Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Girl with the Muscle Mask

When I was about 13 years old and still living in Mauritius, something incredibly disturbing happened to me while I was laughing at something funny (which I no longer remember). I felt that my face was just...wrong. I put my hands on it and I couldn't feel anything different, so I looked in the mirror. I almost screamed out of shock at what I saw in front of me.

Imagine my face (which I am sure you have seen enough of on this blog, sorry) with this affectation upon it:

Yeah. Half of the muscles in my face just stopped working. Seemingly, out of nowhere. My Dad was in Mauritius at the time, so I asked him what was happening. Obviously, I didn't really ask the question: I most likely said something like "Myface-myface-myface-my--FACE! WHAT THE--MY FACE!"

MY FACE was going through a condition known as Bell's Palsy. Half of the muscles in my face were not working properly due to nervous damage. When I tried to smile, only half of my face would smile. When I laughed, it felt abnormal. It all felt really, really wrong. 

I went to school as I should have, but I kind of hid that half of my face most of the time. People asked if they could look at it. Sure, it made me feel like a freak show performer, but since no one looked totally disgusted, I didn't really mind after a while. I am sure now that people were grossed out. Wouldn't you be?

I know I went to a neurologist, and my Dad basically told him what to prescribe me. That happens a lot. I also went for treatment at the nearest hospital. The doctor who saw me tried to tell me I didn't really need treatment and I should really just get over it. "It'll be gone in two months if you just leave it alone!" he said. But you know what? I didn't want to not be able to smile for two months. I wanted to be able to blink both of my eyes again as soon as I could. I would have done any treatment.

So, the form of treatment that was given to me was electric shock therapy. I held a wet soggy thing in my right hand while they placed a metal rod (also covered with a wet thing) on my face in certain areas to force electric shocks into my muscles. Oh yeah, my face definitely moved then.

While there, I met some very interesting nurses. One nurse told me that I needed to "toughen up" so she set the voltage to an extremely high setting. My whole body shook under that shock. Usually, my right hand holding that wet thing would just twitch a little; a lot of they set it a bit higher. This woman was hardcore, and maybe she was even right.

One nurse decided to tell me her life story while I was sitting there, having the shocks burst through my body. She was divorced from her husband who I believe was from the Middle East. I can't remember where he was from now. She advised me never to marry an Arab, although I don't know if I will take her advice. She told me that she gave her two daughters mp3 players and little earphones that they could use underneath their scarves and ignore their father. When I came to Saudi the first time after I left Mauritius, I remembered her and used the earphones that way. No one knew I couldn't hear them. I have to admit, it was a brilliant, spiteful way to get back at her ex-husband.

Another nurse actually checked her make-up in the mirror while fiddling with the machine. Her make-up wasn't even that good.

After a few weeks, much shorter than 2 months, my face was back to normal - or so it seems. Even now, the left side of my face just isn't the same. Sometimes I notice that it takes just a little longer to blink the left eye as opposed to the right, and all of that side feels a little heavier. Most people are shocked to hear the story, though. They tell me they cannot see a difference between either side.

I notice them check, though. It's so funny! They do the shiftiest sideways glance, and when they are sure I am not looking (they are usually wrong) they just glare. They study my face for any imperfections or lack of movement. I don't mind that they do it, and I find the curiousity amusing in the way it is practiced. I know exactly what they are doing. I know I'd do the same thing!

The face is so expressive. I don't know what I would do if it didn't heal. A small percentage of people with Bell's Palsy never get the muscle movement back. I wonder what the people end up doing.

Maybe I am just making a big deal out of something unimportant. Maybe I am just vain! People deal with very extraordinary hangups, right? Why can't they deal with Bell's Palsy? I am sure that they do. My real worry is that I wouldn't have been able to deal with it. I was really torn up by having it for that temporary amount of time. I was irritated by the early mornings of electric shocks being zapped into my face. I really, really wanted to be able to narrow both of my eyes simultaneously again.

Am I too vain to have lived with something like Bell's Palsy? Looking at that diagram above, I know that there are some which are much worse. Why am I so worried about being symmetrical? I am not that symmetrical already! It is natural to have something a little wonky about the face, right? I know that Bell's Palsy isn't really a natural occurrence; it is caused by something else, like a virus. However, is it really as bad as I made it seem to myself?

After asking all of this, there is only one thing I can think of. I can smile, and I can laugh. Both sides of my mouth reach up towards the sides of my face, both eyebrows raise up, both cheeks rise, etc. All I can say now is that I am eternally grateful that I don't actually have to worry anymore.

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