Before I tell the story of my Bells Palsy saga I just wanted to speak about the health professionals (and amateurs) I have encountered all of course part of the NHS. All of the staff and volunteers (yes there are volunteers helping to keep the NHS going) have without exception been wonderful. In incredibly pressured environments with peoples lives at stake they have smiled and calmly worked to resolve my and other peoples issues. I salute them all!
For me the first symptom was a very slightly numb tongue (in retrospect half a numb tongue). It was so slight I was aware of it for a couple of days and thought nothing of it, in fact I wasn’t sure if I was just imagining it.
I woke to discover that I couldn’t whistle (I’m not sure why I tried to whistle, something on the radio I guess). This made me wonder because I realised that I couldn’t make the mouth shape required to whistle and that didn’t seem right. Slowly during the day I noticed a few smaller things like the fact that I couldn’t seem to smile correctly in front of the mirror. A smarter person might have thought at this point, time to go to the hospital, because (In retrospect) the symptoms were starting to take the shape of a stroke. Perhaps unwisely I slept on it.
Time to go to A&E
I woke up the next day, took a look in the bathroom mirror and realised things weren’t getting any better, indeed they seemed to be worse. Time to call the doctors surgery, the receptionist listened to my symptoms but stopped the call and told me to ring 999 for an ambulance. It sounded like I was having a stroke. I seemed to be ok on my feet and so I decided instead to walk over to the taxi rank and jumped in a cab. Casually chatting to the driver about the weather and how business was doing felt rather like fiddling while Rome burns as this cab ride could represent a significant life change for me if I was having a stroke.
The Royal Sussex County Hospital A&E was pretty full already but the St. Johns Ambulance volunteer who does the first level of processing fast tracked me to reception who fast tracked me to the first assessment stage. The nurse agreed it sounded like a stroke but also suggested it could be Bells Palsy (first I’d heard of it). Good spot from her. I was taken straight through to the next level of treatment where I waited for a short while. I was essentially being monitored to see if anything developed. After a few minutes the doctor said he believed it was Bells Palsy and threw me back into the regular accident and emergency pool. The waiting starts.
You see the world in A&E and if you wait long enough you’ll see a lot of the world. Several elderly patients came in after what looked like falls. Very poignant as it turned out because my elderly mum has been down this route very recently. Perhaps the most distressing was an elderly person who clearly had Alzheimer’s. Being in A&E is stressful enough but with Alzheimer’s no sooner had someone explained why he was there than it was necessary to explain it again. He became distressed and his relatives were clearly embarrased by some of the things he would say and do as well as being in distress themselves from looking after him. Everybody felt for them and a very kind volunteer tried to care for him while the relatives went for a break and coffee. Suggest A&E prioritize cases such as this.
I guess I waited about five hours before the next intervention, a nurse gave me another assessment and agreed with the Bells Palsy diagnosis. Back in to the A&E pool though, so that I could wait to see a doctor for a proper assessment. Eventually my name was called and I was properly assessed by a doctor who made sure there were no physical stroke symptoms by testing all my arms and legs to ensure I was able to resist pressure against them. I was. Back in the pool again this time to wait to see an ENT (Ear, Nose and Throat) person but they were busy and so it was decided that I could come back to the hospital in a couple of days. Appointment made and nine hours later I was able to leave A&E. I’m fairly sure I was kept there so long to ensure I was in the right place if a full stroke had struck so for me the nine hours were well spent.
I’d spent all day in A&E and decided to walk home (half an hour). This proved a good move as walking down St. James street in Kemptown (Brighton) is always amusing. Half way down I stopped to buy some battered sausages and chips (Little Jack Fullers fish and chips) and walked along feeling relieved . It felt like I had dodged a bullet. By the time I reached my local pub (POW) I was still eating so ate the rest outside with a pint. The end of a very long and stressful day.
The next day I had to buy eye drops and Microporous tape to tape my eye up apparently (I didn’t get around to this until recently (I’m not a perfect patient)). Bells Palsy is pretty strange, for a start no one really knows much about it or why it happens. Seemingly I could have been treated if I’d reported earlier but after that initial window there’s not much to do except put eye drops in to ensure the eye doesn’t dry out and to tape your eye shut at night for the same reason.
Ear, Nose and Throat
My ENT appointment came round and so I walked over to the hospital (might as well get some exercise from the experience), nice to see St James Street in the morning, all the coffee shops opening up for business and deliveries being dropped off. I get to the hospital and after a bit of wandering around discover ENT reception. A short wait and I’m in front of a doctor. He assesses me again and confirms Bells Palsy. After a check he advised me it was level 5 which is fairly severe. Wrote me a prescription for drops to be used at night and said I should attend the Eye Hospital in a few days. Time to walk home and more St. James Street. As I get close to The Royal Pavilion I realise I could use a cup of tea and a sit down to plan my next steps for the day so wander into the gardens and visit the little tea shop there. This should have been a nice moment but an anti vaxxer decided to bother us all playing loud anti vax discussions on some sort of music player in his pocket. He tried to engage with me and I told him to walk away (what I actually wanted to do was punch him in the face). I moved away from him and managed to have my tea and plan the rest of my day. On the way home nipped into Boots and handed over my prescription, unfortunately this didn’t work out as the Doctor hadn’t written my name on it (take note Doctors) and so they couldn’t fulfill it. On the upside I had just chatted to the doctor about my ears and he advised I put olive oil in them, while waiting for the prescription I discovered some olive oil drops! I know, exciting huh!
The Eye Hospital
A few more days pass, eye drops in eyes, olive oil in ears and its time to visit The Sussex Eye Hospital (my third department in the hospital infrastructure). More form filling and waiting room waiting and then I’m in front of a nurse. More questions recorded in the database about me. My history of being involved in cycle, motorbike and car crashes (I had several when I was young) suitably noted. Then she gave me a basic eye test and threw me back into the waiting pool. Not too long passed before I was fished out again and this time it’s a Doctor. Now for a full eye test, having had a few of these in recent years he was VERY thorough. Seemed to think things were ok but decided I needed to have blood tests and so was escorted away by a nice nurse who sat me down ready for blood draining. We had a nice chat and she set about trying to find a vein (had a little trouble), needle in and the blood letting begins, three vials full!
Back to ENT
A few days pass and its back to ENT, this time it’s for a hearing test. I settle down in the waiting room and an hour passes but eventually I’m ushered into a small room and then into a sort of sound proofed cupboard. What followed was one of the more weird experiences I’ve encountered during this saga. Listening for faint sounds and pressing a button whenever I get lucky and hear one! Test over, sit in the corridor and wait (I’m getting very good at this by now). Eventually I’m tracked down and before I know it I’m in another consultation with a nurse and doctor. Just a bit more questioning and the results of the hearing test (not really sure how that went except to say I don’t have the hearing of a young person apparently). I’m set free with the promise there will be a follow up appointment in a few weeks.
A pleasant walk home through St. James Street once again and another chance to visit The Royal Pavilion gardens and have a cup of tea at the tea shop. No interruptions this time so a pleasant few minutes before returning to my day.
A trip to the X-ray Department (thats another one ticked off)