Thursday, July 8, 2010
I've thought about writing this post for days now. Over a week, actually. I've tried grouping my words together, hoping to form something that I'd feel comfortable publishing, but every time I looked back on my writing, none of it made much sense. I didn't know what to say, about anything, to anybody. For the first time in my life, I was literally speechless. So while I don't want what I'm about to write seem completely over dramatic- ...it was just that.
The ambulance, the 10 firefighters standing in my living room, the thinking that I had lost my life- it was all very dramatic. I cried about it for days. Every time I went to explain what happened, my entire soul was overtaken with emotion, and I collapsed.
So I'm going to tell my story about Bell's Palsy, exactly how it happened.
This might be long.
I've been experiencing heart palpitations for weeks now. I'll be minding my own business- cooking dinner, reading a picture book to the babies, or simply just sitting here- and out of nowhere, I'll start to feel a tingling/warming sensation fall over my upper arms. Next, I'll get light headed and dizzy, my whole body will break out into a sweat, my breath becomes out of reach, my heart pounds out of my chest- and all that I can do to ease my discomforts, is to lay down on my left side and wait for it to pass.
The first time that it happened, I was scared. I told Christopher "something is wrong with me". I called a nurse that night, who told me to go into labor and delivery to get monitored. I didn't follow her instructions right then, and instead waited for it to happen several more times. I went to the hospital the next afternoon.
I checked out fine. Vitals were fine. Baby was fine. They sent me home with the instructions of "when that happens, bare down like you're having a bowel movement, and it should jump start your heart, and regulate things".
Right now you might be giving your computer a funny look, one eyebrow raised, thinking "they wanted her to do what?". Yeah well, it didn't work. I tried. I tried several times. It didn't do anything. My heart continued to go crazy at random, my body continued to sweat, my head continued to swirl.
So lets fast forward to Wednesday night.
The night that my face went numb.
I was sitting in the exact position that I'm sitting in right now. On the couch, back leaning up against the stiff leopard print covered arm, typing away on my netbook the same way I do every night.
The babies had just gone to bed. Christopher was on the computer behind me. The TV may or may not have been on.
All of the sudden, that tingling/warming feeling that I usually feel in my arms- I started to feel it in my face.
I shook my head from side to side, as if I could shake it off. Surely my face wasn't really going numb, was it? I could feel it creeping down from my ear, which I've been able to hear my heartbeat through for weeks now, and then spreading out like something had spilled down half of my face.
I took my fingernails and scratched across both sides of my face. ...the left side was surely numb. I asked Christopher to come over and start touching my face, making sure not to tell me where he was touching. By this point a slight panic had set in, but I was still in control.
It wasn't so much the outside layer of skin, as much as it was inside of my face. Something in my face, was numb. Almost as if nova cain had been injected from my ear at a downward angle, if you can imagine that.
Christopher went back to his computer. I went back to mine.
I had previously asked on Twitter, when I first felt the sensation, if anybody knew why my face might be going numb. I know I'm going to sound lame, but- I'd be lost without my Twitter friends.
People were giving me suggestions of things to look up left and right, and while they were doing that, my face continued to go more and more numb. I decided to get up and walk around, thinking it was maybe a pinched nerve. I walked around the living room, I walked around the dining room. Into the bathroom, out of the bathroom, pacing pacing pacing. 10 minutes later, it hadn't gone away. From my left ear, to the corner of my mouth, all I felt was a tingling heat.
I sat back down on the couch, back against the arm, just like I had been sitting before (and just like I'm sitting now), and while I was opening up a window to search "Bell's Palsy" (suggested to me by several members of my beloved Twitter family), something changed.
It was almost as if someone was pouring a bucket of thick hot tar over my head. It hit me hard, but it was moving soooo slowly. Everything was moving slowly.
Something was very wrong.
I turned my head to the right, to tell Christopher that I didn't feel okay. Only, when I went to speak, nothing happened. My mouth wouldn't move. I tried again. MY MOUTH WOULDN'T MOVE. No words would come out. No sound. Nothing. Had somebody flipped off a switch in my brain? My mouth wouldn't move.
I started waving my arms, though I think only my right arm was cooperating, and he still didn't see me. He was knee deep in zombie Apocalypse reading material, I'm sure. And whos to blame him, he had no reason to anticipate my falling apart.
