Saturday, February 27, 2010

Reporting From the Frozen Northeast

If you've been wondering where I have been ... in between 2 plus hours a day of facial "stuff" and digging out from a massive snow storm ... suffice it to say I've been a little busy!

Okay, first a quick update on the face. I am working diligently on my stretches and exercises every day, twice a day as directed. And, I must say that I am feeling a difference. I think my face is starting to look more symmetrical too, but the big difference for me is way my face feels. It feels less tight and the sore spots are decreasing. Yay!! I can now press all over my chin and find only one or two slightly tender spots - as compared to two weeks ago when just about every part of my chin was noticeably sore and sensitive to any amount of pressure. Same improvement with my forehead, although the brow and under-eye areas are coming along slower.

But probably the best news (for me) is that my cheek area is starting to feel less tight! It is pretty hard to describe what my face has felt like for the last 18 months or so - almost as if someone had taken a rubber band and stretched parts of my face into tight little bundles. Does that make sense? It's just been ... uncomfortable. This morning I woke up and realized that my face actually felt pretty good. Woohoo!

And, of course, as the cheek loosens up, the lip starts to quit pulling up. It's still pulling a bit, but SO much better than it was. I can actually keep my lips together, without any teeth showing through on the right side.

Amidst all the facial excitement (well, okay, maybe I'm the only one who's excited...) we have also had a big whallop of winter. Wednesday night we got about 5 inches of wet, heavy snow - the kind that is really a pain in the butt to shovel. Not to be bested by weather, I waited until Willie headed to work, then fired up the snow blower and manhandled it up and down the driveway. I should mention that the sucker weighs several hundred pounds and does NOT turn on a dime. Wow, was I sore afterward! No sooner was that mess cleared, then we got hit with the granddaddy of storms - dumped about 2 feet of snow in a 24 hour period. Yow. I let Willie handle the snow blower for this one and I tacked the steps and walkways. By yesterday afternoon, we were all dug out and I started to appreciate the beauty of a fresh blanket of snow. This is the largest single snow fall we've had since we've lived here, a record I hope we don't beat anytime soon.

So, that's the news from Tallyho Lane.

Friday, February 19, 2010


Okay, I promised you pictures ... and here they are. Here is the picture of me the first morning in Jackie's office trying to "gently" close my eyes. Notice the eyebrow (right one is raised), the right side of my lip which is pulled up, and the muscles in the right side of my neck.

Now here is the after picture. Notice how much more symmetrical my face looks - eyebrows even, lip more relaxed, no bulgy muscles in the neck!

Now, here is my "smile" picture from the first morning. You can see that my chin is dimpled and my right eye is tight. You can also see the muscle on the side of my neck kind of sticking up. That whole side of my face is pulling and tight.

And now after! In fairness, I am not smiling as "big" here - I have to keep the movements small and stop just before anything starts twitching or cramping or dimpling.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Update on Wisconsin Trip

Well, Willie and I arrived back at the homestead at about 11:30 last night. Our last two days with Jackie were as filled with learning as the first one. I will attempt to deliver just the highlights here...

We spent the morning of Day Two going over the stretching exercises again - this time with me doing them as Jackie made corrections. Then, in the afternoon, we got to work on the actual muscular retraining. And, boy, is it a lot of work!

Imagine being able to isolate one small muscle on your face? Yes, it is just as hard as it sounds. I found myself willing my brain to make some small muscle move at my direction. I am happy to say that I was finally able to actually feel my chin when it started to dimple, and actually control it (well, at least to an extent.)

Jackie describes the facial retraining movements as isometrics for your face. The movements are so subtle that someone else might not even be aware of them. For example, on of my challenges is to completely relax my face - Jackie calls it "draining" the face. It takes some time and I am far from perfect at it. After the face is sufficiently "drained", I press my lips together ONLY until my chin starts to pucker, or my eye starts to scrunch or the muscle on my neck starts to tighten up. Ideally, I do this without a mirror - relying on my senses to tell me when something is moving. I am using the mirror to check once I think I'm at the right place. I have not yet been able to tell when my neck starts to tighten, although I can see in the mirror the Platysma (hah! impressed, aren't you?) starts to get tight.

For someone like me who is all about quick results and instant perfection, this is a very trying process. However, I am 100% determined to stay the course.

To start, I am doing two hours of facial stretching (some of which seems to involve most of my hand in my mouth) - broken into two one-hour sessions, morning and night. Then, another 30 minutes to work on the subtle facial movements. So, quite a time commitment. However, as the knots in my face start to subside, I will reduce the amount of stretching time.

It is strangely relieving to know that all of this endless tightness and sore spots on my face are actually real and not mis-firing nerves. It is like I have a bunch of little charlie-horses all over the right side of my face. Hm. No wonder I have been uncomfortable for the last year and a half!

