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For Whom the Bell’s Palsy Tolls

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Posted on Oct 30, 2007

By Amy Goodman

Bell’s palsy. It hit suddenly a month ago. I had just stepped off a plane in New York, and my friend noticed the telltale sagging lip. It felt like Novocain. I raced to the emergency room. The doctors prescribed a weeklong course of steroids and antivirals. The following day it got worse. I had to make a decision: Do I host “Democracy Now!,” our daily news broadcast, on Monday? I could speak perfectly well, and I’m tired of seeing women (and men) on TV who look like they just stepped off the set of “Dynasty.” Maybe if they see a person they trust to deliver the news, still there, but just looking a little lopsided, it might change their view of friends and family—or strangers, for that matter—who are struggling with some health issue.

  Wikipedia, the popular online encyclopedia anyone can edit, stated that I had suffered a stroke. So on Tuesday I decided to tell viewers and listeners that I was suffering from a temporary bout of Bell’s palsy, that it wasn’t painful and that “the doctors tell me I will be back to my usual self in the next few weeks. In the meantime, it just makes it a little harder to smile. But so does the world.”

  Bell’s palsy affects 50,000 people in the U.S. every year. It is an inflammation of the seventh cranial nerve that connects to the eye, nose and ear. The inflammation causes temporary paralysis of the nerve. For some, the eye can’t close, so they have to tape it shut at night, and some can’t speak. George Clooney had it. Ralph Nader came down with it in the midst of a speaking tour. He was in Boston debating someone when his eye started to water and his mouth sagged. It didn’t stop him. He continued his tour, just beginning each talk by saying, “At least you can’t accuse me of speaking out of both sides of my mouth.”

  I was just in Santa Fe, N.M., interviewing Tim Flannery, voted 2007 Australian of the Year for his remarkable work as an explorer, paleontologist, zoologist and climate-change scientist. Before we went on the stage, I apologized for my crooked smile. He said he knew the feeling, having had shingles, a more painful viral condition that affects one side of the face. I was beginning to feel less and less alone.

  The next day we broadcast from the New Mexico state Legislature. The cameraman told me that Ambassador Joe Wilson, husband of Valerie Plame, had just been in. He had been doing an interview with his wife from a remote studio with Larry King. The cameraman told Wilson that I had Bell’s palsy. He said that he, too, had suffered a bout of it. I caught up with Wilson after our morning broadcast. He described what happened to him. It was 10 years ago. He had just gotten off Air Force One in Africa with President Clinton. He splashed some water on his face, looked in the mirror and saw the telltale face sag, unblinking eye and mouth droop; he thought he had had a stroke. Walter Reed Army Medical Center was called, and Wilson was diagnosed with Bell’s palsy within a few minutes. Clinton sat him down and said that he had known a number of people who had had Bell’s, and that he should just carry on. It would go away. Wilson flew off to Luanda and gave a speech on the tarmac. Later that day, he passed a television set and hardly recognized himself, with his mouth askew. He thought he looked like the actor Edward G. Robinson, a tough-talking gangster speaking out of the side of his mouth.

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  Even my neurologist once had Bell’s palsy, and said I should just keep working, that, with the medication, it would heal itself. Just to make sure, I visited an acupuncturist in New York’s Chinatown, next to the Off Track Betting Parlor, hearing that the doctor was a good bet!

  I’m happy to report the Bell’s palsy is easing up, and I feel fortunate. Fortunate for the waves of support, from the hundreds of e-mails from strangers. A female marketing professor from a Houston business school wrote: “Watching you carry on with Bell’s palsy has taught me a little bit about myself. In real life we encounter people with physical imperfections all the time. Why are we shielded from seeing people with flaws and imperfections on TV? Reporters and anchors on TV news, especially women, typically look as if they just won a beauty pageant or a modeling contest, which seems to add to the disingenuousness of their messages.”

