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Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Scariest Day Of My Life

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.

Copyright 2011 Bison Risk Management Associates. All rights reserved. Please note that in addition to owning Bison Risk Management, Chief Instructor is also a partner in a precious metals business. You are encouraged to repost this information so long as it is credited to Bison Risk Management Associates.


Anonymous said...

Very glad to hear it wasn't a stroke, and hope you fully recover. Probably most of us need to get in better shape and get healthier.

Chief Instructor said...

The recovery rate is very high. Around 96% depending where you look. I was actually getting some twitching near my eye and lips today. I took advantage of it, and got a half smile on the left side.

Tomorrow should be interesting. I'm running the shop and while I'm talking well, my Fs and Ss are a bit lispy!

suek said...

There are all kinds of survival training, and all kinds of ways of prepping. You're just getting a different course than you've planned on...

Glad it wasn't a stroke...especially considering the 30 minute drive...

Tracy Dear said...

So glad to hear it all turned out well. We don't have health insurance and have to drive nearly an hour to a VA hospital if we have to go. I always am thankful for these wake-up lessons that turn out ok. Think of al the other benefits you'll enjoy because of this, including loving your family more!

tommy atkins said...

Yeah, I have this too. Worst part is when you try to explain that you have "Bells Palsey" and because of the disorder, it is really hard to say. I have had mine for around 6 months, and it is s l o w l y getting better. The twitching sux.

I drive my tractor in pearls... said...

I am so glad you are ok. It had to be totally scary!!

I had you diagnosed when I read about the drooling coffee - I have known several people with the Bells... It happens more often with truckers who have the window open or people that sleep under a fan - something about the inner ear.

I would take Bells Palsey over shingles any day - that was the single most painful thing I have been through and I have given birth thrice ;)

Get back to better than normal!


Anonymous said...

Glad to hear you are ok!

Adventures in Self Reliance said...

Had something similar happen but it was the chest. Felt like someone dropped and pushed a 200 # weight in my chest. I was on the freeway going back to Ft. Lewis after a long weekend. Just like you I kept driving and checking my vitals. Mine was a inflamed cartilage along the breastbone. I had a flayed chest injury as a teenager and it acted up. I do admit when I got to the hospital ER I received prompt assistance.
Now I have CIDP and the Docs at VA have a bit of fun with the interns making them diagnose me. LOL I have no reflexes and it is funny as hell to watch an intern try and find a reflex that isn't there. I'm also glad they only use a rubber hammer.

Chief Instructor said...

Sue, yep, life always tosses new tests at us all the time. It is very odd to not have any pain or numbness - just half a semi-functioning face!

Mama, there's a high probability things will return to normal. I am having to practice patience, and I'm not real good at that! I need to talk alot in both the PM shop and the gun training, and I need to slow down my speech pace. I keep tripping over half my lips!

Tommy, I'm curious - did you start anti-viral and/or steroids shortly after it hit? That is supposed to help quicken the progress. Best of luck.

Pearls, interesting about the inner ear deal. I did have an ear ache, but it's gone now. I'm guessing the drugs I'm on are kicking in. I drive a lot, but not usually with the window down. A little bit more, lately, though, as we finally got past the rains we've been having and the windows have been open more than usual. Hmmm...

Anon, thanks!

Adventures, wow. I'd never heard of CIDP. When I was reading about Bell's, I saw mention of the myelin sheath being harmed - it's one of the reasons for the steroid treatment. Looks like that's a similar approach with CIDP.

Is the reflex thing a result of the CIDP? My partners have been having a grand old time with my current condition. I have to keep reminding them I'm armed and a pretty good shot ;-)

GunRights4US said...

I'm glad to hear you're okay Mike. That sounds like it would have scared the tar out of any one!

Tommy Atkins said...

I was out in my parking lot helping someone out on a cold windy day. Later, on the way home that night, I had an ear ache also. Didn't think much of it.. The next morning when I tried to down my first cup ... sure enough I drooled it out the side. I was supposed to pick up someone's car that morning, so I called her as I was prepping for a trip to the hospital. She diagnosed it right off. I looked it up, and changed my appointment to my regular Doc. When I went in there the Doctor hemmed and hawwed, and then left me alone for a bit. When he returned, he was MUCH better informed. I guess he went and looked it up too. They gave me some Herpes drug that I took for 10 days. (Evidently no one really knows what causes it, some think a herpes virus, some think inflammation in the upper sinus where the nerve passes through.) What they did not tell me was that sometimes the area of the nerve hurt like hell.Really hard to sleep on that side. That has pretty much passed thank god. I found a LOT more info on (where else??) The bells palsey forum ( Reading about what other folks were going through made the whole experience much easier, since other folks were having the same things happen. The pain was not unusual, 6 months to heal is not unusual. I would guess I am 80% healed now, and like I said before, it IS slowly getting better. Hey, I can purse my lips on both sides of my mouth now. It is the little things.

Good luck with your case, it seems that this too will pass.

Chief Instructor said...

Guns, it was quite the scare. As I mentioned, I don't get sick a lot and I'm quite used to all my parts working! A real kick in the pants.

Tommy, thanks for the info. You say you're 80% healed. How long ago did you first get it?

I've gotta tell you, I am about the least patient person on this earth. Six months... oy! I finished the steroids yesterday and the anti-virals today.

I DO need to keep this in perspective. I thought I was stroking out, after all!

Dave, RN said...

Take it easy on the cardio. Make your activity balanced. Make most of it resistance training/weights IMHO. Check out marksdailyapple website or Art Devaney's site for the best indietary and activity advice. Suffice it to say that conventional wisdom has a lot to learn about diet and movement.

Chief Instructor said...

Dave, why the comment on cardio? Are you talking about going easy in general, or because of the Bell's?

Thanks for the sites information. I'll check them out.