I have been trying to come up with something that’s NOT related to my accident to write about, but I guess that’s kind of the point of this thing isn’t it? I got some really positive info today, so I felt like I should update this. Today, I went back up to UCLA for a hearing test and a nerve conduction study/EMG on my facial nerve. I won’t offend anyone that actually knows about what an EMG does by trying to explain it, but it basically tracks the progression of the regeneration of the nerves in my face.
First up was the hearing test. I can’t tell you how many times I have sat in one of those damn airless, soundproof rooms holding a clicker waiting in anticipation to hear the tone I’m supposed to hear. I was not very coherent for the majority of the tests I participated in while I was in the hospital, but I do remember entering via hospital bed, and I sure was happy to have walked into that place on my own two feet. To cut to the chase, I have regained enough hearing (~68%) to be eligible for a hearing aid! Yay! Anyone close to me knows what a struggle it is for me to basically be blind AND deaf on one side of my body. I think one affliction would be totally manageable, but both? It’s tough stuff, man. Need to get past my right side in a crowded bar? Nope. Need to whisper something into my right ear? Nope. I’m not sure a hearing aid will be the answer, but it’s a start.
Next was the EMG. This test is probably my least favorite thing ever, but getting the answers about the status of my facial nerve (the whole point of this blog) is too important to me to chicken out just because it’s a little painful. There are two parts to it; the nerve conduction study (NCS), and the Electomyogram (EMG). Both are equally as terrible; for the NCS, they stick a bunch of electrodes on your face, then take a little wand thing (technical terms here, folks) and shock you in various areas, ramping up the voltage until the desired muscle twitches in response. My understanding is that this is the more sensory-focused part of the test; if you can’t feel a stimulus, you can’t react to it. They never see anything terribly exciting during this part of the test on my face because my sensory nerve seems to be lagging behind my motor nerve, meaning that I don’t feel the majority of the ‘shocks’ on my right. The kicker is that they use my full-feeling, ‘good’ side for comparison.
Next is the EMG, which measures the muscle contraction initiated by the nerve of interest. This is done by taking a needle hooked up to a wire on the computer, and placing it in the area of a muscle innervated by said nerve, then kind of digging around and picking a single muscle fiber to look at. Then, they have me make faces that would contract that muscle; puckering my lips, scrunching my eyes closed, raising my eyebrows. It truly isn’t much worse than the needle sticks you feel when getting acupuncture, but it’s on my face. When I had this test done in March, they saw lots of activity by the corner of my mouth, but nothing up by my eye. An absence of activity, however, does not indicate that it wouldn’t happen eventually.
Today, they tested the bottom corner of my mouth and it was just like last time, lots of stuff going on but when they looked at the corner of my eye, right by the end of my eyebrow closest to my ear, they saw significant activity. The needle acts as a ‘microphone’ and the muscle activity is noise (sounds like popping popcorn), so I could hear the triumph even before the doctor said anything. This activity up by my eye is huge—this means that I am closer to being able to blink my eye shut, which means I am regaining the ability to protect my cornea, which means they will be able to unstitch it soon. Contrary to what you may think, it actually takes muscle activation to shut your eyes. Having them open is the more ‘relaxed’ state of that particular muscle, which is what jeopardizes the health of my cornea.
This is a bittersweet moment for me. Everything I have been waiting on being resolved this past year is right on the cusp of being finished. My droopy face and hearing loss are really the only two things that remain of this terrible thing that happened. Now that I’m starting to see this light at the end of the tunnel, I am so unbelievably excited but also incredibly frustrated. I will not by any means be missing this stuff, but this year has been so incredibly hard in large part because I had to learn how to adapt to these new facts of my life. I anguished over requiring a straw all the time, and saying “what?” to friends over and over during normal conversations. And now these things are going to just “poof” and be gone? It makes me frustrated because I just wish that I could have told myself then what so many people HAD been telling me all along. This dark moment is so, so fleeting in the grand scheme of my life, and that it doesn’t diminish who I am, and that I shouldn’t worry about it.
I could have saved myself so many tearful nights, so many missed opportunities due to my insecurity over how I looked, just so many things in general that I told myself I couldn’t have because I was broken. But, now that I see this stuff, I need to hold onto this perspective. Right now, I’m riding a high from all this exciting news, but I know I will feel stagnant and unsettled again, but I will have this post to look back on.
I am so thankful to my friends and family who tried their best to get it through my thick skull that I would one day figure this stuff out. Sorry I’m so stubborn. But I get it now.