Barking Kitten

Fiction, musings on literature, food writing, and the occasional Friday cat blog. For lovers of serious literature, cooking, and eating.


Close to forty. Not cool. Politically left. Atheist. Happily married. No kids.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

A Visitation from the Birds, who sing in Greek

I am a migraineur. That is, I have suffered from incapacitating headaches since age 22. Two of my immediate family members are also migraineurs. Another is epileptic. Our symptoms are remarkably similar.

In my early twenties my attacks were frequent and uncontrollable, leading to vomiting and countless emergency room visits for Demerol and Phenergan. I tried Fiornal, Dihydroergotamine, Midrin, and Talwin. I took Valium and Xanax. Later on some genius came up with the Triptan drug family--Imitrex. I graduated from the pill to the nasal spray to the monoject. For several years I took Inderal, a blood pressure medication said to prevent the blood vessel dialation that causes migraine. It helped, but left me dizzy.

Eventually I came to understand my headaches a bit better and could identify their triggers--invariably severe stress. Eating junk food, irregular sleep patterns, and refusal to rest are all triggers. Red wine is impossible unless I am very rested and relaxed; alcohol in general is a double-edged sword. It can help me relax, but if I'm headachey, it's deadly.

Over time the headaches have tapered off to a nuisance, although lately I'm seeing a resurgence into the hellish zone. Gotta love the holidays. So it was Sunday night at 2 a.m. found me (very neatly, mind you) losing dinner. I had some Phenergan--a strong anti-nausea med--left over from summertime bout of stomach flu. I took it and slept until two o'clock Monday afternoon, awakening weakened and woozy.

The neurological phenomena of migraine is well-documented in Oliver Sacks' book of the same name, a book I am unable to read much of. Just reading about migraine gives me a migraine. Still, in my headache-free moments I comfort myself with the good company I keep: Hildegard of Bingen, known for her "migraine art"; Joan Didion; Virginia Woolf. And while the birds have never sung to me in Greek during the worst of my pain, as they did Virginia, migraine definitely warps perception. Speech becomes impossible to process; replies are tough to formulate. During one emergency room visit I was so incoherent the nurse thought me on drugs, refusing to believe I wasn't until I thrust my Medic Alert bracelet in her face.

I suffer all the visual abnormalities: scotoma, or scintillation, flashing points of light, photophobia. I become clumsy and often lose contol of one side of my body. Sometime I become moody and mean before an attack, and Hockeyman will tell me to take my medication. I have learned to listen.

Other warnings include dry sinuses, shaking hands, and a sense that my mind has sped up. My thoughts run rapidly, irrationally, sometimes frighteningly during a migraine. It's a little like being a small child with a high fever. Sometimes I can think creatively on the downside of the headache, after the storm has passed. And that is indeed the sensation: the storm has passed, the high winds and heavy rains have swept through, leaving everything clean and fresh. Yesterday, drifting in and out of a drugged sleep, I thought about the fiction piece I've been wanting to write (oh for time!) and suddenly saw how to structure it.

In Mark Salzman's Lying Awake, a nun is gifted with divine poetry. She pays dearly for her gift with crushing headaches, and learns she has a brain tumor. To remove it and lose her gift, or keep it, and the words it gives her?

This is not a choice I must face. Migraine, for me, is the dark side of being alive. It is the hairy edge of sanity, the dark forest of Boo'ya moon. All the healthy food and exercise and attention to bedtime will not stop the (blessedly) rare night visitations, when all I can do is keep the icepack nearby, abide, and wait for the pain to vanish, as mysteriously as it came.


Blogger sfp said...

Imitrex is my best friend. I often have it for breakfast.

My migraines are triggered by flucuations in barometric pressure and hormones. I'm fortunate in that they usually cause only mild nausea and low-grade pain, but unfortunate in that I have to deal with them for up to a week two weeks out of any month.

Sometimes I can tell when a headache is coming by the look of confusion on the face of whoever I'm talking to--my words come out all out of order with weird substitutions.

It's been years since I've experienced that scraped clean feeling inside the skull after a major attack, but I remember it well.

I need to look for the Sacks book.

December 06, 2006 3:21 PM  
Blogger Barking Kitten said...

Funny--weather and hormones have never been an issue,though of course every doctor thought so. Stress. Just stress.

I hope you have better luck with the book than I did--it's excellent, if disconcerting.

December 06, 2006 7:57 PM  
Blogger sfp said...

Turns out it's checked out until January. I'll have a look at it when it comes back in.

My husband always points out every article on food allergies, caffeine, as if it's something I've never considered before.

My dad's migraines were always on weekends, holidays, any time he was supposed to be able to relax. Once he went on thyroid meds he never had another headache.

December 07, 2006 5:29 AM  

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