  I feel fortunate to have good health insurance, yet feel unfortunate to live in a society where other people’s access to health care is subject to the whims of fortune. The hardest part of this temporary bout has been how tough it is to smile. It has made me realize what a precious gift a smile is. It reminds me of the world’s most famous smile, or, actually, half-smile, the Mona Lisa’s. Perhaps even she had Bell’s palsy.

  Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!,” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on 500 stations in North America.

  © 2007 Amy Goodman

  Distributed by King Features Syndicate


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By Aaron, March 8, 2011 at 10:37 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I had Bell’s when I was a junior in High school. I was misdiagnosed and treated for a flu or something.
My face had paralysis on one side and blisters on my lips an tongue. My taste buds fell off. I was very depressed and worried. People were cracking jokes that I was smiling like Popeye.It was was tough on me but I had good friends to help. My face recovered in a month or so, as the rest of me healed too.
Wasn’t until years later when talking to a friend, I realized what I had.

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By jp_individual, September 19, 2008 at 2:06 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I think what is wrong with the current health care industry is socialism. The government (starting in the 1960s) GUARANTEES “free” health care to older people regardless of their ability to compensate the care-givers. Who pays? Everyone (most against their will).

This has DEVASTATED the medical free market and now health prices grow and grow because there is UNLIMITED demand for health services (if it’s “free”, why not?)

Not only is medicine too expensive for the average Joe, but those who are insured in some group plan face increasingly long Soviet Bread Line style wait times.

They pyramid scheme of socialism has to stop or else everyone will be pulled down and chained together (I guess that’s what socialists want: everyone to suffer equally.)

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By susan, February 26, 2008 at 6:10 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

HI I have just went thru bells palsey I found it very hard to deal with emotionaly…but I have recovered….Vit b-complex..massage…circular upward motions…very warm compress..on face really helped bring nerves back..I could feel it in my face after each warm..very warm compress. .Hang in there it will go away..I also went to dr..had prenizone..and z-pak…for the cold i had when i contracted it…take care…You will recover Susan

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By Nakul, January 26, 2008 at 4:21 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Please go and see an acupuncturist right away! My regular (western) doctor told me it would heal in up to 9 months or so. She prescribed some blood thinning medicine but i was skeptical.  I went to an acupuncturist and after 3 treatments i saw a drastic improvement.  After 6 or 7 treatments the symptoms were completely gone! He said the problem will still be there for a year or two, but it was unnoticeable to me or anyone else.  I knew it was going to work from the moment he stuck a needle in the top of my head exactly where the pain was without me showing him.  Don’t be scared, this will pass! Acupuncture opened my eyes (literally too) to a whole new (old) world of medicine.

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By candie, January 6, 2008 at 11:50 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I have Bells Palsy now. I just got it for the first time. My head hurts alot. Will that go away? How long does all this last? Im scared. Please help me with my questions. Thank you

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By xduke, December 4, 2007 at 8:54 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I had Bell’s palsy about two years ago.  My father had also had Bell’s when I was young.  Fortunately, I knew what was happening to me.  I went to the ER, and told the Doctor what was wrong with me.  They, of course, took a cat scan to be sure I was not having a stroke.  I wasn’t, received the necessary meds, went home and recovered.  Now, two years later, I still have burning, stinging sensations on that side of my face.  My neurologist tells me that a few people have symptoms such as I for years afterwards.

Good luck on your recovery, and you will recover!

Keep up the good work!

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By ray, December 3, 2007 at 11:34 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I think that by proceeding with her much needed and appreciated work schedule Amy has exhibited extraordinary devotion to television journalism.  This is a courageous woman, and every viewer should honor her character by telling as many people as they can about Democracynow!.  So become an asset to our nation by helping Amy reach every home and let the truth outshine corporate-biased journalism.  Thanks.

