Let me scroll back a few days, to about Sunday. I noticed that I was having a slight difficulty drinking from a can, or bottle or even a mug come to that; my mouth wouldn't work quite the way that it should, but it wasn't really an issue. Come the Monday my left eye was really sore and I thought I'd picked up an infection, so off I go to the doctor. Waiting in the surgery I felt the side of my face was a bit numb, so mentioned that to him as well. Sent me off to get a blood test, drops for an infected eye and that was that. Thursday I was teaching at CILIP, and I have to say that by the time I got there, I was feeling particularly rough. The numbness around the left side of my mouth had got worse, but I could still speak fairly well, but my eye was stinging something chronic.
It was only when I actually started to speak to the group (who were all wonderful by the way, proving my comments about audiences in a recent post 100%), that I really understand that I couldn't speak properly. Couldn't do it, so I ended up talking out of the corner of my mouth for the day like some New York hoodlum. Things did not improve at all - they got worse and at the last break I had to admit defeat and leave early - straight back to the GP. By this time I'd certainly got a few ideas and I'd been searching while I was on the train, so I was pretty sure that it was a condition called Bell's Palsy, rather than a stroke, since I didn't have any other numbness - problems were limited to above my neck. (Some would say nothing new there!) Got to the surgery and tried to explain to the receptionist that I had a numb side to my face and couldn't talk properly. She brightly suggested that I could have an appointment for the next morning. I demured slightly at this point, and was told I could have an appointment in an hour.
The GP obviously saw on his screen that I was back and saw me at once; we had a quick chat, he came out with his neat little phrase, and basically I then ended up at hospital being checked out by nurses and doctors. I told the doctor what my GP had said and he said 'Yes, that's what I'm checking for now'. This was not good news, not good news at all. Time was ticking. Big Brother was starting in a couple of hours, and I couldn't hang around for all this nonsense! Many tests and the obligatory armful of blood later and I was back seeing the doc. 'This is a strange question' he said 'Have you been for any walks in the countryside recently?' to which I responded 'No, it's not Lyme disease'. He then went off to consult his colleagues, I went back to search engines, PubMed and few other medical sites. We then got back together to exchange ideas, and my initial diagnosis was right on the money.
No-one knows why you get Bell's Palsy. There are ideas, but no-one has proved anything one way or another. Basically imagine you're back from the dentist where you got an injection in your upper gum for some work. You know that feeling of numbness, where that side of your face doesn't work, can't sniff properly, can't see as well as you should since the muscles around your eye are also a bit numb and you can't eat properly? Well, that's it. In most cases it goes away in anything from about 10 days to 3 months, but some people have it for a year or longer. I've got a course of steroids, and have been told to have lots of rest, do as little as possible, no stress (quite how you're not supposed to be stressed in this situation is interesting, especially since you can't pronounce P and B properly, which is a bit of a sod when you try and say 'I'm Phil Bradley and I'm suffering from Bell's Palsy'). Can't really drive much, since I can't close my left eye properly, so my depth perception is shot, and I can't teach, since I can't speak properly either. Other than that, I'm just fine! Apparently about 1 in 70 people get it at some point in their lives, so it's not uncommon; about 20 of the people that I follow will have had it or will have it. Famous sufferers include Graeme Garden, Pierce Brosnan and George Clooney, so I'm in good company, clearly.
I don't think I have it too badly, and I'm doing what I'm told, so hopefully it should start to sort itself out in a few days, but I shan't be around too much for a while - heat is a good thing I'm told, so I'll be sunbathing, purely on medical grounds of course. Here's a good link as well, should you want to know more about it - The Bell's Palsy Association.