October 26, 2010 is a date that radically changed my life forever. It was my mother’s 80th birthday and I planned a big party for her in Mexico. We had lots of wonderful food. I made arrangements for a mariachi band to sing her favorite romantic ballads or boleros and I ordered 80 red roses to adorn her living and dining rooms. Everything was perfect.

On the morning of my mother’s birthday I woke up feeling thrilled at making my mom’s day very special. I got out of bed and went into the kitchen to get a glass of water. I took a sip and the water spilled out of my mouth. I laughed, as I thought I was being clumsy. I was just woozy with excitement about the party.

Birthday Cake - By Omer Wazir
Birthday Cake – By Omer Wazir

I took a second sip and again I spit the water out of my mouth. I went to the bathroom and I looked at my face. My left eye was swollen. This had happened to me before when I was bitten by a spider and my eye became quite swollen. I thought to myself, “not today, on my mom’s party.” I had no other choice but to put on some dark sunglasses and go the morning mass that we had organized in honor of my mom’s birthday.

The party was executed as planned. We had my mom’s long-term friends at her home and a young mariachi lead vocalist had all the ladies at the party swoon as he sang every romantic ballad in honor of my mom.

I decided to lie down since I was still not feeling well. Soon after, I went next door to talk to my mom’s neighbor who is a doctor. She took my blood pressure—it was high. Never in my life had I had an elevated reading. I got scared.  I started thinking the worst. I thought I had a stroke in my sleep. The doctor said to me quiet calmly, “We need to control your pressure first. Let us have you go to the pharmacist to get the right medication.”

My mom’s friends kept the news of my condition a secret to her so that she could enjoy her party. That night I went to three doctors who were all willing to see me after-hours. Imagine that happening in the U.S.?

I flew back to the United States the next day where I could not be seen by my primary GP until three weeks after I had returned to the States. It took six weeks before I could get a CAT scan and the best medication that could be prescribed to me as a means of treating what the doctor’s initially thought was Lyme disease was not a part of the approved formulary with my insurance company. When I told the doctor I already had been taking that medication as post-exposure prophylactic treatment in Mexico. The doctor just shook his head and said, “Keep taking the medicine.”

When I finally saw my primary care physician I was officially diagnosed with Bell’s Palsy which is a paralysis of the face which impacts about 40,000 people in the United States each year. Most people recover from the paralysis within a week to ten days and the vast majority last with the facial nerve disorder for no more than three weeks. I am one of the less than 1% who has permanent facial paralysis. My eye can’t be shut completely; my ear drum, nasal passages, and saliva glands are also partially paralyzed. My case is extreme.

I have gone through physical therapy and I continue to receive painful injections as a means of controlling the facial spasms that are even more painful in my neck and eye area. As as man I have had to cope with a new understanding of what it means to live with a condition that will impact my life forever.

I have learned to become appreciative of the smallest of things in my life as a result of my lifelong physical challenge. I have learned to cope. I can’t volunteer to help blow up balloons to decorate for a party—so instead I use helium. I can’t whistle along to my favorite Disney tune–Whistle While You Work. Instead, I hum along to the Lion King sound track.

I have learned to appreciate the sincerity of a smile. I can’t smile. I appreciate uninterrupted sleep. I can’t sleep comfortably. I am not afraid of crying at movies even if I have to use artificial tears.

For every man reading these words I offer the following advice. Become informed about Bell’s Palsy and the resources that exist to go through treatment options.  Learn to appreciate the smallest of feats. For example, share your affection with your loved ones more often, don’t be afraid to whistle in public to show your happiness, and when you feel like crying—do so without reservations.  No iceberg—no life challenge—should keep your life frozen.

Carlos Velazquez

View posts by Carlos Velazquez
For more than two decades, Carlos has been working to improve public health, by designing and implementing successful national and local prevention programs in the United States and abroad. He managed the nation’s largest capacity-building program on HIV prevention for Latinos. He developed a national HIV social marketing campaign in Australia and produced a documentary that chronicled the impact of HIV/AIDS in the Latino community in the United States. Through a recent partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Walgreens, he implemented a $10 million vaccine voucher initiative, which also involved several Latin American consulates in the United States. Carlos was instrumental in helping to develop the first Cultural Risk Communications Model for the CDC.  He is the President of HMA Associates, a marketing and communications firm in Washington DC that specializes in multicultural communication interventions aimed at reducing health disparities and achieving health equity.  He serves on the Arlington County Human Rights Commission,  the Arlington County Commission for the Arts and is an active member of Toastmasters International.  You can also follow Carlos on twitter @jclatino.  


  1. Yismel RosarioApril 14, 2015

    Wow. Amazing, even with all adversities you manage to give your mom a good day for her birthday and keep your head high. Not many people look at life-changing events they way you did: with optimism.

  2. Sam DrexlerApril 14, 2015

    Thank you for sharing you story Carlos. I admire your attitude and will take your advice to heart! I try to be thankful every day and not take the little things in life for granted. Stay strong!

  3. Sam DrexlerApril 14, 2015

    Thank you for sharing your inspirational story. I admire your positive attitude! I try to be thankful everyday for what I have and not take the little things for granted. Stay strong!

  4. LizetteApril 15, 2015

    Thank you for sharing. What an amazing piece and your triumph when faced with adversity is inspiring! You are right. It is important to not take the little things in life for granted.

  5. Lizette OlmosApril 15, 2015

    Thank you for sharing. What an amazing piece and your triumph when faced with adversity is inspiring! You are right. It is important to take not take the little things in life for granted.

  6. WilliamApril 19, 2015

    Congratulations Carlos! You are an inspiration. We often work with and engage others and have no idea what they are going through — the obstacles that they climb each day. Keep climbing. You are an example of resiliency.

  7. […] Previously published on Talking About Men’s Health […]

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