Facial Palsy and what it is like to live with facial paralysis

June's Story - Facial Paralysis after acoustic neuroma brain tumour

The sudden onset of Facial Palsy for a woman in her fifties is a nightmare, more so for an outgoing woman especially when the normal enemies, gravity, wrinkles, and celllulite are setting in at a fast pace.   

I have always been a person to head for a challenge, however, living with facial palsy for 10 years now has been and still is, the biggest challenge of my life

After surviving a large acoustic neuroma brain tumour 10 years ago I was left with many complaints, I lost hearing on one side, worst of all was facial palsy which included dry eye. 

For up to 18 months I was so positive that my facial nerves were only going to be a temporary thing and it was not going to be permanent., that thought alone kept me going, I just imagined that one day it would correct itself  – how wrong I was. I learnt something about myself, that deep inside I was vain. 

People in the street gawked wherever I went.  My favourite pastime – shopping became a nightmare.  Going out for a meal and just chewing was a chore, I would get embarrassed when I went out and the food would get stuck in the gums and on the numb left corner of my lips.

When a camera appeared on the scene, I would fade out into the background, hoping photos would all be over soon.

The tumour surgeon had explained that he had not severed the facial nerve and there was still a chance that full function of the facial nerve could return, I hung on to that hope.  I tried everything I could think of and although they didn’t help me in the end, they could help you.

The following are things I tried before my reconstructive surgery: -

  • Facial exercises organized by the hospital
  • Electrode Pulsating Machine - This gives out small electrodes to help jumpstart the Facial nerves. The machine is attached to the face by a small rubber round circle? I placed it on my face and plugged into this machine everyday for 4 Months, these machines can be borrowed from the hospital.
  • Practise mind power, there is a very good book called “Power of the mind” by John Kehoe
  • Chew chewing gum on a regular basis 
  • Suck on a child's dummy
  • Try Acupuncture
  • Try Bowen Treatment

At nine months and still no change, I was very kindly given some Bowen treatment by a friend of my daughter's to help stimulate the dead nerves.  It was experimental also for the physio but she had previously had good results with Bell's palsy and although I was very tired afterwards I was convinced it must be doing some good.

One year, 18 months passed and nothing had changed really,  then I came to realise that reconstructive surgery was my only other option to improve my face and my self esteem.  I remember friends said I was so brave, but I really wasn’t!

Life will never be the same, I am still concious of my face, every moment every day.

Everyone takes it all for granted, just to be able to smile freely, raise your eyebrows  and express and do things like you did previously, even simple things like having your photo taken.  It's easy to lose your confidence when you feel unattractive.

After eighteen months I visited a plastic surgeon, he said that my age was against me and that in his experience I was technically too old for feeling to return.

I decided to take an operation, the only one available, and was very grateful to have reconstructive surgery, by a wonderful Lower Hutt plastic surgeon who was so very caring and gentle.  Friends and family joked about getting a free face lift.

The surgery was an 80% success however the corner of my mouth still was not completely straight. 

The first month I was very swollen but in time things improved.  My eyebrow was lifted, a muscle from my leg was inserted into my cheek. I was stitched inside the upper and lower lip to pull the left side of my lips back.

The operation was well worth the pain and discomfort however to be honest it was no quick fix, I certainly was no Joan Collins look alike.

My mouth is now much straighter, the face only slightly droops on one side especially when I am tired. I still have lots of complaints especially with the dry eye and as I keep it well lubricated my sight is blurred and not that great but at least people no longer stare, It looks much better.

But when I am up close to people most think I have had a stroke, I have regained a little confidence., don’t get me wrong I was still glad and very grateful I had the operation and if you are offered surgery please try to go through with it.

It would be easy to give up with appearances however, trying to look good had always been one of my traits and you have to work with what you have got left.  Everyday of my life, I get up, shower and do my hair, put on my make up and try to make the best of the face staring back at me in the mirror.

After Surgery
When its all over, you come to realize this is it for the rest of your l
ife, its not going to get any better and its all up to you now.

  • Look in that mirror every day and say “I look good" ten times out loud
  • Look after your skin
  • Style your hair – be trendy, have a style that suits and wear a fringe to cover the forehead and the eyebrows, especially the one that dosent move
  • Wear attractive jewellery, wear anything that will distract others from looking at your face closely
  • Wear dark coloured glasses
  • Be proud, hold your head up and dress up every day to look your best
  • Practice in the mirror to pose for photos, sometimes the odd shot you can get away with

I guess tomorrow will take care of itself but the only worry now is one side of my face is more wrinkled than the other side. 

I thought maybe I could have botox on one side however on a visit to a plastic surgeon I was told this is not an option, I would need surgery for a right side face lift which right now is out of the question.

If this article can help even one person I will be happy and if anyone has any other tips I would really appreciate it.

June, New Zealand, March 2010