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Spring on steroids



This time last year, on a bright, beautiful Saturday morning, I woke up with no feeling in half of my face, a loose lower lip and a drooping eyelid. I thought I must have been stung or have some kind of allergy.

I knew it would go away. I Googled my symptoms and got a little frightened. Might be signs of a mild stroke, or a predictor of one. The right thing to do was head to the hospital. I checked my fingertips to see if they were tingling. Again.

One morning three years ago I woke up wheezing, thought it was allergies, went to the doctor. Ended up needing triple-bypass open-heart surgery. Déjù vu clouds swarmed.

The doctor confirmed my symptoms but gave me the "good" news. I wasn't having a recurring heart problem; I had Bell's palsy. I could have hugged him. I felt such a sense of relief. Maybe all the sometimes-boring exercise I was doing was working.

My cardiologist pointed out that most people diagnosed with Bell's palsy get a little depressed and anxious. It's slightly disfiguring and mildly uncomfortable. There's no way of knowing how long the facial symptoms and nerve numbness will last, perhaps six weeks to six months. Patients look and talk a little weird.

But when heart patients get Bell's, they say "Hallelujah! They don't have to crack my chest open!" Leaky tear ducts and drooling are nothing compared to the ER and the ICU. Pass the salsa, please, and a pile of napkins.

If caught early, the treatment for Bell's palsy is aggressive doses of steroids. This protects the eye and helps the facial muscles survive full strength. The paralysis just runs it course.

Since my surgery, I'd been an eager student of symptoms, side effects and drug interactions. What would the next few weeks bring? How would the heart meds get along with the steroids? Like best buddies, it turned out.

I was tripping. I slept just four hours a night, had huge amounts of energy and ate six meals a day. Some mornings, I woke up at 5 a.m. and went for a 6-mile walk. I lived to be in the woods or on a hill as the sun rose.

I cut down a 50-foot pine tree that was bugging me, plowed through 100 yards of 6-foot-tall brambles just to make a nice curving walking path. We had a huge garden and I was the King of All Mulch.

I was online in the middle of the night a lot. Shopping online on steroids is crazy. I had a pile of pants the wrong sizes and colors to prove it.

One of the listed rare side effects of steroids is "extreme sense of well-being." Those first three weeks, I sang with that choir.

We sat in the bleachers of a girls' soccer game one afternoon, a dozen moms and dads, rooting for our daughters and communing. They were all so kind, so sensitive, so humorous about my situation. I sat there with a tear streaming down the right side of my face.

One mom addressed the group, "You know, what's the difference, anyway, between an extreme sense of well-being and a regular sense of well-being? Who couldn't use a little more sometime?"

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