caused by an ear infection, take these pills and you'll be fine in a few days," this was a very acceptable runner-up.

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MARCH 2008