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By Carolyn Zaremba, November 29, 2007 at 4:21 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I knew it was Bell’s Palsy the first night you appeared with your “lopsided” face. I have known two people who have contracted it. I remember thinking, “Brava! Only Amy Goodman would carry on with Bell’s Palsy and not even mention it!” Thanks for keeping on in spite of it. Your voice is important and I very much enjoyed hearing you speak at the San Francisco Green Festival a few weeks ago.

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By Thomas Edward Kunz, November 29, 2007 at 3:24 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Most wonderful to hear, though the Palsy did not detract in anyway from the supreme quality of her journalistic work on Democracy Now!. She is one of the greatest journalists of today and I wish her all the best in the future.

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By Michael, November 26, 2007 at 5:12 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Amy,

Just checking in on you! Have watched your broadcasts for several years now, it helps me cope with and balance out the MSM fog.

Get well soon, stick to your principles, lead by example.

Regards,

Michael

native San Antonian living in exile up here in the desert (DFW)

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By Len Cohen, November 14, 2007 at 12:37 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Hi Amy,

Just wanted to let you know that you are a breath of fresh air wafting through the airwaves. I watch your show on WYBE in Philadelphia every night I can to get the real news. Even the BBC news can’t hold a candle to you and Juan. And good on you for carrying on with your Bell’s palsy. Every day your physical smile comes back incrementally but what really shines through your face is your wise, kind, soul.

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By Kim and Robert, November 13, 2007 at 12:43 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Dear dear Amy,

Where would we all be without you? The way you have been dealing with Bell’s is exactly the way you have dealt with everything else you do. Selfless, informed, honest, determined, and trusting. You are the brightest light shining !

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By Lewis, November 12, 2007 at 8:42 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I too had Bell’s palsy. I was treated entirely with acupuncture and chiropractic. That, time off from work, and daily naps. (I think the naps were key.)
I never had steroids. I think the doctors prescribe steroids because they want to do something, not because it is a proven modality (as they say).
Rest was the best thing for me. It is a stress related condition.
I healed up pretty well. I can tell, but I’m alone in that.
Best of luck to you!
Try the naps….

L-

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By Liza, November 6, 2007 at 2:43 pm Link to this comment

I’m always concerned about Amy burning her candle at both ends with the show, the writing, and all of the flying around she does to give speeches.  I fully understand the urgency and the fact that “we live in serious times” to quote Amy, but it seems like too much for one person.  I was really worried the day I saw her on TV with the sagging lip and was immensely relieved when she stated that it was Bell’s palsy and would go away.

Take good care, Amy.  A lot of people depend on you for honest journalism.  You’re one of the brightest lights out there right now.

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By Ann Ritchey, November 6, 2007 at 11:37 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

For years viewers have been fortunate enough to be able to watch, “Sewing With Nancy,” via Iowa Public Televison. It took this event to remind me, “Nancy Zieman’s face is paralyzed on one side.” It has been since I started watching her show years and years ago; I just don’t notice it anymore.

I hope I can go on watching it for many more years.

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By TheStudentsArePISSED!, November 6, 2007 at 2:14 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Amy!  Thank you for your beautiful voice, humility and for your bravery in standing up to this fascist governing set-up we are enduring (not for much longer..).  I worry for you sometimes because it is obvious that you are a very selfless, hard-working individual.  Do you think—Can’t you have a little time to yourself, to rest a bit? 

peace, love & jellybeans smile

Kristin

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By Larry Gardner, November 5, 2007 at 6:41 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I think that bravery is greatly need in this world we live. 
AMY keep up the great DN fight.

Larry Gardner

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By Lella, November 5, 2007 at 3:25 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I’m glad you are better!  Also very glad you didn’t have a stroke.  Strokes are horrible things.  I just read about your illness this am in your DN! newsletter link.

When my hubby came down with Bell’s Palsy, we were visiting our daughters, and they noticed the trouble right away that morning.  We dashed to Emergency care, and when the Doctor called me in, he was laughing; Hubster and he had just finished exchanging tales of camping.  The doctor assured me that all would be well after a few days. 

