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Posts Tagged ‘illness’

Head Cases

November 21, 2014 | by

An illustration from Les gens de Medecine dans l'oeuvre de Daumier. Via the Wellcome Library

Migraines are the most glamorous of headaches. Mysterious, debilitating, unpredictable: they get all the press. Who wants to talk about the workaday irritation of a tension headache, the dull thud of dehydration, the queasy slosh of sinus infections? That’s not sexy. By definition, even; the headache is the punch line to half the Andy Capp jokes in the world. 

But migraines! Everyone relishes a migraine. They have a literal aura! Migraines foster the sort of pure narcissism that only intense, essentially benign pain can. We sufferers (that’s how it’s described, “migraine sufferer”) feel it is meet and right that the migraine should be dramatized in films like Pi or White Heat; this strengthens the perception that migraines are the hallmark of geniuses, or at least psychopaths. Joan Didion writes about them; of course she does. In “In Bed,” she describes the purification arising from this crucible of pain:

The migraine has acted as a circuit breaker, and the fuses have emerged intact. There is a pleasant convalescent euphoria. I open the windows and feel the air, eat gratefully, sleep well. I notice the particular nature of a flower in a glass on the stair landing. I count my blessings.

Yes, Joan, yes! That’s it exactly! Of course, she also says, “My husband also has migraine, which is unfortunate for him but fortunate for me: perhaps nothing so tends to prolong an attack as the accusing eye of someone who has never had a headache.” I disagree. What migraine sufferer wants to share the limelight? After all, we all know in our hearts that no one in the history of the world has ever experienced basically unserious pain like we have.

It’s a bit like cats on social media. On the face of it, social media is a boon for cat fanciers, so long isolated from the easy socialization of other pet owners. And on the face of it, it is indeed a vibrant online community. But the suspicion cannot help but intrude, first, that everyone really thinks her cat is the cutest, the wackiest, the wittiest, the best. And second, that this conviction is unshakeable. 

So it is with migraine sufferers. On the face of it, we’re collegial. Oh, you get migraines, too? We compare triggers (Tyramines? Blood sugar? Hormones?) and triptans. Have you tried Zomig? Maxalt? Imitrex? What about the spray? And then the one-upsmanship begins. How often? For how long? Where is your pain localized? Really, behind the eyes? Interesting. I didn't realize that qualified as a migraine! Light sensitivity? Nausea? Have you tried biofeedback? Beta-Blockers? Botox? Acupuncture? Going GF? (That’s recent.) What about that codeine stuff you can only get in Europe because the FDA hasn’t approved it? Have you been to the ER? How many times? Have you seen a neurologist? (We all have; there’s never anything wrong with us. At least, nothing detectable.) Of course, if anyone plays the “Cluster Headache” card, the conversation is over, and the rest of us have to trudge sullenly away.

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Emergent

February 25, 2013 | by

whisking-eggs-lgIt’s unsettling how some stories come around again. When I was eight, my mother and I were in our garage in Lubbock, Texas, when she suddenly yelled, “GO!” and shoved me through the door. I ran to my parents’ bedroom. Suddenly, my mother was there, shaking, muttering “No. Oh, no.” She called someone, asked for an ambulance, said there had been an accident. She told me to stay inside, to not look out the windows. Not long after, I heard sirens. And the sirens, it seemed, kept coming. It’s been more than thirty years since that moment, and the pieces of it in my memory are scattered, like shards of glass.

***

I usually wake by ten o’clock on Sunday mornings, but this Sunday was different. From my bed, I could see through the hallway to the bathroom, where Indie, my nine-year-old daughter, was leaning over the black rug in the bathroom. She was sitting on her feet, her hands on her knees, as if she’d been running all night in her sleep and had woken in recovery mode. It was the end of October, and this was not the first time I had found her here, vomiting into the toilet. Her bobbed hair sticking up in the back, tousled, blonde. I asked if she needed me, hoped that she didn’t, because I was exhausted, my head tight, pounding, a hint I must have had too many glasses of chardonnay the night before.

We had only lived in the house since August, so Indie didn’t yet have a pediatrician. The week before, the pharmacist at the Price Chopper suggested Pedialyte, maybe Ensure if she didn’t start eating more. Fiber, he suggested. She’d be fine. Read More »

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Letter from India: Rajiv and the Potassium Parmanganate

July 30, 2012 | by

The hotel was five stars but down-at-the-heels. It was the beginning of the off-season, so there were not many guests, and there were not going to be many guests for three months. For twenty dollars, we had arranged an upgrade to the best suite. It probably could have been done for less.

The suite had a lot of switches on the walls. The following morning, when our breakfast came, someone from the kitchen called and said the waiter was outside because of our DO NOT DISTURB sign. We let him in. It was seven a.m., and we had a long program that day. We did not come back to the hotel until two, and only then to get our passports from the safe—they were required for admission to a place I wanted to go.

We were waiting for the down elevator when Rajiv approached us. A member of the housekeeping staff, he was young and handsome, if a little short. His skin emitted light.

He approached quickly, withdrawing a key from his vest, saying, “Are you in room 427?”

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