Remember getting the chickenpox when you were a kid? I vividly remember huge, quarter sized spots that were so itchy my mom put socks on my hands. I was six years old and out of school for a week. Frank, my brother, had them too, but his were milder. We each took up one end of the couch and watched WNEP’s afternoon movies – it was Beach Blanket Bingo week. In between features the local network ran gerbil races. Chickenpox seems like a rite of passage in kids; a topic of conversation even. A badge of honor.
I didn’t know at the time the chickenpox virus would stay dormant in my system, but a few weeks ago, it manifested itself as Shingles in my left ear. It’s common. It happens; but it’s not much fun. The fun started when the pain subsided and the Bell’s Palsy set in. The shingles paralyzed the nerve and the muscles temporarily froze. I had a friend with it some years ago so I knew it would be just a matter of time before it started working again. I didn’t panic. What could I do? My facial muscles were out of my control – literally.
After the shingles rash stopped being contagious, I returned to work with my half-working face. I wasn’t in pain and I was happy to be back with my students and friends. However, I looked like a female Harvey Dent. I was a walking tragedy/comedy mask. We started making a list of words I couldn’t say and I would practice saying them but end up cracking up laughing. Boneless Pizza. Zepplin. Brown Puppies. Flabbergasted. Imagine Mushmouth from Fat Albert. Or Popeye. Or Droopy Dog. I’m a pirate with a speech impediment. What is Roger Rabbit was your English Teacher? Exactly.
None of these details are worth the story. The extraordinary thing to me is how other people are reacting. The concern is lovely, but over and over again I’m hearing, “I can’t believe you’re still laughing at all this.” “You have such a good attitude.” “I would be miserable if I were you.”
I don’t find what I’m dealing with particularly noteworthy. It doesn’t require bravery, it requires patience. I’m not going to die, and I’m not in any danger. My friends who are battling cancer and fighting back with untraditional therapies? They’re the brave ones. I just look weird. Having to tape my eye shut at night is just awkward, but I’m not losing any sleep over it. I use a straw to drink and take small bites to eat, but I’m fine.
Why not have a good laugh? It’s supposed to be the best medicine, right? If I can spread a little more light around this world with my crooked smile then that’s a win in my book. For my kids, it’s also an important lesson in perspective. I’m not going to sweat the small stuff; this Bell’s Palsy is small stuff. I do an awesome Edward G. Robinson impression too, you should see it.