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At the end of July, I wrote a blog post in which you might have noticed I had had a little injury. Well, that little injury was a lot worse than I thought, and eventually led to me losing my smile.
Another title for this post might be “Why You Shouldn’t Travel without Traveler’s Insurance.” In 2015, I only had one accident and just a couple small colds which I would have used the insurance for. However, in the past month I would have gotten my money’s worth.
I hope I don’t scare you with all the details. Here’s a short summary. Bear with me, as there aren’t a lot of photos to go with this post.
At the end of July in Berlin, I missed a jump onto a concrete block and cracked my chin on the corner instead. A few days later I had what seemed to be an allergic or toxin reaction while doing the walking tour in Amsterdam. The next day when I woke up, my soft palate had stopped working.
Before that happened, I’d no idea what the soft palate was. Now I know it’s the muscle that blocks the passage between the nose and the mouth. Without mine working, I had some very interesting problems. The most obvious was that my speech was enormously impeded. Without resistance in the nasal passage, letters requiring a push of air were nearly impossible, such as f’s and b’s, and all the vowels too. Unable to hold in air, I could only say a word or two at a time. I basically sounded like Steve Urkel from Family Matters.
Eating was a trick. I couldn’t swallow large portions, and anything starchy would get stuck at the back of my mouth. Drinking was the most interesting. Anything bigger than the smallest sip would come out my nose! Luckily my breathing wasn’t affected at all. Within a couple days I also experienced muscle fatigue and what seemed to be a case of continuous vertigo. That lead to my tumble down the stairs and spraining both my ankles, as mentioned in the last post.
The problem was that I was enroute from the Netherlands back to Edinburgh, and I didn’t have time to stop and get checked out. Nor did I have the money or insurance for the doctor. The story could end here with the moral being “get traveler’s insurance,” but the saga continued.
I got back to Edinburgh after 24 hours on the bus. My ankles were throbbing, and the weakness was as bad as ever. However, those who know me know that I don’t tend to experience negative emotions, and I also have a high tolerance of pain, so I planned to just push through and let time heal.
My host in Scotland felt otherwise.
After arriving in Edinburgh, I picked up my friend Kristin at the airport, whom I planned to spend the month with. The first two weeks were at a “house sit” in Dundee (I’ll write about that amazing experience soon). When we arrived in Dundee, our host (medically trained herself) insisted that I see the doctor and brought me to the A&E at the local hospital.
Now, recently I found out that I was a British citizen and got my passport. As a result, I was eligible for free NHS (National Health Service) in the UK. Yeay! As long as I was within the UK, I wouldn’t need traveler’s insurance. That’s a lot different than the US!
However, the A&E department had no idea what was wrong with me. They confirmed it wasn’t a stroke or other emergency, and sent me to the GP (general practitioner) instead. Our host Linda took me to her GP. He said that in his decades of practice, he’d never seen anything like what I had. He scheduled me to go back to the hospital, this time to the ENT (Ears, Nose, Throat) department.
I went the next day and they put a scope down my nose to look at my throat. Now that was a weird feeling! They said there wasn’t anything wrong except a little inflammation of my soft palate. Before they discharged me, they said they wanted a neurologist to see me.
That’s when I started to get a little worried. See, I believe that there are three parts of man (spirit, mind and body), and I’m not a big fan of healers who don’t take this into account, i.e. Western medicine. I prefer holistic medicine and go the naturopathic route.
Anyway, I got a full interview with a neurologist, who didn’t find anything wrong, except that my muscles were fatigued. He was going to let me go, but just wanted to run it by his senior first. A few minutes later, he came back to say he wanted to admit me into the hospital! That was Friday, and I would have to stay at least until Monday when I could get an MRI and further tests.
I said no.
I argued that I had the responsibility of taking care of the dogs at the house sit, and I also wanted to spend time with Kristin. But more than anything, I wasn’t willing to spend a weekend in the neurology department. After all, I have the right not to be admitted into hospitals in the UK. After making my intentions clear, I left.
