Monday, July 22, 2013

Bell's Palsy in Korea

Most of you who read this blog already know about this issue by now thanks to Facebook, but I guess I should detail it all out here anyway. A couple weeks ago, I was battling illness for the bajillionth time lately, it seemed. But this time it was worse, as it was now accompanied by a massive earache and sore throat. And, as I've detailed already, I ended up going to the hospital for some meds on that.

Well, halfway through those meds, I realized the right side of my tongue had gone numb. At first I thought it was just a reaction to the medicine, so I didn't think too much of it. Then, 3-4 days later on a Friday, I woke up to the sensation that something wasn't quite right with the right side of my face. It didn't seem to have the strength it once had, but there didn't seem to be anything too noticeable, at least visually.

I talked to my sister (who, for those who aren't aware, is an ER nurse), and she assured me I wasn't having a stroke. So I went through the rest of the day just feeling a little... off. And I felt, as the day went on, it was getting worse. By the time I was walking home from school, I knew something was wrong besides just a reaction to medication.

So doing some research, I discovered that the most likely culprit was a virus-based afflicted called Bell's Palsy. I had the majority of the symptoms down, starting with the early indicator of numb tongue. If you don't know, Bell's Palsy is basically muscle weakness and/or paralysis on one side of the face (you CAN have it for the entire face, but that's rare). It shares visual symptoms with that of a stroke, but the difference is Bell's Palsy is almost entirely temporary and non-lethal. In the worst cases, your whole side of your face will just not function. You can't move anything, including your eyelid, which stays open unless you tape it down. This is where the worst problems can arise, as you can get eye infections from dry eyes and irritation. Cases have been known to be cured in as little as 3 weeks, while others have gone on for over a year with lasting effects, depending on the severity.

Fortunately, I ended up with a very mild version. I never had much trouble with my eye outside of mild weakness. But I could always close it enough to where it didn't cause worry or trouble. My biggest issues really came from eating and drinking. Eating became a pain because I would get food trapped between my lower lip and gum. Drinking (or brushing my teeth/swishing water) was annoying, as well, because my lips wouldn't tighten all the way and water could either come dribbling out or shooting out the side of my mouth.

(Also, as a side-note, I also cleaned out my air conditioning unit. I starting getting really sick when I started turning it on. Turns out, the inside was filled with mold spots, which were blowing right down onto me and my bed and flowing through my apartment constantly. Ever since I cleaned it, I've been feeling much better. So I guess I found the overall culprit there.)

So back to the narrative here, I thought about stopping by the hospital Friday night, but I ended up seeing a movie and, by then, it was too late. But it wasn't too bad at that point. It was by Saturday and Sunday that things became very noticeable, and I knew I needed to see a doctor as soon as I could. I tried going Saturday, but quickly came to the realization that the doctors and clinics I needed to go to were closed for the weekend.

Come Monday, I explained my situation to one of my co-teachers, who then helped me figure out where to go in the hospital and then sent me on my way. (I decided to take the train this time rather than a taxi, as I'd be saving like 5 bucks whole trip, even if it took longer.) I was nervous going to the hospital alone, yet again, due to the language barrier and having no idea where to go. Fortunately my co-teacher wrote out a note for me to show someone who could help. She also offered for me to call her so she could talk to a receptionist, but it never came to that. I ended up in the large waiting room (and by waiting room, I mean like an ER where it's an entire level of the hospital) on the second floor, outside the neurology rooms. I waited for at least 45 minutes to an hour, I think, before it was finally my turn.

The doctor was nice and spoke minimal English, but enough to communicate well. After a chat, we came to the conclusion that I did, indeed, have Bell's Palsy (and he also concluded that my sister, who I mentioned to him, was really smart. I told her not to let that make her head too big). He made a prescription of meds, and we set up an appointment for me to return the next Monday for a check-up and... some kind of "operation." At one point, acupuncture came into the conversation, which worried me. I don't do well with needles. It was all a little confusing. And after I went back to school that afternoon (which is a whole OTHER story--almost all gates closed, having to walk around the entire circumference of the building, ending up entirely drenched in sweat... ugh), I showed my co-teacher my prescriptions and whatnot. She told me how to take them and then that I did, indeed, seem to have an acupuncture appointment the next Monday. Great.

