I thought nothing of it, to be honest.
Sunday morning came, I had fallen asleep on the couch, and I awoke to a bug bite on my right arm. It made my arm a little numb, but perhaps it was just the way I had slept.
Off to a full day of yard work, laundry, domestic animal husbandry (plus house sitting), and chores. There was a little lingering numbness that came and went, but I mostly ignored it. It would’ve been completely out of mind were it not for another new sensation – losing a little feeling in my face, numbness in my cheek. Not enough to bother me, though. When you’re doing yard work in summer heat, who has time to notice the little aches and pains? There’s this grass standing between me and a cold drink, damnit. This field must be felled, and so it was.
And yet it was still there. Only just noticeable, but present. Without anything else to distract me on the drive home, I began to wonder. Three decades’ worth of minor (and sometimes major) injuries offered no help in figuring out my body. This was new. I fired up the laptop upon returning to my apartment. Searching the internet was no help; WebMD’s symptom checker was in a perpetual state of loading. No matter. Sleep it off. Go to the bathroom, brush your teeth, and then start over again. It’s funny how you can drive yourself insane. I smiled at the mirror.
Only half of my face smiled back.
It wasn’t that my face had slumped, mind you. But the right corner of my mouth refused to join the left. I tried again. And again. Then I didn’t feel like smiling.
Alright, let’s think this through. Have I always had a crooked smile? I hadn’t ever really thought to look. Photos? There aren’t many, but I still have the old wedding album. There’s a six-years younger version of me, but there really aren’t any front-on pictures close enough for me to be sure. Damnit.
I never look at my face; my friends own that misfortune. Composing myself, and feeling horrible for causing an interruption during a vacation, I text Toff (sobriquet, of course).
“Are you awake?”
“I know this is dumb, but do I have a crooked smile?”
–”No, I wouldn’t call your smile crooked. Why?”
I had never so hoped to be told that I had an asymmetrical face. The numbness flared, while I tried to stay as normal as possible in my reply. Is it time to panic here? No. Ring up the doctor on call. Maybe you’ll get lucky and the friend of the family will be on deck for tonight. No such luck, it turns out, but a doctor is a doctor.
–”What can I help you with tonight?”
“I’m sorry to bother you on a Sunday. I have this numbness on my right side, in my arm and in my face, my right cheek. When I smile, the right side doesn’t smile like the left.”
–”OK, what do you want from me?”
“Do you think I should make an appointment at your office tomorrow, or should I see someone tonight?”
–”I’d get that checked tonight.”
My latent panic awoke. For fuck’s sake, what’s wrong with me? I drive to the ER in a haze, recount my story three times over, and wait for a doctor. Between the waiting room and my little cubicle amongst the injured and sick, I notice that I’m the only one here alone. Everyone else has someone. Wives, husbands, boyfriends, girlfriends, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters. Someone.
It’s easy to lose time in a hospital. I think the doctor came in about an hour and a half later. Perhaps two. Maybe more. No matter, I muster my calmest voice and recount the symptoms for the fourth time. The doctor is young, maybe younger than me, but he listens attentively and has a calming demeanor. He nods, mouths a few “OKs,” and then leaves for a few minutes.
Upon his return, I’m summoned to get on the bed. This is really necessary? The physical examination starts. “Push down with both feet, push out with both hands, now push in. Follow my finger with your eyes; puff out both cheeks.” And so on. I’ve seen this done before, but on people of an older vintage. 31 years old, and I’m getting a stroke test. Isn’t it a little early for this?
He leaves, this time longer. This is unnerving. Did I flunk? My smile may be crooked, but I thought both cheeks puffed out upon request. I’m almost sure of it, so I try again. Seems to work. He returns.
“Alright, I’m confident this isn’t a stroke.”
I exhale. Much louder than I intended to.
“There are a few things this could be. Bell’s palsy, a pinched nerve. It could be something completely benign. I am going to have blood drawn to test you for Lyme, though, because we don’t know what bit your arm.”
It probably took another hour to have my blood taken, and to get my release papers. I resolve to take the next day off of work.
The lab still hasn’t called back (I was told no news is good news; non-positive tests are low priority). It’s still there. The numbness occasionally flares in my arm. My cheek feels like it’s two or three pounds heavier on my right side. For now, I’m just happy to know that my mind won’t be taken from me.
As an update, today I was told I need an MRI, just to rule out all possibilities. Not exactly the news I had hoped for.