The day the face stood still. Partially. (tl;dr – wear bug spray)

One day, a little shy of two years ago, I was in the middle of my very first book for Audible studios. Things were going along great (other than the healing shoulder I had torn in martial arts) and it was a warm July Sunday morning, when I woke up with my face paralyzed on the right hand side.

Having done paramedicine for ten years, the first thing I asked myself was “uhh… ok. Is this a stroke?” NOT the optimal question on a Sunday morning, when “is there coffee” is my preferred deep self-reflective question.

I got up, took a shower, and faced (ha!) the mirror and the truth. Just that side of my face.  Nothing wrong with my arms, my legs, my speech (for the most part…)

I had Bel’s Palsy.

(I did have my partner check my speech and cognition… amusing since it went like:

“ask me mentation questions.”

‘… like what?’

“like… what the day is, or who is president, where I was born, how many moons earth has… things that test if I can speak coherently and process stuff”

‘…. honey, you just explained the questions to me.’

“oh… right. Ok”)


I opted NOT to go sit in the ER for five hours to have them tell me it wasn’t a stroke, so the following morning I gave the receptionist at the doctors office a minor heart attack of her own. When Sue, the nurse she insisted I speak to RIGHT AWAY answered I said “hi Sue, it’s not a stroke” and went in later that morning to see the Nurse Practitioner.

NP “well… excellent diagnosis, it’s Bel’s Palsy. Have you ever had herpes?”

Me ‘…. not that I know of?’

NP “ok, that can cause it. … can I check you for Lyme Disease?”

ME ‘I, say what?’

NP “Lyme. It can cause Bel’s Palsy, and if it’s Lyme, I can treat it”

ME ‘is there a more enthusiastic answer than ‘fuck yes?’ take the blood!’

twenty three fucking tubes of blood later.  Ok, maybe not that much, but a lot. Like seriously … nine tubes? I feel like that much blood could be my life’s tithe to the ticks of the world…

I went on my slurring way.

About 9 months before, I HAD gotten a tick, and done a preventative run of doxycycline to be on the safe side, so I went on my way with fingers crossed that I could at least be better soon.

I cannot describe what a pain in the ass Bel’s Palsy is. I am not too proud to admit I cried more than a few times just trying to EAT that week, lifting my lip out of the way with my fingers and chewing carefully. I sent frantic emails to my editor, practiced speaking very. Very. Distinctly out of the left side of my mouth. (Seriously, if you buy a copy of “Constitution” by Nick Webb, about half way through it there is a slight change when I got the Palsy) I taped my eye shut to sleep. I could only drive short distances because I couldn’t focus well.

I panicked a little.

Bel’s last for YEARS in some people. This was not going to be OK.

A week and change later, I got the call. Lyme disease, and time to start a SIX WEEK run of antibiotics. Well, if I HAD intestinal bacteria, I could kiss them good bye.

doxycycline is a bit like low impact chemotherapy… the power walk to chemo’s marathon. First I tried following the label which reported it “absorbs best on an empty stomach….”

Let’s just say… Projectile Vomiting is neither a spectator nor participant sport, friends. The pharmacist quips “oh, nobody can take that on an empty stomach!” …. then WHY DOES IT SAY THAT???!

I was nauseous, I slept poorly, I didn’t drink, I had *cough* ‘gastric side effects” …. but Slowly, Gradually… I got feeling back in my face. Then, it started to twitch when I spoke or smiled.

By the third week of August, I could move 90% normally again, and got on with my life. I did have a nasty bout of plantar facitis and I still think they were linked, but who knows.


Now, the medical world can’t seem to decide if I’m cured, or in remission. Will I wake up some day with more symptoms? Remains to be seen. What’s more, there are new and worse issues from ticks… like spontaneous allergy to red meat following the bite of the lone star tick. (I’m serious, go listen to RadioLab episode “Alpha Gal”) … the Powassen virus, Rocky Mountain Spotted fever…

there is nothing like time in the great outdoors… it recharges a part of our soul.


For the love of god people. Check for ticks, get your dogs good collars and drops.


And wear your bug spray.




4 Responses

  1. H.B.
    H.B. at |

    Thank you for sharing. That was a pretty scary episode and I’m glad to hear that everything turned out well in the end. I feel bad for laughing at the start but your reaction was hilarious, but again I’m seriously glad you came out okay in the end.

  2. younela
    younela at |

    I’m so glad your recovery was a success, if frightening at the time. I remember the day when my mum had her Bell’s palsy, for no good reason apparently. She did all the physio and speech excersises, but always had a significant droop although speech was normal. I was about 13 at the time… That’s “cough” 47″cough” years ago.


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