Thanks Amy, for all that you do for our world. We certainly do need comprehensive health care for Americans.  The feds have to stop handing our tax money to greedy corporations who stand around with their hands out and a combination lock on their own pockets!

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By mpgarr, November 2, 2007 at 9:48 pm Link to this comment

I had seen a recent broadcast and noticed that one side of your face had been “frozen”—I am glad to know it was not a stroke or something of equal seriousness.

I am also glad to hear that you are on the mend.

Take care and all the best to you.

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By Orbitalman, November 2, 2007 at 12:31 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I don’t care what you look like to be truthful.  You do look nice tho.  Your program is too important for me to ever miss; every broadcast via satellite from Denver’s KBDI in Chicago.  It is about the only program I trust implicitly with full detail.  You are too important to our democracy to stop - ever!

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By patriot, November 1, 2007 at 6:27 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

My wife and I discovered you about 2 years ago after talking to a friend who is a constant listener to your tv program. 

We watch no other news now it is all so stupid and contrived. 

We feel the closest we can get to what out country should be about: what it means to be human and have a heart for the love of mankind is experienced with each broadcast of Democracy Now.


God Bless Amy rica

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By jaquie, November 1, 2007 at 12:44 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I have a relative in the military who has/had Bell’s Palsy.  He’s a Doctor and was expected to take the anthrax vacination before Gulf War I as proof to the troops that it was harmless.  Not long after he had taken the vacination he was “struck” with Bell’s Palsy.  Until Amy’s recent experience, I was convinced that his condition was a result of the vaccine.  As far as I know; he has never completely recovered from his “bout” with the condition and continues to inform people that his half-closed eye is symptomatic of Bell’s Palsy . . .

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By Audrey Mercer, November 1, 2007 at 12:12 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Amy, your superb reporting is matched by your courage and good sense.  I’ve been an admirer since stumbling onto Democracy Now! a few months ago.

A year or so ago, a life coach impressed me by continuing to deliver her speech, despite being overcome with emotion as she talked about some personal things. Like you, she had something important to say and trusted her listeners enough to do her job.  And like you, her decision affected those of us who have struggled to overcome the belief that we had to live up to perfectionistic ideals to be effective in our work.

I hope the Bell’s Palsy clears up very soon and becomes just another memory of the unpleasant things in life we all endure at one time or another.

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By Steve Halpern, November 1, 2007 at 5:50 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I too am a Bells Palsy survivor. They said I contracted it from a breeze behind my ear when I was 9. When I was younger, my older brother used to make silly grins and I statred mimicking him when the next day I went to the mirror to flash my own silly grin and only half of it showed up. I spend what seems to be a month with hot compresses and a magic pill prescribed as Soma; they mentioned the pill in Huxley"s “Brave New World.” I completely recovered though I do find my right eye might unnoticeably droop when I tire. Get well soon Amy and thanks for sharing.

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By cyrena, October 31, 2007 at 10:03 pm Link to this comment

#110728 by Non Credo
•  But allow me to take this opportunity to say that Amy Goodman rocks - she’s fair and balanced, even when she’s lopsided!!
Non Credo,
I knew I could count on you.
Amy, thanks for showing up. We know you didn’t have to. But ya know, in a weird sort of way, it’s sort of well…exhilarating, to be the boss, and decide that you were gonna do it anyway. No Corporate News heads to decide for you. (like when I returned to quickly from maternity leave in a bright red suit, because it was the only thing that fit. The bosses hustled me out of ‘public view’ immediately). Not good for the ‘Corporate Image”.

(I’ve since been able to tell them…, well…you can guess). That too, is very exhilarating. Thanks for the example.

Oh, not to decontextualize your very real condition, and one that so many others have suffered; BUT…do you think Dick Cheney just has a super-duper advanced case of it? Talk about lopsided. I mean, I can see where it would be difficult, and maybe even painful to smile. But a SNEER like his has got to take a whole lot more work.

