All in all, I’m pretty lucky with what I came out of the stroke with. Things could have been so much worse. Supposedly, I should have more than a “weak” side; I shouldn’t be walking at all and I guess I shouldn’t be alive? Personally, I think that’s a little extreme.
For two or maybe three days, my left face was drooping badly. It was undeniably noticeable. The first thing the paramedic that found me on the floor of my apartment hallway asked me was
Does your face always look like that?
When my response was a slurred
What do you mean?
I was immediately rushed out of the apartment on a bright yellow surfboard looking thing. It took a while for things to really connect in my brain. I knew what was going on but I also didn’t know anything. I was laughing on that board while they carried me downstairs and as the paramedic told me he had me, it was okay to lean on him if I got scared on the stairs, all I could think was
Oh yeah, you got me. You’re one good looking fella there buddy
Surviving a stroke is difficult no matter how big or small it is but going through one is incredibly bizarre. Your thoughts are there but you can’t understand them. When I was asked about my face I knew something was off about it but I couldn’t bring myself to do anything more than accept that it was not doing what it was supposed to do. I should not have had my attention distracted by a man’s face and build. I mean…he was a great looking guy but I was having a stroke, why were my eyes stuck to his face? At least I passed out while he put a catheter in…maybe that was put in after we got to the hospital?
The days that my face was droopy I was pretty out of it. I was in a mild state of shock that would last about a month so things are murky. I wouldn’t think to ask about my face until Kasper either tells me my mom is on the way or after she arrived. I was worried about her seeing my face. I don’t think I was even aware that my entire left side was completely paralyzed at this point. I’m not sure what I knew, honestly. I was given a mirror and no, my face was no longer drooping. It had mostly moved back into place. Some of the nurses didn’t know my face had sagged at all. When my mom came she didn’t notice much of anything different.
At some point, people stop feeding you. I was very fortunate to be able to eat most things. I had trouble with bigger bites of food because my chewing was weak but other than that, no issues. Some people need feeding tubes after a stroke because their muscles in their throats are too weak to allow them to swallow (dysphagia). This did not happen to me; I just needed to rework the muscles of my left face. I was given speech therapy even though I didn’t feel I had a problem. I did have a problem but I was in denial and kept refusing the extra help. My words blended together like one big smear of verbal shit that embarrassed everyone in the room. Everyone except me who sat too doped up in her bed to notice the drool leaking freely from her left mouth. My cousin Angel came to visit me when I was moved to inpatient rehab. I hadn’t seen her since I was 2 or 3. We went to the outdoor food court and as I sat there eating this colorless lamb and rice dish she brought that looked disgusting but was actually tasty, I noticed a painful ping caress my left face with the breeze that felt warm on my right body. Some rice and cream of mushroom had not made it into my mouth or had fallen out. This is when I began to understand the stroke had affected more than my arm and leg.
Being in denial about anything is terrible. Ignorance is bliss, sure, but there comes a point where some asshole with a safety-pin comes and pops your precious balloon. All you can do is look at the world around you without that film blurring reality. This happened with that lamb casserole. I started to notice everything about my left body. Well, not everything, but I was awakening to a new state of consciousness. I’m still developing and acclimating to this awareness but it all started in my face. My stupid left face. I discovered I couldn’t feel food in the left corner of my mouth. I had to learn to chew primarily on the right side to avoid drooling out food like an invalid. I discovered that plucking my left brow is really painful but if I get slapped on the left face I’m not likely to feel it.
Of all the things I learned to do to accommodate my numb left face, I never expected intimacy to be on that list. I can learn to eat and drink without drooling or to make it a habit during allergy season to casually swipe under my nose to make sure it isn’t running – why is it the nostril on the side of my face I can’t feel that must leak the most? But what is really difficult is snuggling against Kasper’s shoulder in bed or trying to kiss him. You don’t realize how much you use your face as a guide in the dark until you can’t feel it anymore. It’s embarrassing even though it shouldn’t be with him. He’s my husband yet every time he leans in for a kiss I shy away like I’ve never been kissed before. I’m afraid of the awkwardness that is now my face. You can’t see that I can’t feel it until I bump my cheek into your face. I’ve hugged my kids and almost snapped a neck because I couldn’t judge just how far or close my cheek was to theirs. I feel like my cheek is a huge dodge ball just hanging out there, waiting for people to line up against the wall so it can smack every one of their faces.
My kids had to take over directing affectionate kisses and Kasper and I just don’t make out anymore which sucks because I really enjoy making out, even in my thirties. But hey, at least I can eat more garlic, right?