On Saturday, I had a Introductory gun class. I drove to the range and got there early as usual to set things up. While I was sitting in the car, I noticed that the left side of my tongue was numb. I figured I had bit it the previous night or something.
I spent the next 8 hours on my feet, setting up, teaching, taking down. When I got in my car to come home, I noticed my tongue was still a bit numb, and my left ear was stuffed. I did the old "hold your nose and blow out" deal to equalize the pressure, and it seemed to work a little.
Being a numbness in the head/face, I did some rudimentary tests for stroke - hand strength, mobility, checked my pupils, spoke quickly outloud. No problems.
I got home, and as a precaution, I took a big old honkin' aspirin. Just in case.
Sunday, being one of my days off, was uneventful. A slight numbness in the tongue, but it actually seemed to be subsiding a bit. Good day.
On Monday - my other day off - my wife and son ran off to work. I rolled out of bed around 8am, and made some coffee. I took that first glorious sip, and preceded to drool all over my chest. The lips on the left side of my face did not function.
I took another sip, and the same thing happened. This is not good.
I went into the bathroom to look into the mirror. I did the "smile test" and only my right side responded. I could not close my left eye all the way. When I raised my eyebrows, only the right side of my forehead wrinkled.
I did the "blown pupil" looksee, and it was still OK. My motor skills on both sides seemed OK, but a million horrible scenarios were swirling through my head. Please, not now God, I've got too much I still need to accomplish.
It was 8:30 by now, and I called my doctor. They didn't open until 9am, so the answering service asked if I wanted to leave a message. I told them that I was having a tingling in my tongue and face and wanted it checked out. They put a nurse on the phone, who basically said, "Get thee to the ER".
Now things got interesting. The medical plan we're on, John Muir Medical, has 2 ERs in our county, but the closest one is 30 minutes away. The nurse said that, if I could make it, I should try and go to the one in Concord, as they would have immediate access to my records. If I went to an affiliated hospital that was in the next town over from where I live, the records might not be as easily accessed.
So I jumped in my car and drove the 30 minutes. For some reason, this seemed reasonable. I know... huge, incredible mistake. I not only put myself at risk, but if I had some sort of episode on the way, I could have harmed others.
I found the ER, and the nurse did a quick evaluation. I was in one of those crappy gowns inside of 5 minutes from walking in the door. For the second time in my life - the first being my birth - I had been admitted to a hospital (I'm a pretty healthy guy!).
The doctor did all of the tests I had done, as well as a few others, and then spoke the sweetest five words I've ever heard:
You didn't have a stroke.
Huh? With my vast medical knowledge (I used to watch House on a regular basis), I had assumed I had a TIA - one of those mini-strokes.
Instead, I have what is considered to be the default diagnosis when you haven't had a stroke or you don't have a brain tumor (more on that later): Bell's Palsy.
It is caused by a constriction of the Facial Nerve that goes through some tiny hole in your head. When it becomes inflamed, it shuts off. You have one nerve that controls the left side, and one that controls the right side.
The nice thing is, it is almost always reversible, usually within a month. They started me on a steroid and anti-viral regime. The steroids are to reduce the swelling of the nerve, and the anti-virals are because some authorities think it might be caused by Herpes Simplex I (cold sores) or Herpes Zoster (shingles) [NO, not by Herpes Simplex II, aka "Lumps on your junk"].
Why don't they think it might be a brain tumor causing this? Because of my forehead.
If you go to the Wikipedia article I linked above, you'll see a picture of a guy raising his eyebrows. Only one half of his forehead is wrinkled. That's what I have got going on.
It seems that the forehead, for some reason, gets extra-special treatment from your brain. Both sides of the brain feed nerves to both sides of your forehead. If your palsy is being caused by a brain tumor, let's say on the left side of your brain, when you raise your eyebrows, the right side of your brain will kick in and allow you to raise both eyebrows. With Bell's Palsy, the whole side of the face is shut down, resulting in a smooth forehead on the affected side.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, it could be a tumor that is pressing on the Facial Nerve, but let's not go there. The doc felt around and didn't find anything untoward, and I had no other symptoms. So there!
My own belief is that is was caused by two things: A pinched nerve and/or stress. In my previous profession as a banker, I sat all day long. Now, when I teach a gun class, I'm on my feet for 8 hours. The same goes for the PM shop. I've long had a bad lower back, and when stressed, it "climbs" up into my shoulders and neck.
With both of my jobs, I'm always "on" - there is no down-time whatsoever with the gun classes, and only occasionally with the PM shop. Both are "go, go, go".
Accept The Challenge
I literally feel like I dodged a bullet. I genuinely thought I was having a stroke. When I was driving to the ER, I continued to do a self-diagnosis. When I wouldn't "pass" one, I'd get more stressed. By the time I got to the hospital, when they checked my blood pressure, it was 195 over something. After I got the good news, it dropped like a rock down to normal levels.
What did I learn from this? I need to know where every damned ER is in my area. That seems so natural a thing to know, but I was clueless.
I'm doing a number of things to reduce my back pain/problems and stress. Yoga every morning is the first step. Two birds with one stone. Flexibility/mobility and meditation.
On the days I don't go to the PM store or teach a gun class, I'll have my butt on our elliptical machine. I need much more cardio work. I already do dumbbell weight work and push-ups on those days, but I will get up a half hour earlier to get on the machine.
Dropping a couple of pounds (OK, more than a couple) will put less stress on my back, and give me fewer problems.
I'm also looking into blood thinning foods. I didn't realize how much the thought of a stroke scared me. I already eat a ton of garlic, but will be adding more ginger, peppers, rasins, cranberries and other foods to help keep the old red matter flowing smoothly.
I'd already planned on going on a fishing trip next week (woo hoo!) but I had an advanced gun class at the start of the week and an introductory class at the end of the week. Both have been canceled so I can just focus on relaxing. This will be the first real vacation I've had in 3 years, and I'm going to enjoy it!
As a reminder to not blow this off, I've taped the hospital admittance wrist band onto my office laptop. I will see this each and every morning. I don't want another one any time soon.
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