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By Debra Teachout, October 31, 2007 at 8:26 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Dear Amy Goodman,

I,ve been concerned about your condition. I’m a regular viewer of Democracy Now and the first day you did your program with the Bell’s Palsy, I gasped and said,“Oh my gosh, Amy looks like she had a stroke!”

I want you to be aware that our government uses ‘Weapons in Space’ to interfere with the human nervous system. I’ve been a subject of this sinister operation, and know how they can latently manipulate your motor skills. This could very well be something that they would do to someone like you. Because you have so many guests on your program who aren’t afraid of speaking the truth about this illegal,immoral war and I’m sure they (BushCo) would love to make your life more difficult. They also have a perverse way of thinking and they disfigure their victims. I’m not in any way writing this to scare you—-I love what you are all about—-I just know what they did to me and want you to be aware that a sophisticated technology has been designed via the ‘Weapons in Space’ to target mankinds nervous system.

Take care Amy and I wish you the best. You’ve been in my prayers. Your Beautiful!

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By ME, October 31, 2007 at 8:22 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Amy!!!!!!!!!!

My bout with Bell’s was absolutely horrifying.  i went to a restaurant and as suddenly unable to eat or drink properly.

Had your piece been around at the time, I would not have lived in terror for a week or so!

It DID fix itself but I, too, thought I had had a stroke.

You broke my heart with your post because I remember, vividly, the panic and fear that took over my life at the time.  Thanks for shining a light on the matter.

Thankfully, I have returned to my “normal” and have done so for more than a year and a half.  I truly thought I was destined to look and feel that way for ever.

Be blessed, Amy.  Also be grateful that it wasn’t a stroke and know that your candor may provide solace for thousands of people without the knowledge of Bell’s.

Stallone…the list is formidable and ‘googleable’.

Thanks for ‘coming out’ on this issue.

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By Anonymous, October 31, 2007 at 7:02 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I had Bell’s when I was about 6. It sucked! Get well soon Amy.

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By James, October 31, 2007 at 6:09 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I was really relieved whenever I found out that you only had Bell’s Palsy. I had never heard of Bell’s Palsy, and I too assumed that perhaps you had a stroke. I’m really glad to know that you’re recovering and you’re right! It was really comforting to see a reporter brave enough not to hide from the human condition to protect this false, sterile image of what we should look like the corporate media has invented.

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By Roy Rousseau, October 31, 2007 at 6:00 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I remember John Belushi’s picture on the cover of Time Magazine in 1981 where I am sure his face is divided by two emotions. I study Amy’s face as I watch her every day wondering which side is effected and I reach the conclusion that she is equally a darling on either side. Her stories make me cry about every other day and in addition cost me money (while making me proud of myself)as when I sent $100 to the Jena Defense Fund in July.

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By srelf, October 31, 2007 at 5:59 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Very touching piece, Amy.

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By Ohio Bill, October 31, 2007 at 3:37 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Mike Jackson of the local NBC affiliate in Columbus, Ohio, experienced this and appeared on T.V. every day. If he can do it, you can, too!!!

Bless you.

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By Margaret Currey, October 31, 2007 at 2:34 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I have Bell’s Palsey, the first time the systems went away in approximately 4 weeks.

The second time I knew the systems and went to the emergancy ward, I told the resident doctor I had Bell’s Palsey, she gave me a pain prescription called Motrin, and it did not work, I have had Bell’s Palsey going on five years.

What is bringing back feeling in my face is accupuncture.

Seems if people have this as often that doctors would be interested in finding the cause, because the first time it struck out of the blue, one day o.k. next day could not close eye.  Second time had flu like systems before onset, this malady usually happens at night, go to bed o.k. wake up unable to close eye. 

My case was I could close eye at night but I could not blink, so I wore an eye patch for three days.

