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Old 01-25-2019, 01:53 PM   #1
pbutts
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Default Bell's Palsy

As you will see from the Dunsire links below, there is very little discussion of piping and the strange neurological condition known as Bell's Palsy. For me this was my second encounter with the facial paralysis caused by a mysterious virus. In 1990 I developed Bell's Palsy shortly after a routine surgical procedure. At the time I was gradually transitioning from the practice chanter to the pipes. While it wasn't my only reason for an extended hiatus (work and children being the primary "culprits"), it definitely contributed. The first time it is quite a shock and the paralysis affecting the muscles around the eye, nose and mouth on one side of the face looks to the outside world like you're having a stroke.

My second encounter (relapse is supposedly rare but not unheard of) came a week after my daughter's wedding, September 29th. My new son-in-law was a Highland dancer as a kid, so the question was not IF I would play at the wedding but HOW to be both father of the bride and piper.

Just to add to the excitement, my other daughter had broken her arm, and the weekend following the wedding was spent with her in surgery to finally set the break. That Sunday I had a minute to get my pipes out and discovered I couldn't keep my lips on the blowpipe. Sure enough, I was having a rare relapse. When I presented to my doctor I was pleased to find the drug protocols are much more aggressive than they were back then (both a steroid and antiviral this time), so I was more optimistic about recovery this time.

I knew my practice was going to be limited, but I also knew the progress could be discouraging if I did keep monitoring my journey. For October my practice was to work on a new tune (Cork Hill) on "air chanter" so I could use the feel of my fingers to judge my progress, regularly rotating through our parade tunes the same way, and then testing my blowing progress on one tune at the end of each week. I also got out the drones a couple times a week just to blow some air through each one for maintenance.

In early November I began increasing the number of actual attempts to "play" tunes on the PC and tried a number of variations on the pipes as well. Nov 20 the band received an invitation to play with the Chieftains when they come to town March 1st, so I was determined to attempt actual playing during PC time at band practice. With some determined and aggressive teeth work I managed to play all the way through almost two hours of breaking down the two tunes. (Fortunately my lips don't look as bruised as they feel.)

My biggest frustration has been how to strike in the pipes. For several weeks in late November/early December I had the chanter corked off and managed to blow up various drone combinations. Then on Dec 10, I decided to try one of the tricks recommended in the Dunsire threads below and ordered a scuba mouthpiece to go over my blowpipe mouthpiece. Getting a decent seal for strike ins was still dicey, but I soon found a way to maintain my lips long enough to get the pipes started. Dec 13 was my first band practice with this arrangement. After a fairly long practice chanter session before getting up on pipes this wasn’t completely successful, but it’s encouraging to see some progress.

My goal had been to get the pipes going over Christmas break (one of the perks of being a school teacher) and while I had lots of practice time, none of my reeds were easy enough to cooperate. By the last few days of break in early January I managed to get in a few sets at a time with my scuba mask, although the overflow of spit and eventually gagging on the rubber is frustrating.

I had one day last week where I forgot to pack the scuba attachment and so ended up practicing without it. It wasn't totally successful, but made me realize that I need to give in and order a much easier reed, and also come up with another solution for the lips. The other great suggestion from the Dunsire discussions below was the Reed Wrangler. I placed the order on Sunday (1/20) and the package arrived today. It seems to be a great solution although I'm still waiting for a new reed (I played about 12 minutes with a pretty crumby broken down reed that I found in the case---it sounded terrible, but it felt great to actually play more than a set or two).

-------I will update when the reed comes and also let you know if I actually am able to Perform with the Chieftains.------------


Bells Palsy
http://forums.bobdunsire.com/forums/...archid=4266402

Lip Paralysis
http://forums.bobdunsire.com/forums/...archid=4266407


Mayo Clinic
https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-...s/syc-20370028

NIH
https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/...lsy-Fact-Sheet

Scottish Bells Palsy Study
http://www.scottishbellspalsy.info/

Out of the Blue (Trumpeter's Recovery)
https://www.4barsrest.com/articles/2015/1498.asp

Tim Smith Trombone (with extensive comments added by other musicians)
https://timsmithtrombone.com/bells-palsy/

COMMERCIAL PRODUCT JUST AN FYI ONLY
I HAVE NO EXPERIENCE WITH THIS PRODUCT
Chop Sticks Embouchure Strengthening System
http://www.liemartech.com/Chop-Sticks/
COMMERCIAL PRODUCT JUST AN FYI ONLY
I HAVE NO EXPERIENCE WITH THIS PRODUCT

Music and the Brain
https://books.google.com/books?id=SE...dwinds&f=false

Sax on the Web
https://forum.saxontheweb.net/showth...ht=bells+palsy
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Old 01-25-2019, 02:20 PM   #2
Andrew Lenz
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Default Re: Bell's Palsy

I admire your persistence and desire. I had a relative who developed Bell's Palsy at least a decade ago. It's not super uncommon.

Thanks for sharing the resources.

Best wishes with recovery and your playing.

Andrew
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Old 01-25-2019, 04:40 PM   #3
pbutts
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Default Re: Bell's Palsy

Thanks, Andrew. Let me know if I should take down the link to the Chopsticks product.
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Old 01-25-2019, 05:42 PM   #4
Andrew Lenz
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Default Re: Bell's Palsy

If us moderators had or have a problem with it, we'll just go in and edit your post. (Forum magic powers.) But I don't believe there is any issue.

