Saturday, November 17, 2018
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To smile again

05:04 AM October 17, 2017

What will you do if one day you wake up and find you can’t move half of your face? Will you just break down in tears, or choose to fight as long as you live? In my case, I did both.

Last July I was diagnosed with Bell’s Palsy, or paralysis of one side of the face. At first I thought I had suffered a stroke; thank God I was wrong. But one-sided facial paralysis entails having a lopsided smile, no folds on the left side of the face whatever one’s expression, no flaring of nostrils, no winking, no raising of an eyebrow.


They say it takes fewer muscles to smile than to frown. But this time I really felt smiling was way harder to do than frowning.

I was at an outing with my friends in Laiya, Batangas, when it first dawned on me that I was suffering from facial paralysis. I looked in the mirror and saw what the left side of my face had become. I was shocked and rendered hopeless, thinking that I would forever be like this even on my wedding day. Crying, I realized how hard it was for my left eye to produce tears.


Soon my friends noticed the change in my mood. I tried very hard to hide my sadness from them, to keep it from spoiling the fun. But I guess true friends can see right through you, and will be there especially when you need them most.

They made me feel that I wasn’t alone in this journey. The burden seemed lighter than I expected. During the days I was with them in Batangas, I tried to smile as widely as I could. I tried to laugh, to express my feelings, no matter how ugly I looked.

But outings won’t be complete without pictures. I tried to hide from the groufies, thinking I would spoil the photos. I even told myself that I didn’t want to remember myself like this on an outing with friends, which is supposed to be one of the happiest times of my life.

On our second day I noticed that I wasn’t getting any better. I followed the advice of my friend, a doctor, to seek medical attention. Good thing the resort staff helped me get a ride to a hospital in San Juan, where a doctor confirmed that it was Bell’s Palsy. He prescribed steroids for fast recovery, but more than the medicine, he gave me hope that I could get through it like any other person suffering the same condition.

It’s frustrating to know that there is no definite cause for this ailment. My neurologist in Makati told me that it might have been triggered by stress and lack of sleep. True enough, the night before I was afflicted I had only one hour of sleep because I needed to finish certain tasks.

Aside from diligently taking four kinds of medicine a day, I had to do facial exercises every hour and undergo physical therapy to stimulate my paralyzed nerves. This went on for almost three weeks. I never thought that at my young age, I would be undergoing therapy together with older patients.

As each day passed I saw minor improvements. Now, my face is already back to normal. I consider myself lucky to have the support of my family, work mates, and friends. Without them, I wouldn’t have been able to overcome this challenge.


Looking back, I regret having hidden from the groufies with my friends. Whether I looked good or bad, those photos would have been memories to treasure and to reminisce on, especially when I get old.

Experience is really the best teacher. I’ve learned that it is never too late to change for the better. I’ve chosen to break my bad habits because I want to fight for God’s gift of life. And most important, I’ve learned to be thankful for everything. For having shelter to go to when the rain comes, for being able to again wink and smile and everything else, I am truly grateful.

* * *

Bernadette D. Nicolas, 23, is an editorial administrative assistant at the Inquirer Central Desk, and “currently chasing her dream and turning it into reality.”

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