A woman was forced to close her eyes with sticky tape after a rare condition left her with facial paralysis.
Emmeline Stephenson, 27, has repeatedly been struck by Bell’s palsy – a condition with alarming symptoms, including weakness or paralysis on one side of the face and a drooping eye which it is difficult to shut.
Sufferers can also drool and slur and the paralysis makes eating or drinking difficult.
Now Emmeline, who has bravely spoken out and released pictures of herself to raise awareness of the condition, has revealed how she sounded drunk when the condition struck.
‘My speech was slurred, like I’d had one too many glasses of wine and people would ask me if everything was OK,’ she said. ‘It was so embarrassing.’
Special needs support worker, Emmeline, of Hull, first developed the illness – understood to be caused by a virus – while studying broadcast journalism at Leeds Met University in West Yorkshire in 2010.
Horrified, when she woke up and saw her wonky face in the mirror, she assumed she had suffered a stroke. ‘I woke up and had a drink, which was difficult to swallow,’ she recalled. ‘But it was only when I went to brush my teeth that I saw my face was all saggy on my left-side.
‘I really thought I’d had a stroke, it was scary.’
Calling her grandmother, Naomi Stephenson, 74, she told Emmeline to contact the NHS non-emergency number, where medics told her it sounded like Bell’s palsy.
Seeing her GP three days later, she was prescribed steroids to strengthen her muscles so she can move her face more.
They eventually worked, but in the meantime, Emmeline was desperately embarrassed by her appearance.
‘I felt really ashamed about my face.People asked me if I’d had a stroke, or if I was okay and it really affected my self-esteem,’ she said. ‘I know it’s just a face, but it is one part of you that you can’t change and I felt really bad about it.’
Emmeline even tried to hide inside, covering her face with a scarf and sunglasses if she ventured out. But the effects of the Bell’s palsy were not purely cosmetic.
In order to sleep, Emmeline had to tape her left eye shut, as it was stuck wide open.
Finally, after two months, the condition gradually disappeared. But it struck again in December last year, while she was working with a pupil at school.
She continued: ‘It was the last day of term before Christmas. After break-time I was working with a pupil, who said, ‘Miss, are you chewing gum?’
‘I told him I wasn’t, but then a colleague came over and also said my face was looking strange. I knew straight away that the Belly’s palsy was back.’
Looking in the mirror in the staff toilets, Emmeline saw that her face was, once more, wonky on the left side.
‘I was still able to talk, but sounded like my mouth was full on one side,’ she explained. Just like before, it was a slurring sound, like I was drunk.’
Calling the doctor, she got an appointment the next day and was again prescribed steroids, given physiotherapy at her GP’s surgery, including facial exercises, to get her body back to normal.
But this time, instead of feeling brow-beaten by the condition, Emmeline decided to help others. ‘Using my face to communicate with the students is a big part of my job, but I was determined not to let Bell’s palsy get on top of me this time,’ she explained.