Two weeks ago, on Friday the Thirteenth, I woke up and thought I had a brain tumor. Not everyone would come to this conclusion because her left eye wouldn’t blink, but I did. What else but some ugly mass pressing against my eye socket could cause this? Which only gave me a few months to live, leaving my children motherless. But then again, maybe a little internet research was in order before I checked out completely. I found five possible conditions, including a benign tumor and another I knew a little about—Bell’s Palsy, “a paralysis or weakness of the muscles on one side of your face”. Other symptoms…..numbness……..didn’t have that…….wait……it suddenly felt like I’d just had a filling on the left side of my mouth. What the heck—aside from a brain tumor (albeit benign) I now had a clear case of hypochondria.
A quick look in the mirror, however, left me no longer worried about my mind but if I could live with facial disfigurement. One side of my mouth did nothing when I smiled—it just sat there, along with an eyebrow that wouldn’t lift, half a forehead that didn’t wrinkle (always a silver lining to any cloud, they say) and that darn non-blinking eye. Indeed, I had Bell’s Palsy.
Fortunately it’s a mild case with complete recovery expected. And I’m getting quite a bit of sympathy (terribly under-rated), even from Helen. She has been driving me on errands and when I ran my cart over a clerk’s foot at Home Depot, she called me her “blind and gimpy mom”, but in a nice way. And here is a good place to put into writing that she even promised to support me in my old age for “18 years like you supported me”. Though I am embarrassed to admit that I got a little greedy and suggested that 22 was a more correct figure as there were four years of college ahead.
And I wasn’t the only one she took care of this month. We have a slightly feral tomcat, Timmy, who had an injured foot. He is also known as “Roof Kitty” as he usually is too timid to come down for dinner and we have to throw his food up on the roof. Helen managed to catch him and get him to the vet to be fixed (in more ways than one). And in the hope that we could tame him, she made the downstairs bathroom his recovery care center. And though he did get to the point where he liked to be petted, he never felt safe enough to leave the window sill, except to use his private litter box and eat his rather generous meals. When she finally let him loose he took off running and didn’t return. It all was very sad—did he trust us so little now that he would never come back?
But then, several days later, we had a Timmy sighting in the hay bales and the next day he was on the roof, waiting for food. That was 8 days ago, when my mouth started to feel less numb. That was the day when I noticed that there were poppies and bachelor buttons ready to bloom in my new flower bed under the decorated tree stump. That was a good day.
Life truly turns on a dime. One night you go to bed and your face is normal (well, sort of) and the next morning you wake up with an eye that won’t blink and a smile that is way too crooked to be charming. And depending on the direction of the spin, all this turning can be magical or horrifying. Your cat is injured, you get him well, he runs away. You have cancer, now it’s in remission, now it’s back. Your child is on drugs, no she’s not, yes she is. Your husband loves you, he loves you not, he……now it’s my head that’s spinning. And there’s not much to do about it, except try and learn from each turn. I can only hope to have more empathy for anyone facing permanent disfigurement. To be thankful that I didn’t wake up to discover a real brain tumor or a lump in my breast. To remind myself that my almost 18 year old is (usually) a great kid.
Mary Oliver ends her poem “The Summer Day” with these lines:
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?”
The dime will continue to turn and drop, turn and drop. But today I will sit by my tree stump and admire the opening blooms of flowers that have had this month’s both brutal winds and plentiful rains. I will look in the mirror and appreciate the way my mouth is starting to go up on both sides. And when I throw Timmy his food up on the roof, I will tell him how very glad I am to see him.