Bell’s Palsy Diary: Part 1 of 3

Bell’s Palsy: Zero Hour

For 4 days I’d had a numb sensation in my tongue which I’d attributed to being run down (publicly, that is – of course internally I was sure I was dying of head cancer / my tongue was going to be amputated and I would never speak again), along with an eye weeping tears which I’d likewise thought was an effect of staying awake for 3 years. After dinner, I was cooking some rice pudding (irrelevant but context: Cambodia, rice for dinner, rice for pudding, noodles on Christmas and birthdays) and suddenly felt a twang followed by the loss of movement in the right hand side of my face. I ran into the bathroom and felt a jolt in my stomach when I saw half of my face raise in surprise as the other half stayed motionless.


Bell’s Palsy: Day 1

Got up early and went to hospital (not a Jeremy Hunt advocated GP circumvention manoeuvre: there are no GPs here, but an American surgeon who lives near my house volunteers at a local hospital).

Memories of last time I’d been there with someone who’d taken an overdose.

Memories of first time I’d been there, arriving with Olivier and his multiple stab wounds, passing out from shock and blood loss, he’d been told he had to clean himself with a bum gun before they would check him in. Later, Laetitia and I had sat outside chain-smoking and watched a woman die on a stretcher.

So, it was nice to be back.

Experience this time could not have been more different. Modern health centre reception area, one efficient desk clerk, one reluctant desk clerk, my guilt at cutting in line in front of Khmers, guilt at pulling an emergency surgeon from a meeting, relief at swift, convincing and efficient diagnosis. Just wait for it to get better, which it might never, and in the meantime take diligent care of your eye.

Heart warmed by landlord knocking on the door to assuage his unchannelled empathy in the only way he knew how: the very awkward offering and acceptance of 3 enormous limes.

Skype with mum, cracking jokes at my own expense such as:

  • taking the piss out of things my child is scared of (the sealion in Pingu), I said she wouldn’t know I was mocking her as I was turning my frozen side to her.
  • lots of generic yet tickling gags about “laughing on the other side of your face now aren’t you!”, “hard not to smile…on half of my face” etc etc.

Cracked up at my own hilarity and was confronted by the horrifying image of my own face in the screen – what sort of psychopath looks at the image of the other person on Skype? – which when relatively neutral looks relatively human, but when laughing breaks into pure ogre. Notre Dame. Immediately started sobbing – guess what, that also looks monstrous when half your face doesn’t join in.

Convinced this will last forever. Prove hypothesis via YouTube videos of people who’ve had this for 2 years and counting.


Bell’s Palsy: Day 2

Today is the day of the enormous family trip planned for months which I’d been looking forward to with a sore hearted fascination: a trip to the village where my mother-in-law was sent by the Khmer Rouge, where she met and married my husband’s father. Where they lived together after the end of the regime, where he died when my husband was three. Visiting the pagoda then going to clean the stupa where the chunks of bones which remained after his cremation are kept, hoping to help her re-find which ones were his, as last time she’d visited her eyesight had been unable to distinguish his faded name carved in the concrete. The plan was for her to have an opportunity to share her memories about her experiences during that time, about her husband, what kind of man he was, what kind of grandfather he might have been.

Instead, I sent my husband and toddler packing out the door, desperately trying to kiss her goodbye as she pushed me away with a mumbled “bye”, not casting a single look back whilst legging it towards a minibus containing all including her favourite cousin.

As soon as they’d gone I got back into bed, stuck the aircon on, closed one eye voluntarily, held the other eye closed, and 5 minutes later woke up as the power went off. I toyed with the idea of a pity party in celebration of the fact that, on the only day in several months when I would be completely alone, able to lie completely still with no one talking to me or touching me, I was going to lie completely still whilst sweating and thinking about everything defrosting in the kitchen. Somehow, instead I fell straight back to sleep for 4 hours.

Woke up, power was back on so I logged into Netflix (which is SHIT in Cambodia btw, there is literally only 1 episode of a documentary series about a morbidly obese man) watched “Into the Wild”, something of a continuation of a theme established on the exhausted post-wedding, pre-emigration day in the UK, when my Mum had Indi and Hou and I decided to relax by watching a movie about the 2005 tsunami in Thailand. Ewan McGregor plays the real life father of a real life British family who went on a real life holiday TO HELL. What followed was over two hours of being pumped full of terrified adrenaline as wave after wave of chaos split a family apart and smashed their children off buildings. It could not have been a worse choice. Into the Wild was similarly exhausting, about a man whose disagreement with his parents’ values leads him to – spoiler alert – die of starvation in an abandoned bus in Alaska (that escalated quickly). I didn’t realise this one was a true story until they showed a selfie they’d found on a camera in the bus when they found his body. Needless to say, this was all a terrible experience for me personally. Nevertheless, it was wonderful to lie down completely still and alone.

It’s remarkable how with no child around everything in the house literally stays in exactly the same condition as you left it. Whereas when the kid is there it’s like living with a poltergeist as absolutely everything, even stuff the kid doesn’t visibly go anywhere near, gets moved, completely destroyed and covered in almost imperceptible but very real smears of boiled egg.

I spent the rest of the afternoon obsessing about how much I didn’t want to go to work the next day.


To be continued…


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