I actually have a lot in common with George Clooney. Outside of the natural physical resemblance, similar career path and propensity to spend time with supermodels, George and I share the fact that we are both recovering from Bell’s palsy. My dear and close friend, George, contracted Bell’s palsy when he was in middle school back in Kentucky. It took over a year for him to recover. Fortunately for all of us, George was able to overcome the taunts of his classmates and become one of America’s favorite and might I say best looking actors.
I contracted Bell’s palsy five years ago on the eve of Erin and I buying the house. I was still living in the Avenues when I suspected something was astray. I was packing up my apartment when I went to get a drink of beer. I brought the can to my lips like I have done, literally, a billion times when the contents slid out of the right-side of my mouth. I summed it up that I was tired or I had already had enough beers. I stopped packing for the night and went to bed.
When I woke up in the morning I knew something was wrong. The right-side of my face was completely numb. I went into the bathroom and saw to my horror that my face was drooping down. I couldn’t blink my eye or completely close my mouth. At first, I thought that I had a stroke. After taking a moment, it occurred to me that I wouldn’t have been able to get out of bed if I stroked out. I never realized how frail I might be until that morning. After composing myself, I did what any normal person would do: I dressed and went to the emergency room.
It was one of the scariest drives of my life. The idea of waking up one morning and having my profile dramatically altered was terrifying. I found out later at the doctor’s office that it was very normal to fall quickly into depression when you first contract Bell’s palsy. She told me the vast majority of people recover fully from Bell’s palsy providing you follow the treatment of steroids prescribed. Bell’s palsy isn’t contracted from one particular source. In my case, we were assuming it was a combination of stress and a viral infection. I was lucky that I didn’t need to get smile surgery to correct my face. After two weeks of horse pills, I was on the mend. My face regained control and I am back to being the red-bearded equivalent of George Clooney.
What I disliked most about having Bell’s palsy was the fact that I wasn’t able to talk. My tongue felt like a bag of wet concrete and it was physically demanding to form words. I have fought my entire life to be able to talk and it hasn’t been easy. When I was a youngster, my front four teeth were yanked out by a dentist because they were rotted out from too much grape juice. It really wasn’t my parents fault—to this day I really don’t like using a toothbrush. Short term, the problem of not having my teeth made eating corn-on-the-cob the funniest thing before YouTube. Long term, the result of not having my front teeth was that I grew up with a speech impediment. I was unable to form words which in turn caused a heavy lisp and a light stutter.
Words like Philadelphia or sausage or any soft syllabled word became impossible to pronounce. In fact, my sister’s nickname, Tee, came from the fact that I couldn’t say Elizabeth. I talked like I had a mouthful of marbles and the more excited I became the worst I sounded. It wasn’t until I got to elementary school did I start taking speech therapy. Working on slowing down my speech, thinking before I speak and a variety of tongue exercises that I do to this day helped me be able to communicate better. It really wasn’t until my adult teeth came in at the absurdly late age of eleven did I turn the corner on my speech impediment. I think I stopped going to speech therapy when I got into high school.
For those that know me, I am obscenely loquacious. I not only enjoy talking at length, I also talk just to hear the sound of my own voice. The best analogy for the fact that I have a hard time being quiet is when Forrest Gump ran through his leg braces and never stopped running. I still have slips in my lisp and have a couple of trigger words for my stutter but for the most part, I speak like the average dumb American.
As a bartender, I believe that 90% of the work is done by talking with the guests. Being able to entertain my guests is the most important part of my job. Not only do I get their drink orders, I spend the vast majority of my time behind the bar telling jokes, stories and learning about my guests. Being able to talk is just as important skill set as cutting fruit and shaking martinis.
This last week has been a nightmare for me. Laryngitis has stolen my voice and I feel as if I am having to relearn both bartending and talking for the first time. Unable to easily slide into conversations, I find myself being considerably more economic in what I say. It makes for awkward moments and it is very frustrating. The skill set that I believe that has set me apart from a lot of other bartenders in Utah has been wiped away and I have felt as if I am constantly playing catch up when pouring drinks.
I have heard that people who lose their vision overcompensate with superior hearing. It would be reasonable to assume that one of my other senses would become heightened during this period of laryngitis. Maybe. My hearing is shot but my taste buds do feel a little more complex. I have been trying to kill this voice loss with gallons of tea and honey and every other hippy remedy that I have publically ridiculed through the years.
Every morning for the last ten days has been some sort of messed up Christmas Day where I wake up hoping to be able to talk again. It has been slowly getting better. In the intermediate time, I have been struggling through work sounding like Harrison Ford and Harvey Fierstein’s love child. I am sure Erin has appreciated the silence but the dogs are confused why I am not puttering around the house and telling them stories about the army of D-bags I poured drinks for the night before.
I figure if George Clooney can survive middle school with Bell’s palsy, I am sure I can make it for a couple more days of hoarseness and weakness in my voice. I’d like to think we have a lot in common. You probably don’t. You’re probably right.