Thorn in the Flesh

By: Bored in Vernal
February 16, 2011

Bell’s Palsy.

There, it’s out. You might have an inkling of how difficult this is for me. I’ve had a phobia about aging that’s grown steadily the past few years. I rage against it, I ignore it, I try to put it off. Fortuitously, my medical history has been sound. If I ever do get a cold, I treat it with Vitamin C and a brisk jog. I don’t admit to backaches. I’ve only been to the hospital for wisdom teeth and childbirth — and several of my children were born at home.

So on Monday when I suddenly noticed that half my face was paralyzed, I freaked out. I didn’t want to entertain the word “stroke.” That was something that happened to old people, and I wouldn’t let it happen to me. “Maybe I’m just tired,” I thought, “and if I go to sleep, in the morning it will be better.”

But it wasn’t.

Now, what should I do? I took a shower, blow-dried my hair, put on makeup. I spent an hour with a hand-held mirror, making grimaces and trying to train the saggy side of my mouth to go up. All to no avail.

I cried all the makeup off. I took some vitamin C and several glasses of water.

I knew I should go to the doctor. This might be something that could be treated; or something that could get worse if it wasn’t. But I couldn’t make myself do it. It was as if such an action would be an admission that I was powerless against the onslaught of age.

The last thing I wanted to do was to admit to any of my family or friends what was happening. I wanted to go back to bed. The fear of death was great, but the fear of living impaired was greater. Somehow I found a tiny stalk of courage, enough to write a note to a little group of online friends. I described what was happening. “I didn’t write this so you could all tell me to go to the doctor,” I concluded. “I will try to get up my courage and go, or at least maybe tell someone. But I just want to know you are all there, and you love me. And maybe tell me that I am not old, or help me figure out how to accept getting old, because I just can’t do it. And I don’t have the faith or the courage to face life as a drooling old person who can’t run or swim or climb mountains any more.”

Of course, they all immediately started trying to get me to go to the doctor. “This is not a time for pontificating about old age and mountain climbing!” one scolded.

Another sent me a link to a site on Bell’s Palsy. I read it and recognized all of my symptoms. This made me feel better, but actually reduced my urgency to go in and get checked. Finally someone texted me and offered to propose some holistic options. We discussed vitamin B-12 and Omega-3 fish oil. Then, near the end of the conversation, she casually mentioned that while I was out getting the vitamins, I could drive by the Doctor’s Care Center. I wouldn’t have to go in if I didn’t want to. And if I did go in, I wouldn’t have to stay. Next thing I knew, I’d had my blood drawn and was on my way for an outpatient CT scan.

Fast forward to now, and things could be worse. Bell’s Palsy isn’t really an “old person’s” disease. George Clooney had it as a teenager. It isn’t painful, and it’s not life-threatening. But a personal trial for me, you can’t hide it. If I go out in public, I have to admit what is going on. I don’t know what the prognosis is — it could go away in a few months, or I could have it for the rest of my life.

And that brings me to the reason I’m posting about this. It’s brought up a lot of spiritual angst. Am I supposed to learn something from this? Did I get this particular affliction because I’m too vain? Why don’t I just have faith to be healed? Or is this just some random happening that is a part of mortality that God doesn’t have much to do with?

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21 Responses to Thorn in the Flesh

  1. Stephen Marsh on February 16, 2011 at 8:32 PM

    Bless your heart. I know at my age I think of these things often.

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  2. Dan on February 16, 2011 at 8:47 PM


    Am I supposed to learn something from this? Did I get this particular affliction because I’m too vain? Why don’t I just have faith to be healed? Or is this just some random happening that is a part of mortality that God doesn’t have much to do with?

    God has much to do with it, since he designed the whole system, warts and all. But he doesn’t have any direct bearing on your own personal challenge in this case. He certainly didn’t strike you down with it because you are a sinner.

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  3. Bored in Vernal on February 16, 2011 at 8:55 PM

    Dan #2–Well, not that I’m a sinner, but more like:

    God will feel after you, and He will take hold of you and wrench your very heart strings, and if you cannot stand it you will not be fit for an inheritance in the Celestial Kingdom of God.

    You know, for your own profit and learning and all…??

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  4. Paul on February 16, 2011 at 9:13 PM

    BiV, take courage. By now you know you’re not alone (as in you’re not the only one to go through this, but also there’s lots of people who stand by you).

    Why do these things happen? Perhaps to see what we will do next. My own experiences is that the lessons are not always apparent at first, but only after some time passes.

