Cathy Darnton is a teacher from Cardiff. At age 44 Cathy contracted shingles which resulted in the right side of her face becoming paralysed, and a diagnosis of Bell’s palsy was made. Facial palsy due to shingles is often associated with Ramsay Hunt syndrome (RHS) but specialists were unconvinced due to a lack of other symptoms that normally accompany RHS. Here Cathy tells her story.
In March 2012 I was on top of the world. I had lost over six stone and was fitter than I had ever been, running my first 10k in November 2011. As I enjoyed my runs I wondered how I would cope if I suffered an injury – would I gain weight if I couldn’t train – would I be miserable? On 2 March 2013 I suffered Bell’s palsy – not the injury I was expecting. The right hand side of my face was severely affected as a result of shingles behind my eyes and in my ear. I was diagnosed by an out of hours GP, prescribed prednisolone, acyclovir, advised to tape my eye closed and take some time off work. I returned home shell shocked and began to come to terms with what I had been told.
Within a couple of days I saw my work GP who signed me off for two weeks and referred me to a physiotherapist, who was quick to determine my personality and advise an approach to the condition that would work for me. This approach was really ‘carry on as normally as possible.’
I spent my time off work meeting friends for coffee, going out for short walks and trying to spend as much time with family and friends, being around people helped. Within two weeks of being diagnosed I had my parents’ Golden Wedding party to attend, where I had produced a video that I wanted to set up whilst people ate – all eyes were on me!!! Looking back that was quite an ordeal!
Later that week I returned to teaching – my GCSE and A level classes were relying on me and they quickly adjusted to how I looked and sounded as I explained right from the off what the condition was and how I looked worse than I felt. Following the Easter holidays I returned to full time teaching and started to resume a gentle exercise regime as part of the Comic Relief 5×50 Challenge – short runs and zumba classes started to make me feel better about myself. As the weeks have progressed (currently week 15) I have become stronger both mentally and physically, I am used to my face and although I miss my smile more than words can express, I have adjusted. The support of my husband, children, parents, family, friends, colleagues and students has been a tower of strength – people tell me they are proud of me and how I have coped but I am proud of them – they have coped with seeing somebody they love going through a very tough time with nowhere to hide. One of my students told me she had learnt so much from my ability to cope with Bell’s palsy and how life didn’t frighten her as much now – how would she ever have been taught that through my normal ICT lessons?
Bell’s palsy has temporarily changed my life there is no doubt about that. I drink from a straw, avoid photographs where I can, drool when I eat, struggle with too many f’s, th’s, b’s and p’s in words and have to tell anybody I meet why I look like I do. I have recently visited a specialist facial palsy clinic in the north of England and am having electrical stimulation treatment for one hour each day – another Bell’s palsy change to adjust to! I was pleased to be told that my facial paralysis hopefully won’t be permanent but with nerves growing at a mm rate each day I am prepared for a long wait – up to two years possibly! I can’t wait to see my smile again – people tell me they can see my smile within but nothing beats what you see in the mirror! I hope that in the future I could perhaps support sufferers and would like to see medical professionals offering emotional services for Bell’s palsy patients. Interestingly those who have an injury that is not seen often complain that nobody understands – Bell’s palsy is there for all to see but it is still hard to comprehend unless you have suffered from it.
Cathy Darnton kindly agreed to do a television interview with ITV Wales raising awareness of Bell’s palsy in December 2013.
Last reviewed: 16-10-2017 || Next review due: 16-10-2019