Pictures tomorrow!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Day One

I'm posting from the Univ of Wisconsin Health Center where we are waiting to begin my second day with Jackie Diels. Yesterday was a long day - six hours! Spent most of the morning doing evaluations of my facial movement, including all the weird (inappropriate) movements. Jackie took pictures and video, so we'll be able to see the starting point.

We spent the afternoon "stretching out" my face! Yep, that's pretty wieird sounding, isn't it? At one point, I am pretty sure I had my entire fist inside my mouth. There were a few places where I was laughing so hard I had to stop. However, the amazing thing is that I could feel a difference immediately!!

Apparently, I have a lot of knotted up muscles all over my face - and this is at least part of what is causing my mouth to pull up and my eye to squint. She is having me work on each of the knotted places - these are the random "sore spots" that I've had all over my face since I started to regain feeling. It was great to finally find out what was causing all those sore spots - they feel very sore to the touch, almost as if I had a severe bruise.

The highlight of my day was when Jackie said that she thinks a lot of the weird movements are caused by these muscle spasms, and not necessariy synkinesis. We'll have a better idea on this as we work on it today and tomorrow. However, that would be great news since muscle spasms are curable whereas synkinesis is not. Which means that I can fix at least some of this. I found myself welling up when she told me this. I guess what I realized at that moment was that I was terrified that she was going to tell me nothing could be done. Wow.

We got done a little before 4 yesterday and headed back to our hotel room It snowed all day, but was a very light snow with less than an inch accumulation. So, since the roads were fine, we headed into downtown Madison to go to Harvest, a restaurant I had read about that features farm-to-table food. Everything is local and/or organic. Very small menu - maybe 10 entrees and 6 starters; however, everything was perfectly prepared and absolutely delicious! And, perhaps best of all - noise level was very low, so we were able to chat through dinner without a problem and I left not feeling frustrated and tired! Yay!

I wrapped up the day with about an hour of facial stretches in the room before we both hit the sack and slept.

So, it was a very good day and I am feeling optimistic.

By the way, Happy Birthday, Dad!!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Off to Wisconsin

Well, it hardly seems possible, but my appointment with Jackie Diels is finally almost here! Willie and I are flying out to Wisconsin on Sunday and will be spending time with Jackie Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

For those who don't know, she is a preeminent neuro muscular facial therapist here in the US. I started to develop synkinesis (abnormal facial movement) about six months ago and we made the decision in early December to make a trip to see Jackie. This was the earliest we could get on her calendar, and wouldn't be my first choice of times to travel to Wisconsin, but ... what can you do? A lot of people have asked what is going to happen over the three days that I am there - well, I don't really know! How's that?

What I do know is that she will be working with me to develop exercises that will help me to retrain the muscles that aren't moving right. Basically what happens is that when the nerves heal, they mis-connect, causing the wrong muscles to move. For example, when I smile, my right eye squints and tries to close. And, if I blink my right independently, that side of my mouth curls up. You get the idea. Left on its own, it would probably get worse. If treated, I can learn to control it. Synkinesis is not reversible, but it is controllable.

Several people have asked if my facial nerves have completely healed. The answer is no, but the parts that aren't working are not very noticeable. My right eyebrow/forehead still don't move (hey, no wrinkles!) and the corner of my mouth doesn't have a full range of motion, which is what causes me to slur sometimes, and to unexpectedly eject food at other times. Yep, I'm a party waiting for a place to happen.

I hope to have some good before and after pictures when I return - if so, I'll post some here so you can see what's been done. And, in the meantime, send some good thoughts my way - direct them towards Madison, WI, please!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Sunday Dinner

Continuing on the food theme ... yesterday was Sunday Dinner with the Family. Now, those of you who aren't part of an Italian family may not be familiar with this, so listen up. First of all, Sunday dinner is actually more like a late lunch, but with a dinner sized meal.

I have gradually over the years trained everyone NOT to expect the pasta course for our Sunday dinners. I still think I am secretly viewed with suspicion on this, by the way. However, my kitchen, my rules! The rule that you absolutely must have way more food than anyone can possibly eat, however, remains unbroken. So, for five of us, we grilled two chickens. Big juicy chickens. With all of the appropriate side dishes. Sorry, Lorenzo, no cannoli for dessert this time, only fresh fruit.

Another part of the Sunday Dinner tradition is that everyone must talk all at once, and at top volume. Now, if you have two hearing ears, this can be challenging, but imagine for a moment that you only have ONE hearing ear! Yes, all of the sounds come flying at that one poor ear, all at once. The end up is that it just sounds like a bunch of random words. To make it more fun, because everyone is trying to talk at once (hey, they have a lot to say), the volume keeps escalating as each person strives to be heard above the din and roar. Oy vey. (Yes, that's for my Jewish friends because your Sunday Dinners look suspiciously like this, don't they?)

Ah well, in spite of the noise and the over abundance of food, it is a part of the Italian family tradition that I enjoy - even if I have to retreat to my Cone of Silence when everyone leaves ...

Bon Appetit!