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  5. April on February 16, 2011 at 9:47 PM

    My sister had this when she was little. It did go away but was really scary for everyone, especially her.

    hang in there, it will be alright. As for if there is some higher power to blame… I don’t know, I just like to say things like this are kinda fluky… much like a computer coming up with the blue screen of death (which can happen with a brand new computer btw)… ‘cept worse cause it’s your body.

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  6. Steve Evans on February 16, 2011 at 10:23 PM

    Well, that sucks. Sorry BiV. Think of this as the opportunity you’ve been waiting for to purposefully drool on people you don’t like. A dude in our ward had a case of BP and it was clearly hard for him at first.

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  7. FireTag on February 16, 2011 at 11:08 PM

    Hope recovery is quick, and according to wiki, it’s really good you didn’t wait because quick treatment really speeds recovery.

    I hope you’ll be laughing about this soon and we can all send you whimsical smiley icons because it’s no longer scary.

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  8. Bishop Rick on February 16, 2011 at 11:38 PM

    Sounds like the overwhelming majority of Bell’s Palsy sufferers experience a full recovery. BP is usually caused by a viral infection (like Mono) that causes the facial nerve to become inflamed and get pinched.

    Best treatment seems to be a 10-day prescription of Prednisolone (steroid) which is a great anti-inflammatory.

    Since this affects people mostly in the range of 15 to 60, and assuming you fall in this range, you are certainly not old.

    I expect you to be your old (er young) self again in no time, but until then, take care and have an extra chocolate.

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  9. Dan on February 17, 2011 at 4:51 AM


    I’ve never dealt with BP so I don’t know what you’re going through, but I personally do not think physical ailments are akin to what Joseph Smith was talking about with regards to the Abrahamic test. Having had a kidney stone that was close to an inch in size (extremely painful overall), I don’t see the eternal purpose of having gone through that pain and suffering over a stupid calcium stone. The Abrahamic test, as I understand it, is a test that challenges our tradition and faith. I don’t mean at all to diminish the challenge you are facing with this. I just don’t see it as something God is doing to us to challenge our faith. If it helps, George Clooney had it, apparently. :)

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  10. Bored in Vernal on February 17, 2011 at 7:32 AM

    lol, Dan — strangely enough, it does help to know that George Clooney had it!

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  11. Bored in Vernal on February 17, 2011 at 7:36 AM

    …and now you’ve got me interested in that Abrahamic test. I guess I always figured it was something like physical challenges, or at least that was how it manifested for many people. Can you give me examples of what you think qualifies as what JS was talking about? Crossing the plains?

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  12. adamf on February 17, 2011 at 7:40 AM

    Sorry to hear this BiV… it does sound scary. Your “online” friends are here for you. :)

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  13. Dan on February 17, 2011 at 8:00 AM

    I think people assume their pain and suffering is an Abrahamic test to find some answer to why they are suffering. I can totally understand the reason why, but if we look at the characteristics of Abraham’s own test, it’s not a physical test, but one of Abraham’s faith. The challenge Abraham faced was that he was to be to his son as his father was to him. In other words, God challenged Abraham to sacrifice his own son just as Abraham’s own father once attempted to sacrifice him. Could Abraham believe that such an act could be ordered by the God he believed in? The Abrahamic test is one that hits right at the core of our greatest weakness and greatest belief. How could God order me to kill my own son in the same way that my father was to kill me? Especially after this same God promised that through my son will I be the father of all nations? Abraham trusted that, in the end, God’s will was of the greater value.

    I don’t think Joseph Smith was talking about physical suffering either, but I’m not sure on that.

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  14. Bored in Vernal on February 17, 2011 at 8:22 AM

    Dan, I don’t necessarily think it was physical suffering, either. And I like how you’ve parsed the Abraham story. But I’m really trying to pull out the meaning behind Joseph’s words. He’s speaking to individuals, telling them that God will feel after each one and wrench their very heartstrings, presumably to refine them and prepare them for the kingdom of God. I can’t see anything else I’ve experienced thus far in my life that has even come close to challenging my faith. And it’s odd that it just so happens that it’s something I personally would have difficulty with.

    I’m glad you are challenging this idea, because I do want to keep in mind the possibility that I’m just trying to make a deeper meaning out of all of this… but can’t you answer my question about what this would look like in anyone’s life besides Abraham?

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  15. Mike S on February 17, 2011 at 8:39 AM

    BiV: Wishes for a full and speedy recovery.

    I work in the medical field as a surgeon. I see medical issues all day, every day. Perhaps it’s just the nature of the job, but don’t really see physical things as “tests” per se. As a part of mortality, we fall down and break, we wear out, we get invaded by bacteria and viruses, and ultimately everything stops working. So I don’t really know that “getting” something means a whole lot.

