20 September 2009

Mal a Tete

I am sick. In fact, I'm sort of spectacularly sick. I don't mean I have a fever and am writhing dramatically on my sweaty bed, or anything, but I'm sick in a way I haven't been sick for a long time: although I have no fever, and strictly speaking probably just have a cold (cough and runny nose), I'm light-headed, weary, unmotivated, and only able to concentrate for about 15 minutes at a time. I associate all these latter symptoms with the flu, but I know I don't have the flu.

In fact, though, I'm slightly better yesterday than I was last night, because last night I had a
terrible headache. I know I've written about migraines on here before, but I don't think I mentioned that perhaps about ten years ago migraines started to be the only kind of headaches I got. I don't mean they arrived as full-blown migraines; rather, every headache I got developed into a migraine, and it was clear from the start that they would.

Headaches are very interesting things for me. And one of the most interesting things about them is the course and recognizability of their development. Theoretically, when your head starts to hurt, if it's just your head hurting (and not the kind of withdrawal I mentioned in an earlier post), you shouldn't be able to determine what kind of headache it's going to turn into. But this is, in fact, not the case. I always know when it's going to be a migraine, and I knew this before they all started being migraines. If I draw my focus out of the front of my brain (frontal lobe: thank you, BF) and into the back (occipital: two for two!), the feeling back there will tell me. I'm sure that's illogical, or physically inaccurate, but it's how I know: the back of my brain feels different. Also, a migraine will frequently lodge at the top of my nose (which makes it, I suspect, a sinus headache to start off with).

Because I've spent a lot of time with migraines, and because they completely incapacitate me physically but don't shut off my thinking, I've spent a lot of time examining them and their stages as they occur. One of the most interesting aspects, for me, is that I can tell when the pain begins precisely how bad it will grow to be. I wonder how you get those predictive skills.

I should have worked on the brain, really. Differently from BF, though. I would like to have worked on the way in which the brain acquires and deploys the knowledge that occurs subconsciously -- the knowledge that is so base that we think of it as instinct, or as an integrated part of the brain. I'm sure there's a scientific term for this kind of judgement ("My head will hurt this much"; "I can grab that pan before it hits the floor, but not that one"), but it's the interconnection between mental and neurological that interests me about it.

I should say at this stage that I'm usually able to circumvent these headaches. I carry aspirin and migraine aspirin with me everywhere, and the moment my hurt starts to hurt I take either one or the other. In this way, most of my headaches are nipped in the bud. (Before you give me a whole lecture about how aspirin is hard on the stomach and I should be using ibuprofen, let me cut you off by saying that aspirin works much more quickly and effectively for me than ibuprofen, so I prefer it. In the UK, they apparently no longer make aspirin tablets, though, so I am forced to take ibuprofen.)

Bueno, to get back to the original strand, last night I had a headache that was not a migraine! But, man, did it hurt anyway.

In case you would like to know, here is what a migraine feels like: it starts in my right temple, and the pain stretches from that temple down to my jaw - to such an extent that in the early days I used to think I had a toothache causing a headache, and to such an extent that even now in the midst of the experience I think that if I could just have my tooth taken out I'd be fine. This pain lasts for roughly ten minutes, then it spreads and increases into the migraine itself. That feels exactly - exactly - as if someone were shoving a red-hot wire up my nostril (left or right, it depends), while at the same time laying another red-hot wire against my brain. At a certain point I usually throw up, but not so much, it seems to me, from the pain as from a kind of bodily instinct that dictates that when you reach a certain level of physical stress you vomit. That is, I never feel nauseous: I just throw up. In almost the most extreme cases, the head pain is so bad that if I want to move
my head I have to lift it up with my hands - the very act of moving the muscles is agony (I always feel like the Elephant Man when I do that, which makes me think of the movie, and sometimes David Bowie [because he played the Elephant Man on Broadway: there he is doing so], and those distract me for a second). In the most extreme cases, I just don't move my head. I lie there and think I've never felt such pain before, and then I try to describe what it's like. Then I fall asleep.

Last night's headache, however, was not like that. First of all, it never left my right temple. Second of all, it wouldn't let me fall asleep. I think it was a good old-fashioned sinus headache, because my right nostril was stuffed up, and a right-temple headache seems likely to be connected. But, wow, did it hurt. It was like a cracked skull all night, and the problem was that I'd used up all my aspirin/ibuprofen during the day, in a vain attempt to ward off illness. So I kept falling vaguely asleep and waking clearly up, until finally I got up in the dark, yanked out the box I haven't yet unpacked but in which I saw the Nurofen Migraine, found the Nurofen Migraine, remembered with absolute vivid distinction (you are there!) the moment when in an act of what I realised in that darkened moment was moronic generosity I allowed a friend to scarf down an uneven number, leaving me with one, took the one, and staggered back to bed.

And it worked! Look at that, a happy ending. So when I woke up this morning I felt, well, like hell, but at least I had and have no headache. And I can now breathe through my nostrils, which is a huge plus.

I have other thoughts to write, but I prefer to wait until my head isn't spinning.

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