Friday night I came home from a middle school event at College Avenue Baptist Church called Dye Wars (200 kids in a colored-water fight) to find that my face felt funny. I know my face looks funny a good deal of the time, but on this night it felt funny too. The left side of my face felt numb and my mouth felt like I had just come from the dentist after having received a shot of Novocaine. My eyes also felt strange. My right eye seemed heavy lidded and even droopier than normal. Earlier that week I had experienced headaches and soreness in my left ear which continued to persist but a few doses of Ibuprofen usually kept the pain under control. I expected those symptoms to go away soon.
But when Marci heard me complain about these new symptoms in my face, she was alarmed and while I didn’t want to admit it at the time, so was I. The numbing sensations and droopy eye were symptoms commonly associated with a stroke. Strokes are serious. They can lead to paralysis, permanent brain damage, even death. Marci insisted that we go immediately to Urgent Care or to the Emergency Room at the hospital. I really didn’t want to do that, knowing how busy an ER can be on a weeknight, let alone a Friday night. But I knew she was right. This really should be evaluated by a doctor. Self-diagnosis only goes so far.
Urgent Care was closed that time of night so we headed for the ER at Grossmont Hospital. When I told the person at the admissions counter that I had symptoms of a stroke, I was immediately ushered in, even though there was a waiting room full of people with other ailments. They quickly snapped a hospital identifying bracelet on my wrist, drew blood, took my blood pressure, did a couple of quick tests to see whether I could talk and walk, checked all my other vitals and took me in for CT scan of my brain. I spoke with a neurologist who agreed that my symptoms required immediate attention. They could be very serious. He told me that I was going to be admitted to the hospital that night so that further tests could be made and my symptoms monitored by their staff. I would need to wait for a room to become available, however.
Around 3:00 in the morning I was rolled into a room on the fifth floor of the hospital, their “stoke unit,” where all the patients were being treated for strokes of one kind or another. I shared a room with a man who was sound asleep at the time, snoring like a freight train. After they hooked me up to an IV drip and attached all kinds of monitoring devices to my body, they put me through a few drills to test my mental condition. For a moment I felt like that Jack Nicholson character in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” The nurse was asking me obviously simple questions like “what’s your name.” I answered, “Wayne.” She looked at me like I was an idiot because her chart clearly had “John” on it. My legal name is John Wayne Rice. “Well, I go by Wayne,” I told her. She asked me what I did and when I told her I was a pastor, an author, a musician and a DJ on a country music radio station, I’m certain she thought I really was crazy.
By the time they left me alone in bed, it was 4 a.m. and I couldn’t sleep at all. Between the snoring of my roommate and all the other hospital noises (unbelievable), I was suffering more from sleep deprivation than anything else. Every four hours they put me through the same drills, asking me simple questions and testing my motor skills. Everything seemed to be normal. I was hoping they would be able to tell me what I had and let me go home on Saturday but they told me I needed to stay until they had time to run more tests and rule out the possibility of a stroke.
I was getting real depressed. It was becoming clear that my weekend plans were now going to have to be cancelled. I was going to a barbecue at the home of one of our church board members early Saturday afternoon. That evening I had set up an interview with country star Dierks Bentley who was in Temecula for a concert appearance. I’ve been playing his new bluegrass-tinged CD on my radio show and wanted to get some recorded sound-bites from him that I could use on my radio program. Then Sunday morning I had my church responsibilities. And what about my radio show? I realized I didn’t have a backup plan for that at all.
I called Mark Goeglein, one of the pastors at CABC and informed him of the situation. He graciously came to the hospital to pray with Marci and me. I really didn’t want to tell too many other people what was going on because I didn’t know what was going on myself. Mark assured me not to worry about Sunday at church. My class would be covered for me.
It seemed a lot longer, but I was only in the hospital for about 36 hours. I came home on Sunday afternoon. The attending neurologists looked at all the tests they had done on me, the MRI, the MRA, CT Scans, ultra-sounds on my heart and arteries, etc. and concluded that I didn’t have a stroke, nor did I seem to be a likely candidate for a stroke.
So what caused the numbness in my face?
What I have, they said, is a mild case of “Bell’s Palsy.” It is caused by an inflammation or irritation of the 7th facial nerve which controls the muscles of the face. Some cases of Bell’s Palsy result in complete paralysis of one side of the face. My symptoms were not that severe. All I had was a little bit of numbness and a crooked smile.
Bells Palsy, they said, is often the result of ear pain and headaches (bingo), a change in pressure in the ear canal (bingo again, since I had been making weekly speaking trips to Forest Home, elevation 5280 feet), and can often be caused by an unusual amount of anxiety or stress (double bingo.)
The good news in all this is that the condition is usually temporary. The doctor told me that all these symptoms should go away in about two weeks. Meanwhile, with the numbness in my mouth, I’ll just have be careful not to drool on myself.
I was discharged from the hospital about 2:30 Sunday afternoon. On the way home we picked up some rolled tacos at Sombrero’s in Lakeside (hospital food is absolutely horrible) and after taking a shower, I also took a nap before heading off to do my radio show. I can still talk, although I have a hard time with my F’s and P’s. My lips on the left side of my face don’t hold as much pressure as needed to get those sounds right. But I think my program went OK anyway. You can listen to it here.
At the end of the day, I prayed a prayer of thanksgiving, not just for the good outcome of my diagnosis but for the entire experience itself. Being in that hospital bed for a couple days gave me a chance to stop, think, pray and put my trust in God to the test. It has been a long time since I’ve done that and it was good for me.