    On the other hand, how we react to things says volumes about our character. I see some patients with something, and they remain positive, helping others, and moving forward. I see others with the same thing who go the other way.

    Or maybe I’m just jaded. I’m sure a mechanic looks differently at “just another car” with a bent fender after an accident as opposed to me if I were just in my first accident.

    Hang in there.

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  16. Dan on February 17, 2011 at 8:44 AM


    I don’t want to take away from anyone the idea that they may actually be facing their own Abrahamic test with physical suffering. I generally believe in having as few limitations to the meaning behind things as possible. When we attempt to box in an idea within our own understanding, giving it a form it never had, we misunderstand what it is. I don’t know if every single person is supposed to have some sort of Abrahamic test in their lives, if it is just one time, or over multiple events, or what, or even what it may entail. In the case of Abraham, the account is very shallow as to whether or not Abraham himself actually had difficulty with what God asked him to do. Abraham’s son wasn’t a baby either, but a full grown young man, well cognizant of what was going on. I think the difference between what Abraham was going to do and what was done to him by his father, is that Abraham probably talked with his son about what God asked him to do, and his son agreed with him, whereas his father was going to sacrifice Abraham under force. My understanding is that it was a test of Abraham’s faith, whether or not he believed God would keep his promise that through his son, whom God just said to kill, he would have grandchildren and so on. Personally, I don’t think Joseph Smith should have expounded that everyone would suffer some sort of Abrahamic test, because I don’t think that it is true. I think Joseph Smith was just trying to allay the pain and suffering his saints were facing, and trying to give some meaning to it all.

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  17. Martin on February 17, 2011 at 12:22 PM

    BiV, I’m sorry about your “thorn”, and I’m sorry about your fear of aging. What for one person is basically a big inconvenience can be downright traumatic to another.

    I couldn’t guess what God would want you to learn from it, but what I’ve found amazing is how often God steps in to help us with these “little” hurts that seem so awful to us. To me, they’re almost just an excuse for us to experience God’s tender mercies so that we still know He’s there when He doesn’t step in with the bigger things.

    Like many men, I’ve been measuring my age by my receding hairline. It had bugged me some, but I’d successfully coped with it by being in denial. Until the windy day which forced me to acknowledge the part in my hair had become a comb-over (and had to go).

    It’s given me more appreciation for my father’s story. He went bald at 19, and it was very traumatic. Given the other challenges he faced, he couldn’t understand why God wanted him to deal with that at well. Fervent prayers notwithstanding, he simply went bald, and he basically withdrew from society for awhile. And then, one morning he woke up and it simply didn’t bother him any more. He felt like God had simply taken the burden from him, and it was a miracle. To this day he remembers that experience as a tender mercy of the Lord.

    Maybe something will happen as part of this experience that will bring you closer to the Lord as well.

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  18. Jared on February 17, 2011 at 4:50 PM


    I’m sorry you’re dealing with Bell’s Palsy. My brother experienced it on at least two occasions. In his case, it went away after a few months with no lingering problems.

    I wish you a speedy recovery.


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  19. Tristin on February 17, 2011 at 10:28 PM

    I really admire you for being willing to bring this to a public forum and sharing your fear with everyone. Our shared emotions of fear, vulnerability, weakness, and shame never seem as bad when we realize we are not alone in them. If I woke up with Bells Palsy tomorrow I would be a small step further from emotional meltdown thanks to your story. Thank you.

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  20. hawkgrrrl on February 18, 2011 at 12:08 AM

    BiV – I am sorry I didn’t read this when you first posted it. I thought it was another homosexuality post because Mormons must be the only people on the planet who would refer to being gay as a thorn in the flesh.

    I just think this is our mortality, plain & simple. Our bodies do weird stuff. And I don’t think it’s vain to want to hold on to our looks. Or if it is, I feel exactly the same way. Appearance impacts how we feel about being around other people, and you are a very social person who values relationships – it’s natural you should care it.

    I agree with Dr. Mike S. – keep your sense of humor and optimism, and they will serve you well.

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  21. dmac on February 20, 2011 at 8:10 PM

    I had a friend who endured this condition for a number of months before going to visit my naturopath. (Now before folk get all ‘western medicine vs natural’ on me, I’m a skeptic and only went to the naturopath for additional help with things that were being treated.:-))

    Anyhow, after 2 weeks on a course of pills and drops it went away. I have no idea what was in them but it worked where nothing else did.

    I’ve been fighting my own battle with growing old. I can stand the lines and some of the other unsavory things. But its the grey appearing in my hair that freaked me out. Now I keep peering in the mirror each morning to see if there’s another one. Ugh.

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