There, it’s out. You might have an inkling of how difficult this is for me. I’ve had a phobia about aging that’s grown steadily the past few years. I rage against it, I ignore it, I try to put it off. Fortuitously, my medical history has been sound. If I ever do get a cold, I treat it with Vitamin C and a brisk jog. I don’t admit to backaches. I’ve only been to the hospital for wisdom teeth and childbirth — and several of my children were born at home.
So on Monday when I suddenly noticed that half my face was paralyzed, I freaked out. I didn’t want to entertain the word “stroke.” That was something that happened to old people, and I wouldn’t let it happen to me. “Maybe I’m just tired,” I thought, “and if I go to sleep, in the morning it will be better.”
But it wasn’t.
Now, what should I do? I took a shower, blow-dried my hair, put on makeup. I spent an hour with a hand-held mirror, making grimaces and trying to train the saggy side of my mouth to go up. All to no avail.
I cried all the makeup off. I took some vitamin C and several glasses of water.
I knew I should go to the doctor. This might be something that could be treated; or something that could get worse if it wasn’t. But I couldn’t make myself do it. It was as if such an action would be an admission that I was powerless against the onslaught of age.
The last thing I wanted to do was to admit to any of my family or friends what was happening. I wanted to go back to bed. The fear of death was great, but the fear of living impaired was greater. Somehow I found a tiny stalk of courage, enough to write a note to a little group of online friends. I described what was happening. “I didn’t write this so you could all tell me to go to the doctor,” I concluded. “I will try to get up my courage and go, or at least maybe tell someone. But I just want to know you are all there, and you love me. And maybe tell me that I am not old, or help me figure out how to accept getting old, because I just can’t do it. And I don’t have the faith or the courage to face life as a drooling old person who can’t run or swim or climb mountains any more.”
Of course, they all immediately started trying to get me to go to the doctor. “This is not a time for pontificating about old age and mountain climbing!” one scolded.
Another sent me a link to a site on Bell’s Palsy. I read it and recognized all of my symptoms. This made me feel better, but actually reduced my urgency to go in and get checked. Finally someone texted me and offered to propose some holistic options. We discussed vitamin B-12 and Omega-3 fish oil. Then, near the end of the conversation, she casually mentioned that while I was out getting the vitamins, I could drive by the Doctor’s Care Center. I wouldn’t have to go in if I didn’t want to. And if I did go in, I wouldn’t have to stay. Next thing I knew, I’d had my blood drawn and was on my way for an outpatient CT scan.
Fast forward to now, and things could be worse. Bell’s Palsy isn’t really an “old person’s” disease. George Clooney had it as a teenager. It isn’t painful, and it’s not life-threatening. But a personal trial for me, you can’t hide it. If I go out in public, I have to admit what is going on. I don’t know what the prognosis is — it could go away in a few months, or I could have it for the rest of my life.
And that brings me to the reason I’m posting about this. It’s brought up a lot of spiritual angst. Am I supposed to learn something from this? Did I get this particular affliction because I’m too vain? Why don’t I just have faith to be healed? Or is this just some random happening that is a part of mortality that God doesn’t have much to do with?