Thursday, February 14, 2008

Apparently, it Tolls for Me

Given that it only afflicts about 1 out of every 40,000 Americans, odds are that you don't know anybody that has or had Bell's Palsy. Now you do.

Upon returning home last Friday night, I noticed that it was a little tricky for me to take a drink from a bottle of water, but didn't really think much about it. The next morning, my mouth still didn't feel just right, and a look in the mirror seemed to show that the left side of my face was drooping. It was that fast.

I went to the ER, petty sure that I hadn't had a stroke, but knowing that something wasn't right. I had heard of Bell's, and once I googled the symptoms on my Treo while in the ER, I knew the diagnosis before I even heard it from the neurologist. Nevertheless, having somebody who actually knows what they're doing tell you that you have it is like getting a kick in the teeth from somebody in scrubs.

Bell's is an idiopathic virus, essentially meaning that doctors aren't really sure what it stems from. There has been a correlation between getting Bell's and having had a previous respiratory infection, and given that I had been fighting what I thought to be a chest cold for a few weeks, I guess chalking it up to that and fate works as well as anything else. The fact that stress doesn't seem to help matters fits pretty well into the overall scenario for me.

The virus affects one of the cranial nerves (CN7), which in turn causes varying degrees of paralysis on that side of the face. In my case, my left side. If I'm expressionless, you may not pick it up at first, but you will eventually notice the asymmetry. The more animated I become, the greater the disparity between the two sides of my face. So far, I try to deal with it by staying relatively expressionless, making the situation a little less awkward for me and whoever I'm talking with.

The virus itself can be treated through a combination of steroids and antivirals. The bigger question is when, and to what extent, the resulting nerve damage is repaired. The good news is that about 50% of the cases resolve themselves in a few weeks to a few months. Another 35% of the cases get back to normal in about a year. The remaining 15% never get fully back to normal. While I'm trying to keep a positive outlook on the whole issue, I don't think that the figure of 15% has ever seemed so damn big before.

Yesterday, I went for acupuncture, which has been shown to have some beneficial effects on recovery. That whole experience is definitely worthy of a later post all its own. In the interim, I am taking about 30 pills a day, on a schedule requiring some form of quasi-military precision.

Listen, I can look all around me (or unfortunately, on a day like today, no further than DeKalb) and realize that in the big picture, I don't have a damn thing to complain about. And I get that, I really do. I guess that the bigger point of this post is an attempt to get this off of my chest (and mind), and to remind everybody to enjoy each day because you never know what the next one will bring.

I look forward to trying to get back into a regular routine, and am hopeful that this may just wind up as little more than a reflection on an anxiety-laden episode in my life that made me appreciate things a little bit (a lot) more. If it turns out that I overreacted to something that goes away in a month, I'm more than okay with that. If this turns out to be something that I have to deal with for the longer haul, well, what can you do? Time will tell. Thanks for hearing me out.


At February 15, 2008 at 9:13 AM, Blogger Bill said...

Good luck, John! We're pulling for you.

At February 15, 2008 at 9:23 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was sorry to hear of this but I know that you will get better and soon.

At February 15, 2008 at 9:25 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


If you need some support and some firsthand knowledge of living with Bells you might contact ex U.S. Senator Peter Fitzgerald.

He has spoken on his experience with diagnosis and living with the condition.

Good luck.

At February 15, 2008 at 9:36 AM, Blogger OneMan said...

Hope you feel better, my mom had to deal with that for awhile. It got a lot better for her and I hope it does for you.

At February 15, 2008 at 10:31 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm sorry to hear about the diagnosis but positive thinking can work wonders. You do tremendous work for the community and I am a big believer that what comes around goes around. Stay positive, grounded and focused. Let me know if there is anything I can do for you and your efforts.

At February 15, 2008 at 10:31 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

John, I have a family memeber who had Bells Palsy. It is really scary when it happens as you have written. I want you to know that with a little time, he had a complete and total recovery and I am sure you will as well.

At February 15, 2008 at 10:39 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

Hey Rep...Toi Hutchinson here. My daughter had Bell's right as she was healing from the chicken pox. She was 3 years old. So you can imagine how worried we were when we looked at her and realized she was only smiling with half of her face. It took about 3 months for the symmetry to return to her face. But about two years later she saw another lady in the grocery store who had the same thing and she marched up to her and said..."Don't worry God is gonna give your smile back really soon." Completely unprompted. So I'm sending her message to you. Your smile will be back before you know it. Toi

At February 15, 2008 at 10:47 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am the eye doctor you met at the Illinois College of Optometry when you toured the institute last year, I would be happy to evaluate your possible eye related symptoms from your Bell's, as lid droop or incomplete closure can also be a problem. Please call my cell anytime 312-259-2323.
Vince Brandys

At February 15, 2008 at 10:54 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have no doubt you will get better. You are a fighter. I also give you super duper bonus points for letting everyone know. To often we hide our illnesses, its great that you are letting other people know that have bells palsy that they are not alone.

At February 15, 2008 at 11:47 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My prayers are with you for sure. I have a friend who dealt with the condition and it resolved itself within a few months. I wish you the best--just keep being positive!

~Nick from Bourbonnais

At February 15, 2008 at 1:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

We're all pulling for you. A person I know recently also had Bells and recovered fully in less than a year. I'm sure it's very difficult and I sympathize. Please know that people are pulling for you and that you'll get through it.


At February 15, 2008 at 2:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Rep. Fritchey,

Good luck. You seem to have a positve attitude. Everyone wishes you the best.

At February 15, 2008 at 3:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

John -

3 people in my extended family have had bells palsy. The first two did antivirals and steroids for a couple months before they started acupuncture. The third did acupuncture almost immediately. All of these happened more than 10 years ago.

