There are four stages to a migraine, apparently. I forget the technical terms right now, but essentially, the stages are 1. Before the migraine. 2. Onset of migraine & Despair. 3. “I wish I were dead.” and 4. After the migraine in which you try to regain footing in a normal life and clean up all the shit that piled up in the last 36 hours, noted for lingering irritability coupled with a profound gratitude for life. This is how I used to experience migraines, anyway.
This Tuesday I got to experience a migraine I’ve never had before, in my 17 1/2 years of experience: Either an Ocular or Silent Migraine, but the name doesn’t matter—lets just call it Misery— followed by a regular old, boring migraine. The kids and I were walking (rather, I was walking. They were running, stalking, leaping, you know,) through Olbrich Botanical Gardens. (Go. It is lovely. AND there are a million zig-zag paths your kids can run on and “explore.”) Then the pavement started moving, and the sky started moving. Then my right side arm, stomach and leg fell asleep. My head, oh my head, feels so hot and fuzzy and stupid. Then I stumbled to a rock to sit down and thought really, really hard about how to say “If anything happens, go get a grown-up.” to my seven-year-old. Nearly impossible. My mind was a thick sludge. The words just wouldn’t be found, refused to be spoken but I pull them out of the sludge one at a time. Tried texting an S.O.S. to my husband. The ground is moving faster now and a couple walks by and I use all the brain power I have left to tell them as calmly as possible that something isn’t right, they should call 911, and then I turn and vomit spectacularly.
The pins-and-needles sensation subsides quickly, unlike the smell of the vomit, which will follow me for the next 15 hours. In my mind, I know I’m in the clear now. This can’t be demyelination. This isn’t good but it isn’t an episode of MS. How do I know? Because the numbness went away in minutes instead of lingering for two months. Yet, here we still are, now sitting in a mud puddle, surrounded by EMTs, with a blood pressure of 82-over-zombie and two tough, brave kids who aren’t acting worried or scared at all. I am not fooled. They have me stand up to see if I can. Of course I can. I can run a marathon right now if those four little eyes are on me. The EMT says “You don’t need to put on a brave act, you know.” Well, why the hell not? And yes, yes I do. They are always watching.
We all troop to the ambulance, me in a gurney, saying things in a chirpy voice to my children to make it seem like this just a game. “Yay! We get to ride in an ambulance! Woo hoo! We’ve never done this before!”
Enter the wonderfully, boring, but very long ER visit. Fluids. Some sort of medicine that simultaneously makes me want to run down the halls AND take a nap. Right. NOW. FLEE! OH, but I’m SOOO tired. Thank goodness the “MUST NAP” sensation won out. I dozed. I answered a billion questions about my health, about what happened, about any reason I should not have an MRI.
So then I had my fifth ever MRI. Absolute champ. A++ for me. Head and C-spine, with and without contrast. 8 billion minutes long. I thought of my own personal dub-step concert. I thought of the wide open space of Fort Myers Beach. I thought about friends, naming them alphabetically with each pulse. Then foods. Then I sang the state song and tried to count to make sure I got all 50. I tried to think of all the dates I’ve gone on with my husband starting with the tennis game of champions and leading all the way to the “quality time” in the hallway just before the MRI. Only 7 1/2 billion minutes to go. I cried a little. I only squeezed that stupid panic ball once. I didn’t try to rip the IV port out. I didn’t stand up and faint, trying to run out of the room right after the MRI. I didn’t hug the technicians. Total. Champ.
I’ve gone through the things that made for the perfect ocular/silent/AreYouKiddingME migraine storm. The list is too long, even for me, to include here. Instead, here is the list I made on “What to do to never, ever have a migraine like that again”:
1. Always Be Hydrating
2. Calcium, magnesium intake up
3. Regular exercise, regular stretching, meditation, walking, stress-reduction, blah, blah
4. Pay attention to triggers and warnings: Lots of yawning, increased sense of smell, glare, heat, bread, BREAD DAMMIT, food additives, altered sleep schedule. BTW, WHAT ARE MY TRIGGERS?!?
5. Nutrition, Do that Better.
What does this mean? It means I bought, and ate, two pints of ice cream yesterday. (Yes, I am aware that dairy is a trigger for some, and that sugar is a trigger for me in particular. However, I had been dairy-free for reasons of vanity for a month before this migraine,so NOT the trigger for this migraine, and well, ice-cream wins.) It means that I filled my trusty old Nalgene bottle and swapped it in to my camera bag, leaving my camera behind. (Sigh.) That I go nowhere without my cellphone, just in case. Also, migraine medicine and Excedrin. That I worry about another migraine like this happening at any time, at any place. With no warning. I worry about how I scared the kids. I was already worried when someone helpfully pointed out how shaken up they were. Very helpful. We’ve talked about the parts that were scary (when I told them to find a grownup for help, when they put me on that “wheelie bed” and couldn’t walk, when Daddy took them away from me to Nana’s, when it took so, so long for me to come home,) and I’ve tried to explain away the fear, because that always works. Always. And yes, I have two children sleeping in my bed almost the entire night these days, how did you guess?
I began this summer by injuring my back in such a way that I haven’t picked up the kids or played hide-and-seek, or run races, or tickle-tackled anyone in two months. I FINALLY got some relief from good old fashioned (impatient) waiting and healing. I also have been doing my little PT exercises and have been seeing a Structural Bodywork therapist, which basically means he finds a sore spot, presses down on it with a knuckle/elbow/power tool and I stretch and grimace and after an hour I walk a bit more upright. I was finally making progress. I am so ready to jump in and play a game of tag…..but now I’m not. I’m too worried about this lingering migraine, about the heat (Sigh. I’ve turned into one of those people,) about too much blood rushing to my head. I’m too worried to play.
The kids, oh the beautiful kids, have had an amazing summer. The things they have experienced in the past two months surpass the excitement of my entire childhood combined, I’m sure. I really hope they remember it that way, and not that “Oh, that was the summer Mom sat around like a sloth with an ice-pack.” For my part, it does mean a lot of sitting and watching and saying “I just love to watch you guys play.” (Truth.) We also do a lot of what I call “Pioneer Day” activities, where I sit and we read, or learn needlepoint, or make acorn necklaces and then the kids do chores, then some more chores, then run wild for several hours, then pick whatever is ripe in the garden for dinner.
Actually, you know what? Maybe this isn’t a bad way to do summer after all. Next year, however, maybe I’ll be lucky enough to just do the sitting without the ligament damage and crippling migraines. Yes.