Living with Bell’s Palsy in the midst of ignorance

Living with Bell’s Palsy in the midst of ignorance
Source: Ghana | James Kofi Annan |
Date: 21-11-2018 Time: 02:11:48:pm

Somewhere in March 2010, I had secured funding from the Barclays Bank of Ghana, to train 220 boys and girls in Winneba. The project trained young persons between the ages of 15 and 24 in skill areas such as plumbing, masonry, carpentry, driving, hairdressing, sewing, and more.

I had formed a steering committee to run the project. I bought 58 sewing machines and accessories, 32 hair dryers and accessories, 10 sets of carpentry tools, 12 sets of plumbing tools, and many others, as well as paying for the apprenticeship fees for all the 220 selected beneficiaries.

The steering committee of the project had organized a project launching and presentation ceremony at the A. M. E. Zion church, and all the beneficiaries and their families had gathered for the occasion – a packed auditorium – and I had been invited as a keynote speaker.

While giving my speech I noticed I was losing my ability to speak, with my lips failing to cling. I attempted to drink water, thinking my difficulties were as a result of dehydration. But the water embarrassingly poured out of my mouth. It then became obvious that something was wrong with me, especially since I realized one side of my face had started to feel funny, and I was at this point obviously unable to pronounce any meaningful word, so I ended my speech abruptly.

I left to Accra immediately, to the Holy Trinity Hospital. After a series of questions, the Doctor concluded that I had been hit by Bell’s palsy! This was the first time I had heard of this disease. I was then referred to the 37 Military Hospital for further examination and treatment.

Bell’s palsy is a condition that causes weakness of the muscles in the face. It impairs speech, and it can occur when the nerve that controls your facial muscles becomes inflamed, swollen, or compressed. The condition causes one side of your face to droop, creating difficulties in smiling or closing your eye on the affected side.

At the 37 Military Hospital, the doctor booked me for a six weeks physiotherapy, beginning the following week. Meanwhile, I had only eight days left to leave Ghana for a four-week speaking tour of America.

Flying 11 hours direct from Ghana to New York became unusually the longest and the most painful head-aching experience I have ever had. The left half of my face became completely paralyzed, with the left eye unable to close or blink. As the flight dragged on, every single air-condition breeze, every single particle flew directly into my eye, and into my mouth, with destabilizing dryness.

I had a connecting flight to Washington, so upon arrival, I had alerted the Delta Airlines agents that I was unwell, and therefore I needed to sleep at the boarding area, and that I needed them to wake me up during the boarding on the connection.

Unfortunately, it turned out the agent I spoke with was actually closing her shift, and she did not pass the information on to the next agent. Long story short, I missed the flight.

My friend, Jeff, was at the airport to fetch me. But the flight arrived without me. He called Ghana to check if I, indeed, travelled, whereupon it was confirmed that I was on the Delta flight that left Ghana. How then did it happen that I was not on the flight upon arrival, and there was no record to show that I was ever on the flight?

Jeff then initiated a search for me. He called our FBI friends, to seek advice on how to look for me. Meanwhile back home, I had been declared dead already, with my family initiating the bereavement and the crying process.

By the time I arrived in Washington, on the next regional jet, enough had been said to my memory, by those who loved me. Even Jeff had cried, for they all knew the condition under which I travelled, and for some reason, some of my family members had thought that I had died on the plane, and somehow the crew had thrown me into the sea. It was scary, and it was humbling.

Jeff took me straight to a Washington hospital, and the doctors did their best to save my eyes from total blindness, and to attempt to reverse whatever was left of the muscles of my mouth – for my face looked like an old terminal stroke patient.

It was initially very difficult to accept my new self, but I had to confront myself and to accept the reality that the healing would take some time, especially since the situation became very bad before the improvement began. 

I am sharing my story with you because I have realized that not many people are aware of this disease called Bell’s palsy, and how it affects our families. I have had many occasions when people have asked me, some politely, whether I have had a stroke before. 

The worsening of my condition and the subsequent slow recovery was due to my ignorance of the disease. If I had known what it was, and how it is managed, I would have prevented it from getting worst, and subsequently would have not gotten to the level where recovery has become this slow.

I have mentioned posterity more than often, but I don’t think you get me. In the next two hundred years, none of us alive now will be alive. No matter how scary it looks, we will all die, sooner. We, therefore, have a choice to make, to think about ourselves only, or to think about others too, including those unborn.

Do not wonder why I write the way I do. Without personal experiences, I do not have any interest in writing, but I write the way I write because I am determined to pour my experiences, my heart, and the experiences of others, for the sake of the edification, inspiration and the guidance of others who need not arrive at the worst.

Of the very few talents God gave me, it has been my written and verbal communication that had put food on my table. I am not a Minister, neither am I an MP. I hold no public position. I am a mere private person who, as some put it, beg with my NGO to get money. I went out there doing something to help my people, and I was hit by this disease – I lost my speech, the very talent that put food on my table, and I lost my left eye too. But the most important thing is, God has preserved my life.  

God is good!



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