The next day, I got a call from the hospital saying they would give me the MRI on Monday even though I hadn’t been admitted as an In-Patient. I said I’d come.
I arrived early Monday morning, proceeded to get two more examinations by higher level neurologists, and then a full battery of tests. X-rays, EKG, breath test, blood tests, muscle tests, you name it. Except for the MRI, as the machine was busy the whole day.
At the end of the day, they said they hadn’t found anything wrong, but thought I might have a possible rare illness. How rare? When I looked it up, for my age and gender, the chances of getting it was a little below one in a million, and the only cure was drugs. DRUGS AREN’T A CURE! (Feel free to argue the point.)
Once again, they wanted me to check in for the night and get the MRI the next day. And once again, I refused. I did say I would go back for the MRI, but didn’t want to spend the night in the hospital.
The next day, I decided not to go back for the MRI, but rather pursue alternative medicine. By this point the soft palate had almost healed, but I was still experiencing muscle fatigue and soreness. My face had also started to feel a little strange, particularly the right side.
My decision had nothing to do with the hospital itself. The NHS gave me wonderful service. I don’t remember being in a hospital in the states since I was two with a cracked skull (now you know why I’m a little strange!), so I can’t really compare the service. I can say that if I hadn’t been in the neurology ward, I would have stayed. The nurses were more than helpful. Despite whatever reputation they have, I really appreciate having the services of the NHS!
The next day, I went to see the local chiropractor who took away nearly all my soreness and restored a bunch of muscle strength. Unfortunately, by the end of the day I had developed what appeared to be Bell’s Palsy. That was the end of my smile.
It wasn’t that I didn’t want to smile. It was that the muscles in the right side of my face basically stopped working, and smiling was impossible.
The good thing is that there was nearly no pain in my body. The bad part was that I couldn’t smile. What good is life when you can’t smile?! That I couldn’t close my right eye all the way, drink from any container or close my lips to hold food in my mouth was irrelevant.
Oh, don’t worry. I definitely wasn’t upset or worried. I did my research and knew that it wasn’t serious, and that time would heal it within 2-12 weeks, almost regardless of any other treatments. That wasn’t the point. I didn’t want to walk around frowning.
It wasn’t even about how my photos would turn out. Okay, maybe a little. Um, a little more than a little.
But the real point is that people should be smiling. All the time! When you pass someone on the street, smile at them. If someone does something wrong, smile as you show them how to do it right. This world needs more smiling!
Obviously there are times when smiling isn’t appropriate, but that should be the exception to the rule.
Even though Edinburgh is my favorite city in the world, there are a couple things I don’t really like. One is that, while Scottish people are really friendly in general, in Edinburgh they don’t tend to make eye contact on the street or smile when passing each other, let alone giving a cheerful “Good morning!”
Do you ever feel just a little let down when you pass someone on the street and say “hello,” but they don’t respond? Well, what if we changed it around. Let’s make that guy or gal the minority and have 10 people give them a hearty “hello!” Who knows, they just might come up to responding to one.
I write my blog to help others. I travel to help everywhere I can. In fact, I believe all life exists to help. I think this world needs a lot of help. Even the smallest things can make a difference. It can even start with a smile.
To end on a happy note. It’s been nearly four weeks, and my smile is back. Mostly. I did some amazing things in the month, had a wonderful time with Kristin, completed my first house sit, hiked part of the West Highland Way, made my fourth trip to the Isle of Skye, saw some hysterical comedy shows at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival (which helped to work those facial muscles) and saw the best fireworks show ever! I’ll get caught up shortly on writing about all these wonderful adventures.
Tomorrow I start Shamrocker Adventures’ Giant’s Rocker Tour. I have a feeling I’m going to have a pretty big smile on my face with all the beauty of Ireland, whether my muscles want to work or not! I hear this country is comparable to Scotland. We shall see.