So as the week goes on, I take my meds. Every morning, I took a packet of 10 vitamins (or what I assume were vitamins) and another 2 pills that I assume were a steroid and an anti-virus. Also, I was given some eye-drops to take twice a day and this eye ointment that I had to put on my right eye every night before bed. Surprisingly, as the week went on, my face got better and better. And by the end of that next weekend, I appeared to be at least 95% cured. All the difficulties and symptoms were almost entirely gone, including the numb tongue.

Yet I still had that appointment.

So Monday (today) came, and the time had come. I made my way back to the hospital in the afternoon for my appointment, though I had no idea where to go. At first I went to the neurology area where I had gone before. But they ended up taking me up a floor to a little room off to the side. There, they had me take off my shoes and glasses and lie down on this little bed. Then the nurse lady came in and tried to communicate with me in Korean, which was embarrassing for both of us. But then she just suddenly started talking some English, and she was actually pretty good at it. She was able to communicate in English just fine, and even do a little small talk. I guess she was just embarrassed about speaking English like a lot of Koreans are (and as someone who tries to speak Korean to Koreans, I know exactly how they feel).

Anyway, long story short (too late), it turned out that it wasn't actually acupuncture. Instead, it was some kind of electroshock therapy (because I'm insane or something). She had to keep wiping my face down because I was so sweaty from the humidity, but she'd stick these little pads on different areas on my face (including a bigger one on my neck). She'd occasionally move those around. Then she took this little handheld device that had these two metal poles sticking out the top. And she would put those little poles against different areas of my face, though mostly behind my ears (towards the end, she moved to the forehead and eye area, but the majority was right behind my earlobes).

The sensation was... odd. The sound the machine made wasn't too dissimilar to a sewing machine. And every time it jolted me, it felt like a mix of a being jabbed in the neck and shocked at the same time (though there was no needle). It would start on a low setting where there was almost no discomfort at all, and then slowly it would get stronger until it was just painful bursts. And my whole side of my face would twitch every jolt. The entire process took about 15-20 minutes.

Then that was done, and I went back up to the neurologist. I waited for about 10 minutes before I got to see him again. He agreed that I am doing much better than I was last week, and I've made great improvements. However, he also showed me a reading scan thing from the electroshock stuff. Apparently the left side of my face (the non-palsy side) has normal spikes, while the right side (the palsy side) was almost flat with very, very minimal spikes. He said this did confirm the Bell's Palsy and not a brain affliction, but that it (the palsy) hasn't been fully cleared up yet.

So he gave me two more weeks worth of that same medication, told me to take it easy, and said I should come back for another check-up on August 5. I don't feel or look bad, but I guess the affliction is still in my system according to the electro-reading. So I guess I'll be on meds for a while longer. And I guess this makes sense, because everything I read did say it would take a minimum of 3 weeks to cure it entirely. So another 2 weeks would put me at that minimum.

And that's that! Even though I had/have just a mild case of it, and it's nothing all that dangerous, it wasn't fun to have. And I would really hate to have a more extreme case, especially being in another country. Fortunately, I did not, and I just had to take some pills and preventative eye stuff. So let's hope it stays that way.

Oh, and for those curious... both visits, including 2 doctor consultations, electroshock therapy(!), and 2 sets of medications to last about 3 weeks... cost me a total of around $110 bucks (rounding, obviously). I'm sure in America, all that would be something like 500 bucks or more. And because I know certain medically inclined family members want to see, here are the meds (from the most recent batch):



1 comment:

  1. wow what an adventure! So glad you are doing better, and that they are following your progress closely. But electric shock? wow...most of that was to test your muscle and nerve function rather than a healing sort of thing. I had something similar with my ulnar nerve testing. Thanks for the great info.