My occurance of BP was severe, half of my mouth, tounge, roof of mouth was numb and my taste was off as half of my tounge had lost the taste buds, then the problem was I had to drink out of a straw on my right side only.  My BP both times was on the left side.

Stress might triger BP but cold air might also contribute to the cause. 

I am very thankful that accupucture helps, because now after two years treatment I look close to normal.

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By Bladerunner2020, October 31, 2007 at 2:03 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I’m a massage therapist. About 15 years ago I had a client come in within the first 48 hours of symptems. They took valerian a very relaxing herb, just before massage treatment. And I gave them a upper body, neck shoulder massage for about 90 min. And then had them go straight to bed. The next morning they were completely healed.

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By steve, October 31, 2007 at 12:22 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Amy Goodman is a national treasure!

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By Betsy Warden, October 31, 2007 at 11:33 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Amy, Thank you for the good article on Bell’s Palsy. I saw you on the stage at the Public Radio Program Directors Conference in September, and knew right away you must have Bell’s. That’s because I have a facial paralysis of the seventh cranial nerve as a result of having polio in 1951. I have lived with the repercussions of this - health-wise and in society - all these years and it’s been an interesting path.
Chinese soft tissue massage (Tuina) is wonderful, in the event you have any pain associated with the Bell’s.
Thank you for your good words on the subject of one’s face and one’s smile.

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By Joel Hornsby, October 31, 2007 at 10:51 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Amy Goodman is the best thing to happen to the news media-potentially ever!

I commend you on your bravery, humility and understanding that your supporters will still be there no matter what.

Thank you, Amy.

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By james bowen, October 31, 2007 at 10:33 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Amy Goodman is the best TV reporter in America regardless of her different appearance.

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By voice of truth, October 31, 2007 at 9:25 am Link to this comment

My mom had/has Bells.  In her case, it was a sympton of the onset of a rare neurological disease, akin to ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease).  Don’t assume it will go away on its own.

While I can’t recall a time I have ever agreed with one of your columns in any detail whatsoever, I would never want to see someone else go through what my mother is now nearing the end of.

Good luck to you.

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By Deborah, October 31, 2007 at 7:37 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

It also helps to gently massage your face in the areas that are numb.

I remember my bout of Bell’s Palsy. I remember thinking that I had had a stroke and wondering if I would be like that forever.

I had this weird burning sensation in my tongue every time I ate and since half my mouth was numb, I had to always keep a napkin nearby and was very ashamed to eat around other people. If it was unavoidable, I ate as little as possible.

I recovered and so will you - but it’s worth remembering that Bell’s Palsy is also partly triggered by stress. At the time, I was taking care of my cousin who was ill, her four children in addition to my own daughter and going to work every day.

Bless you and I hope you get better.

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By Nathan, October 31, 2007 at 6:46 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I love Amy Goodman.

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By Sheyl Skoglund, October 31, 2007 at 6:29 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Ms. Amy Goodman:
Please get the book Prescription for Nutritional Healing by James F. Balch and The Immune System Cure. The books are both by doctor and researcher. The best books for your health. We as a society are concerned about you. I was even able to listen to you in a child care position at noon. You have made everyone aware of free speech and the global environment.

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By RdV, October 31, 2007 at 6:03 am Link to this comment

You are one special woman, Amy Goodman.

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By sandie brown, October 31, 2007 at 5:51 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

i work in a small gen practice clinic in rural georgia and in my 23 yrs of nursing there ive seen lots of bells palsy. fortunetly were cheap and we keep stock meds for those who cant afford them, can you believe i can watch your show? in georgia!

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By DemRealist, October 30, 2007 at 7:50 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I knew it was Bell’s as soon as I saw your recent photo.  Amy, you’re still beautiful inside and out.  Your brilliance and integrity still shine.  Keep on delivering the “straight story” to the public.  We need you.

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