In the beginning I did mouth exercises to counter a drooping smile and slurred speech. Lying in my hospital bed that first week, I practiced my pucker with enthusiastic sucking noises. I filled my cheeks with air and pressed it out in tiny farting bursts. I pursed my lips "Oooohhhh" and stretched my lips "Eeeeeeee." I once practiced this last exercise with such vigor, a nurse checked to see if I was okay.
In rehab my speech therapist fed me crackers to see if I was "pocketing" food between my cheek and gums. I chewed the crackers and opened my mouth for inspection.
"Good," she said holding out another Saltine. "One more time."
"Bwwaack," I said. "Marcelle want a cracker."
I minimized chewing on my left side because my weakened tongue lacked the agility to scoop food out of the corners of my mouth. When chewing I often bit the inside of my lips and cheeks. I haven’t done that in awhile, I think. Then I bite my cheek again.
Swallowing poses hazards. The muscles on the left side of my neck are weak and sometimes food sticks in my throat. I never eat without a glass of water at hand.
Also food doesn't taste as good. For a long time I thought this might be my imagination, but last week the nerves along the left side of my tongue began to reawaken with an electric jolt. Then I realized that half my taste buds have been disconnected from my brain – so no wonder I'm not getting full flavor.
On the upside food doesn't taste as bad either. Guess that's why a few nights ago I was able to eat beets.
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