The first two took several months to regain functionality, yet both still had permanent damage.

The third fully recovered within 4-6 weeks.

I urge you, completely, to go to an acupuncturist who knows what they are doing IMMEDIATELY.

(From someone who works for your apparent arch-nemesis)

At February 15, 2008 at 10:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Heard you were sick but thats nothing new! :)

The best visual for the readers would be Bell's Palsy is like being numb for a dental procedure in the upper side of your face. The 7th cranial nerve is responsible for help moving the muscles in that area of the face. once this nerve is "numb" or infected, the muscles do not move and you get the drooping effect of the face.

Regardless, get well my friend and see you soon.

At February 16, 2008 at 10:49 AM, Blogger JessicaP said...

My best friend had Bells at age 23. It seems to happen to people with the big smiles! Hers was preceeded by a cluster of canker sores on the inside of her cheek on the affected side, and in about 24 hours like you said. There was also comments from her doctor that the infection might be caused or reoccur by exposing the ear nerve to significant wind - so she gave up her convertible quickly.

It took about 3 months for her muscles to recover movement, and she's had no lasting damage in the last 7 years. Sometimes, when she's smiling really large, I can see a slight differentation between the sides of her smile. In your job, I'm sure you'll get plenty of opportunity to exercise your smile and get those muscles strong again after this is over. Until then, at least it's interesting conversation! Keep your chin up!

At February 16, 2008 at 5:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

We'll be thinking good 85% thoughts for you John (and fwiw, we watch one of the 15% here -- longtime pro wrestling tv anouncer Jim Ross -- do his job flawlessly every week).

At February 18, 2008 at 8:17 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Rep. Fritchey, I, too, had a brief bout of Bells. I started to get better in about 4-5 weeks. I'm not sure if I'm just lucky, or it was the Miller Lite they serve at Two Brothers. Either way, I got through it quickly.

The Miller Lite thing is worth a try.

At February 18, 2008 at 9:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just came home today from ER with Bell's Palsey. I woke up last Thursday with pain in my right ear and top of my head. Never really thought much about it.
Saturday started getting the flu like chills and aches.

Then on Sunday, my face started drooping and waking up this morning I was in bad shape. Went to the DMH (Decatur Memorial) ER. Of course they wanted to rule out having a stroke, but being and EMT I with the Decatur fire department, I didnt believe it was a stroke.

I am really concerned about missing work with this as I love my job. I really know what you are going through...maybe we can stay in touch to see how are cases are progressing. (My email is If you are interested. BEST of luck in beating this...I will be thinking of your recovery as I move through mine.

Get well soon!

At February 18, 2008 at 10:16 PM, Blogger Rep. John Fritchey said...

I just got your post and wanted to reach right out to you. (I’ll send this to your e-mail as well.) I’ll assume that they put you on Prednisone and Acyclovir, if not, you may want to find out why not as it’s pretty much the standard course of treatment. Let me also recommend acupuncture ASAP. I know that it may sound far-fetched, but I have a very traditional doctor, and he was the one that said that there is significant evidence that it may help. I have gone twice already, and whether it’s that, God, or something else, I am already starting to see some improvement.

As you will quickly realize if you haven’t already, the psychological aspect of this will be much more bothersome than the physical aspect. Namely, not knowing if this is a matter of weeks, months or more. Odds are with you and I, and as I said, I am already seeing improvement. Still have quite a ways to go, but much better than I was even a week ago. Will you be self-conscious? Probably, but you may as well make the best of it. Not much other choice.

There is a lot of good information online, I would suggest reading up just to give you some peace of mind. At the end of the day, every case is different, but you need to take the best care of you that you can. I would try to get a lot of vitamin B, eat very healthy, and cut back on your stress as much as you can. At the end of the day, it’s somewhat out of our hands, but we may as well try to give us the best odds that we can.

Feel free to reach out to me if you want.

All my best to you.

At February 21, 2008 at 7:47 PM, Blogger Steve O said...

Yo Fritch. Sitting at Midway Airport on my way out of town with a flight delay and just read your latest entries. So sorry to hear about this and certainly will keep you and the family in my thoughts. Keep me posted and let me know if you or your girls need anything as I'm in the hood and happy to help with whatever you need. I'm back in town late Sunday and will check in with you again early next week. Hang in there - Steve Oh

At March 21, 2008 at 5:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey My man- I just heard about the Bell's. I knew someone who had it years ago and made a great recovery. I am sure with the advancement in medicine, even in only a few years, you'll be back to your 'ol self soon! Take it easy. Get better soon! Talk to you soon.

At March 21, 2008 at 5:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Fritch- I just heard. I'm sure you've heard it all already, but medicine is a good thing and you'll tackle this. I'll be thinking of you. Talk to you soon
Elliot B

At April 24, 2008 at 10:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

John, I was just diagnosed 3 days ago. No fun. I woke up one morning, took a sip of my favorite hot tea while preparing for work and instead of sipping it in, it went down the front of my robe. Thought I was just a bit sleepy, so I tried again. Took another sip and again, same thing. OK, now I knew something was wrong. Went to the mirror and OMG. The right side of my face didn't match the left side any more. Called the doctor, diagnosed within hours to have BP. I am on Prednisone and going back tomorrow for a check up. I still have a twitch here and there in my face, I hope that's good. Reading the comments from others on your site and researching as much as I can about BP, I have learned a few things. So thank you for opening this up for comments. I am seriously interested in learning more about the acupuncture and I have friends experienced in this. One thing I do know, I have to adjust a few things, but my life is to important to stay in, got to go out. I have a big smile and red is my favorite lipstick color. I am adjusting those a bit and getting a bit more rest. No more eating burgers in public! Faith will take care of all.


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