When I was still unable to get his attention, and still unable to speak, I started sobbing. This was about the time that complete panic set in. Well, he certainly heard that, and came running to me as quickly as he could. Upon looking me in the eyes, I could see a reflection of nothing but terror across his face. He repeatedly asked me "whats wrong, whats wrong?", and rather than answering him, I continued having what I can only explain as, a mini stroke.
By this point, half of my face was completely paralyzed. Yes, you read that right. Paralyzed. My eye, my mouth, everything. I wanted to say "whats happening to me?", but all that came out was "whuuu- whuuuu- whuuuuu-" and even that was a struggle. The sound of my own voice made my heart skip a beat. That wasn't my voice. That was the voice of a woman who was slipping away. My left arm was shaking when I tried to reach it to my husband, and then (or maybe at the same time, I don't remember)- I wet myself.
I had literally no control over my body.
I couldn't talk. I couldn't blink. I couldn't move.
...I was a vegetable.
I managed to stutter out the words "call 911", and that was it.
And when I say stutter out the words, I mean that quite literally. I worked very hard at getting any sound to escape my lips. I had to force it out, using every effort. I wanted to scream. I wanted to pound my fists into something, anything, and scream.
Do you want to know what was flashing through my mind, while all of this was happening? Because this is the part that scared me the most. This is the part that has me in tears right now, just looking back on it.
I thought that I would never be able to tell my husband and children, that I loved them, ever again. I thought that this was it for me. I thought that the inching paralysis was never going to stop, not until it poured itself over my entire body, and all that was left of me, was my beating heart trapped inside a useless broken body.
Can you imagine that? Can you imagine staring into your husbands terrified eyes, while he holds your shaking hands, and trying to tell him that you love him, but your body just won't let you?
All I could do was cry. I cried harder than I had ever cried in my life. I thought about my babies sleeping soundly upstairs, and how I'd never be able to hold them ever again. I thought about my unborn baby girl, and how she'd never get to hear my voice.
I made up songs for each of my kids. Songs that spell out their names. I sing these songs when I'm soothing them. Their own personal lullabies.
Evelyn, would never have a lullaby.
While in the middle of thinking that my life was slipping away from me and my family, things slowly started coming back. The sticky tar was backing up. I could speak again. Well, I could speak, had I been able to stop myself from crying. Both of my arms were working, I could blink- it was gone. It had all happened so fast, yet, it had lasted so long.
I can't even tell you what this did to me. It traumatized me. I just could not stop crying.
Was it over? Was it going to happen again? When was it going to happen again? What had just happened to me? Did I have a seizure? Did I have a stroke? Did I have a heart attack?
My face was still numb on the left side. From my ear to my mouth, the way that it had started out.
Firefighters started pouring into my living room, and before I knew it I was on a stretcher being loaded into an ambulance. An IV was placed into my arm, although I don't remember feeling it, and I continued to sob. I saw my husband wave at me from outside the back of the ambulance door (he had to stay behind with the kids at first, but quickly found somebody to come over so he could follow us in the Van), and I realized I was completely alone.
I've never been more scared in my life.
If it happened again, would that have been the last time I would have ever seen my husband? Would that be how he remembered me?
I tried to close my eyes and calm down. I held my phone tightly in my shaking hands, not sure if I was reading or responding to anything that buzzed through the screen, and I prayed. I prayed that God would let me stay with my children. I prayed that God would let my Evelyn have her lullaby. I prayed that God would erase those awful images of my paralyzed face and broken speech from my husband's memory. I prayed that he would still love me, even if the worst were to happen.
The ride to the hospital was long, and quiet. Too quiet. And it smelt like the inside of an airplane. I wanted to tell the paramedic that, but he didn't seem like the type of guy that would care, so I kept it to myself. I distracted myself with Evelyn's every kick "whats going on out there Mama?", she must have been wondering. I studied the medical supplies in the clear case next to me.
And then my lips started to tingle.
The tar... it was back. Not quite so hot this time, but it was spreading.
I told the paramedic, since he had asked me several times if I was still feeling numb, or if anything had changed, but he just replied with a simple "mmhmm". What a boring case, I must have been for him. By the time they had gotten to my house, I had regained full control of my body. By the time they had gotten there, I was just a crazy, crying pregnant lady.
It seemed like forever, that I waited in the ER room alone. The nurse was in and out briefly. They left the doors open, I guess in case it happened again, so they'd be able to see me. I was being watched, but nobody talked to me. On display. And alone.
