Adventures in Bell’s Palsy (June 2015)


This may or may not brighten your day.  We’ll see how things “come out” in the end.  Try reading this in Paul Harvey’s voice.

I am the substitute song leader at Bible Baptist Church.  This is not because I sing particularly well or possess any other unique qualifications for doing this. I am actually the substitute for…well…almost everything.  If I were a fictional character, my name would be Justin Case.  But this is no fiction, and I like this arrangement, as I am not permanently attached to particular functions. Rather, I help out as needed.

This morning I had to lead singing, which I don’t mind doing as long as my wife can transpose the songs down a couple steps so that I, with my limited range, can hit most of the notes.  But this morning was especially trying, not least of which because I am currently suffering from Bell’s palsy, a temporary paralysis of one side of the face.

Now, leading singing requires several things.  Confidence is one of them.  While you are leading, you must remain confident in your mind; you must be relaxed in your face and throat; you must be forceful in your mid-section; etc.  All of the moving parts have their different levels of control and coordination, and having palsy really messes with that, as I will explain.

For starters, it kills my confidence.  No matter how many people tell me that they don’t even notice it, I feel self-conscious that my every expression only takes place on half of my face and it is unnerving to say the least.  (Perhaps I need more time to get used to it.)  Beyond that, my affected eye won’t close when I want it to close, and my other eye, having been overcompensating for the last week, won’t stay open or even focus this particular morning.  This has the curious effect of seeing the words double-tracked on top of each other for long stretches.  Every word I am trying to enunciate is only done with half of my lips and I am made painfully aware of the important relationship between facial expression and vocal expression.

So what softball composition is lobbed at me in my state of duress?  It’s Memorial Day! So, we are singing the Star Spangled Banner, one of the most dynamically challenging compositions ever devised by mankind.  Perfect.  So there I am, bleary-eyed, cross-eyed, temporarily glossophobic, a nervous wreck, trying to sing with half of my mouth, in front of EVERYONE…but that’s not what make it funny.  Here’s what make it funny: it turns out that I was also at that moment experiencing really bad gas.

Now here’s a physiological fact to which anyone who has ever accidently tooted while laughing can attest: as it turns out, the group of muscles that can, in potential, cause one to expel wind with clear and commanding force, is also the same group of muscles used for singing with clear and commanding force…or laughing…or coughing…or telling other people about their driving.  You get the picture.  (This is going to be one of those curious questions I’ll have when I get to heaven.)  And of all the places you would never want to accidently float an air biscuit, can we agree that church is the one location you wouldn’t want that to happen?  And of all the locations within a church, the most mortifying crime scene you can imagine would be the pulpit area, when and where everyone is paying attention to you!

O the humanity!  While I’m singing, “And the rockets’ red glare,” I’m thinking in my head, “O please let me not blare!”  Later, when we’re singing, “God shed His grace on thee,” unbeknownst to anyone else I’m pleading, “Don’t let me cut the cheese!”  Save me from the cusp of this calamity, in Your all-wise mercy!  PLEASE don’t let me make an utter fool of myself!

Well, I survived, and all were none the wiser.  But now you know THE REST OF THE STORY.