Andrew
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Old 03-24-2019, 08:30 AM   #5
pbutts
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Default Re: Bell's Palsy

March update.

The Chieftains gig was fun. Playing was still spotty. Our St. Patrick’s Day gigs included a very cold parade Saturday followed by a short indoor gig. Sunday we played a couple of times around the concourse at the local minor league hockey team’s annual green ice game.

Recovery has been similar to other situations that take you off the pipes for an extended period of time. Not playing at all for two months (October and November) wreaks havoc on maintenance and stamina. For the next two months (December and January) as I was adjusting to various mouthpiece accommodations, my playing time remained relatively short, so stamina continued to be an issue. Also playing real gigs on significantly weaker reeds created other challenges.

I wish I could find more extensive information on embouchure. There is a great Wikipedia related to the muscles used by brass players; but it’sunclear to me how that relates to woodwinds, and even less to pipes that use a closed mouthpiece. The Reed Wrangler seems to me to be perfect accommodation as the flatter embouchure seems to be more efficient.

Now at the end of month six, i’m back to a medium reed. I’m able to play for about 20 minutes at a time and anticipate being back to longer sessions by summer. I feel like I can contribute to the band, though I’m not planning to take any solo gigs until I have a few more successful band gigs under my belt. I’ve got a 2/4 that could be ready for competition at the end of the summer if i’m feeling up to it.

So if you are reading this because you have just begun this challenge, I encourage you to stick with it. Set realistic goals, monitor your progress, and don’t give up hope.
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Old 03-24-2019, 08:20 PM   #6
Pip01
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Default Re: Bell's Palsy




Greetings, pbutts, and to All,

I am glad to see that you chose to give the
Reed Wrangler a try... and equally glad to
see that you found/find it beneficial to your
being able to continue to play.

As with all... of those various physiological
setbacks... that shall surely bedevil all of our
playing... given the vagaries of that Old Rascal
Time... the best posture is always... Just Keep
After It... !!

Wishing for you... Endurance... and Success!!

Regards,

Pip01


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Old 04-11-2019, 01:39 AM   #7
Roddy Munro
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Default Re: Bell's Palsy

Hi pbutts,

I don't post here much these days, but given that no-one else around here seems to have been through it I thought it might be worth sharing.

I contracted Bell's Palsy in the Summer of 2015, a couple of days after competing at the Scottish Championships in Dumbarton. I realised when I was on the way to work that my face felt funny as I was chatting to a colleague. A glance in the mirror confirmed the right hand side of my face wasn't moving as well as it should be, and by the time I got to my GP it was almost completely frozen. A short course of high-dose steroids and off I went.

Phone calls to let people know. First call: parents. Second call: Pipe Major!

It wasn't the happiest time of my life being honest. I had hyper-sensitive hearing and after the steroids came significant pain behind the right ear for a couple of weeks. Once I returned to work my coffee had to be drunk through a straw. And it was fairly clear I wouldn't be playing at the Worlds.

I tried a few things, acupuncture, physiotherapy, taking vitamin B and Acetyl-L-Carnatyne supplements. It's hard to know if they made any difference to the speed of recovery.

A couple of months after the diagnosis I became a Dad for the first time, so piping wasn't on the forefront of my mind really. If I remember correctly I started playing practice chanter (not terribly successfully) after 6 months or so, and it was almost a year before picking up the pipes again.

A handy hint: If you're going to stop playing pipes for a year and you play sheepskin, don't just put your pipe case in a cupboard and forget about it

Even after that amount of time it took a fair while for any sort of lip strength to come back. My face is probably only 90% fixed and may go no further. I can't play the big reeds I used to, and my right eye closes a bit when I play, as you can see here. Thanks BBC!.

I started competing again with the band in the 2017/18 season, which was later than I'd hoped but better than not being able at all.

Pipes are one thing, but nowadays I find practice chanter harder - probably the smaller round mouthpiece. I can get through a long practice on pipes these days without too much bother.

I don't know if any of that helps apart from knowing you're not alone. Keep trying, and don't get disheartened if it takes longer than you think, because you will get there. You're making faster progress that I did. Well done for playing at the Chieftains gig!

Cheers,

Roddy
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Old 04-29-2019, 06:59 PM   #8
pbutts
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Default Re: Bell's Palsy

Hey thanks for sharing. I found the fact that you became a dad in that time period interesting. I definitely think there is a stress factor involved. Good to hear you were able to get back to competing. As for the practice chanter, you might give the Reed Wrangler a try.
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Old 05-29-2019, 05:07 AM   #9
Pablo ferretta
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Default Re: Bell's Palsy

Sure. I tried a few things, acupuncture, physiotherapy, taking vitamin B and Acetyl-L-Carnatyne supplements. It's hard to know if they made any difference to the speed of recovery.
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Old 05-29-2019, 10:05 AM   #10
pbutts
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Default Re: Bell's Palsy

Pablo-

How's the recovery gone? I think just making the effort and staying positive goes a long way. I'm back on a medium reed, working on competition tunes and played the Amazing Grace solo intro for a Memorial Day gig Sunday. -Peter
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