Finally, there was Christopher. Trying so hard to keep his calm. Shortly after he came to my side, so did the doctor.
"Squeeze both of my fingers"- the same thing both the paramedics and the nurse had asked me to do. "Follow this light with your eyes, push this way against my hands with your feet,.Smile for me".
And then within only about 5 minutes of poking around at me, the doctor tells us "what you've got is called Bell's Palsy. You didn't have a stroke".
Wait... what? But... I couldn't speak. I couldn't... move. I was paralyzed. I wet myself, for God's sake!! Run tests, take blood... are you SURE?!
I was given a prescription for steroids, and released within half an hour. They didn't even so much as check for my baby's heartbeat.
I left the hospital in a daze. I floated out to the parking lot the way I imagine a ghost would. Kind of stumbling, unsure of what to do next. Christopher had pulled the car up, and opened the door for me. I sat down, and stared. I stared at nothing. Nothing but the whole ordeal playing over and over again in my head.
I really thought that I had suffered a stroke.
I had nothing to say. I kept reaching up and feeling my cheek with my fingers. It was still numb. I kept wiping the tears away from my eyes, because even though I wasn't aware of it, I was still crying. Had any of that really just happened?
When we got home, a friend that I hadn't talked to in nearly a year (I was honestly shocked to see her standing there in my house) had said that the babies didn't even stir. Relief. Oh how I wanted to rush up to them and hug them. I knew that if I did though, I'd simply drown them in my never ending stream of emotion. So instead, I paced. I didn't know what else to do. I kept looking over at the couch, not wanting to sit down there, because thats where my "episode" had happened.
Did the doctor not understand that I had lost complete control over my body? Not just my face? Or... was it really just an attack of "Bell's Palsy", topped with the mother of all panic attacks? These questions kept flashing through my head, mixed in with the thoughts of losing my family- that I just couldn't seem to shake.
I offered my friend (even though we haven't spoken and I was sure she hated me, she must be my friend, to come and watch my children for me, while being equally as pregnant as I am, in the middle of the night, on such short notice) some carrot cake, and waited for her husband to come pick her up. Once he got there, we carried on a nice conversation, about what I have no idea, because clearly I wasn't on the same planet as everybody else. From the outside, I probably did a good job of smiling and nodding, but on the inside, I just couldn't stop replaying all of the nights events in my head.
I tried to sedate myself with Tylenol PM, but ended up lying in bed wide awake for half of the night, with a numb face, and a scrambled brain.
The next day I learned that women in their 3rd trimester of pregnancy, are 3x more likely to develop Bell's Palsy, than a non pregnant woman. 24 hours ago, I had never even heard of Bell's Palsy.
Over the next couple of days I talked to several different people. Family, friends, doctors. While my ER diagnosis of "Bell's Palsy" didn't seem quite right to me, another family made diagnosis of "TIAs", did.
What is a TIA, you wonder (other than my name, har har)? Basically, its a mini stroke (which is what I had thought I was having to begin with), which apparently, is something that runs in my family. I've known about my family's history of "sticky blood" since I was a child, but never really understood what it meant. I asked my doctor if this could be a possibility for me, and he said that while it could, there was nothing that they could do for a pregnant woman to determine if that were the case.
After the initial face paralysis, I had several more "episodes". Nothing as severe as the one that happened that Wednesday night, but there have been many times where my brain just seems to shut itself off, all while my body seems to simultaneously freak out. The other day, while trying to edit pictures, I forgot what numbers were. I felt the tar fall down onto my head, and then I went blank. Numbers to me, were a foreign language.
I've finished taking a round of 21 steroids. I took the last pill today. My resting pulse and blood pressure are higher than they were 2 weeks ago, and I've lost weight.
My face is still numb. It comes and it goes as it pleases.
And while I just cried myself a hormonal river while writing this, I know that I am very lucky. I'm lucky to not have suffered an actual stroke. I'm lucky that my Bell's Palsy didn't leave me scarred and drooping, the way that it does for so many people that experience it. I'm lucky that so far, I've turned out to be just fine.
Hug your babies tonight, Mama's. Hug your husbands tonight, wives. Hug your best friend. Hug your Mother, hug your Father. Hug everyone that you love.
If you took the time to read this entire post, or even just part of it, thank you.
Please keep in mind that I wrote this post in hopes of it maybe helping another mother out there, doing the same frantic google searches that I did in the days following my attack.
For more information on Bell's Palsy during pregnancy, please click here.