UPDATE: Videos Posted!

As noted in the Athens post, I got a bit distracted at the end of the honeymoon with a medical issue and was quite tardy getting a couple posts up. So here’s the story:

I woke up on our final full day at sea, June 27, and started my day as usual, but when Dawin and I grabbed food I found that I had no sense of taste over about 2/3 of my tongue. But hey, a steaming hot soufflĂ© was the last thing I’d eaten the night before, so I must have just burned my tongue, right? Business continues as usual, and we enjoy our day off from touring Europe.

The following morning brought on a new set of concerns. While getting ready before arriving at Venice, I noticed that the left side of my mouth was a bit…unresponsive.

Something was wrong.

However, that was the only symptom I had at the time. Throughout the day the sluggishness spread over the rest of the left side of my face. My smile was lopsided and I couldn’t wink with my left eye (though blinking with both was still doable). Half of my eyebrows refused to respond to commands.

Needless to say, I was not particularly overjoyed with the state of my face. I spent half the morning poring over websites trying to figure out what was wrong with me. And of course the internet isn’t exactly prone to go easy on you when you’re trying to self-diagnose. Instead it’ll happily point out that you’ve probably got a brain tumor, which is exactly the opposite of what you want to read when you’re thousands of miles from home with half a face that’s refusing to play nice. About the only good news was that I was pretty sure I wasn’t having a stroke.

So, we hit Venice and I was able to mostly ignore the problem while we were sight seeing, aside from the fact that I couldn’t close my left eye to look through the viewfinder of my camera with the right, which was supremely annoying. At the end of the night I went to bed hoping that whatever was happening to me would be gone in the morning and I could travel home in peace.

No dice.

I woke up with half a face that was not just sluggish, but almost completely unresponsive. I couldn’t even blink with the left eye anymore. This was a huge blow, and I didn’t take it well initially. Wisely, I’d waited till Dawin was showering to get out of bed and check the mirror, so she didn’t have to listen to the slightly teary profanities that resulted. I again spent the morning on the web doing research and I’m sure being an all around terrible companion. Though I know I said “I love you” to Dawin more than I probably would have otherwise (there’s a lesson for you, readers).

All morning I was on the fence about getting on a plane that afternoon. Do we just fly home and wait to deal with it there? Do we resign ourselves to extend the trip and spend the day in a hospital where neither of us can speak the local language? Yuck. Neither option is a good one.

In the end, we went to the airport, where I spent several hours poking and prodding my face, trying to smile or frown or whistle, reaching up and manually blinking with my left hand every minute or so. And after boarding the plane I spent the next 9 hours doing the same thing while also trying to take my mind off of it by watching movies or reading constantly.

After landing at JFK in New York, I finally made the call to my parents. I didn’t want I freak them out, but of course dad would know more about what this could be than I would. And both he and mom were great, solid rocks when I needed them to be, so thanks to both of you for that since I know you’re reading this. Dad even made a call to a neurologist he knows in New York City to make sure I’d be alright until I could get to a doctor back home in Chicago. [Edit: Thanks for the long distance relay consultation, Dr. Carlson!]

About 6 hours later, we were finally back in Chicago (thanks for the ride home Laura, and a better-late-than-never thanks to Carla for the ride to the airport two weeks earlier). Of course, we both went straight to the ER where I relatively shortly got about the best news I could probably hope for under the circumstances: Bell’s Palsy.

Bell’s Palsy is kind of a catch-all for the symptoms I had/have when they’re not paired up with additional problems. While the root cause can vary significantly, the mechanism is generally a swelling in or around one of the facial nerves between the brain stem and the face itself, leading to inhibition, damage, or death of the nerve. It’s often caused by viral infections, so an antiviral was prescribed alongside some steroids to kill the swelling. In addition, I was told to try and work the muscles as much as possible and massage them to keep the muscle toned.

Aside from that, there’s not much that can be done apart from waiting for the nerve to repair, restoring function. More than 2/3 of all patients who get it recover fully, and that number is even better for my age group. Only 3-4% achieve little to no recovery. Recovery time can be anything from a few days to a couple months to several years.

The biggest danger is to the eye. Without being able to blink, the cornea can dry out and get damaged, requiring drastic responses like corneal transplants. The toughest part is sleeping. Since my eye doesn’t close all the way when I’m sleeping, it needs to be taped shut to keep my cornea moisturized. Which sucks when you’re used to reading for a half hour before bed.

So far my recovery has been good. I can blink with both eyes now, though I still need to tape my eye shut at night. My smile is still a little lopsided, but is returning to normal relatively quickly. My eyebrow/forehead is coming along a bit slower, but any progress is good progress in my world. I still have no sense of taste on the left side of my tongue. Hopefully that returns soon, as I do enjoy the taste of food.

I’ve got a few videos and pics from when I was at my worst last week, so I’ll try to throw them up here tonight sometime.

Anyway, that’s what caused the delay in updating the blog at the end of the trip. If you see me before I fully recover, don’t be afraid to go ahead and have a laugh at my face. Contrary to what I would have said during the first couple days, it can be funny sometimes. But with any luck, I’ll be back more or less to normal in the next couple weeks. Look for the occasional update here if you care to follow along.

Day 2 with Bell’s Palsy, in the Venice airport:

Day 4 with Bell’s Palsy. This was my worst day:

Today. Still clearly not normal, but it feels a lot better and I think I’m moving in the right direction.