Living Inside the Migraine.
It starts with a missing letter in the instruction manual.
The ends of words start to evaporate.
The harder I look at them the more they disappear.
There’s no pain, though, so I’m hoping that perhaps this is something else. Even as I hope I know that I am kidding myself.
I am at a friend’s house, installing his new printer. It’s a simple task, but he is older, a self-professed technophobe. What’s remarkable is that he even has a computer.
Something isn’t working right though. Everything’s plugged in but it won’t print, it only wants to send a fax. The manual, in three languages, has some trouble shooting tips.
Make sure the printer is plugged in.
Make sure the cables are secure.
The harder I try to read the manual, the more the words slip away.
The very first migraine I ever experienced was an ocular migraine– an ophthalmic deficit. There was no pain, but it scared the living daylights out of me. That’s not what this is, though. Oh, that’s part of it. But I know that more is coming.
Online, a number for tech support is found– of course, it’s not in the manual. The questions are automated. I answer them. Finally, I have a conversation with someone in the Philipines. A man, a woman, I can’t tell. They are very kind though I am sure they must think I am an idiot. They ask for the serial number.
I try to read the serial number, folding myself over the printer. Is that a D or a zero? It must be close enough. “Thank you so much,” the voice says.
A few minutes later I can’t remember the word “serial.”
The words are slipping away faster and faster.
The technician takes control of the computer by remote. A few settings are adjusted and the printer is working. At least I think it is working. It’s not a Mac, I’m not familiar with the platform, I can’t think of the words I need to use to explain this.
A man arrives, a friend of the friend. I know him, I can’t think of his name. I know his name. It’s not a matter of not remembering, it’s just the name won’t come back to me.
“Hello! How are you!” I offer heartily. Because we are polite, we make the best of it. They are talking about the Westminster Dog Show. This is a topic I know very well, but I can’t follow their conversation. The sentences seem fragmented and nonsensical.
“Are you coming with us to dinner?” the friend asks.
Only the truth is left.
“I’m in a migraine, I’m so regretful. No, I’m sorry.” My face is pink with embarrassment.
“Oh no,” my friend says “I caused it.”
“No, no” I say, smiling, shaking my head. Frightened.
The triggers are cumulative. Eating. Not eating. Not enough sleep. Nitrates. Stress. Pollen. Hormones. Barometric pressure. Light. The smell of diesel fuel. How they piled up this time isn’t obvious, but even it was obvious, I can’t put anything together in any kind of order. It doesn’t matter why.
They are in another room, I think. I put on my coat and gloves, find my keys, call out my goodbyes. At least I think I did. I hope I did.
The curb is awash in slush. It’s dark out. It’s a bit like being drunk, but there’s no buzz. Just clumsy. From a stop light, I call my husband.
It’s a struggle to speak.
“It’s a migraine. Coming— ”
The word “home” escapes me.
“House,” I say.
“Where are you?”
I think hard. I know where I am. I can’t find the name —
I am afraid I won’t be able to navigate the car into the garage, but I don’t know how to convey that. I can’t remember what a garage is called. My brain keeps tripping on “garden” and “gadget”. Those aren’t right. I try.
“I’ll bring car to the . . . porch. Will you park?”
“Of course. I’ll look for you.”
I drive methodically, but it is instinct that leads me home. There is some pain now, someone inside my head with a small hammer.
I wonder if I should go to the hospital instead. I know that I am out of migraine meds, I’ve been out of migraine meds for months. It’s taken me 5 months to get an appointment with the neurologist, March 4.
But I will go to the hospital if I.
If I what?
If I think this is a stroke.
If I think this is a stroke I will go to the hospital.
I curl my tongue, roll it to form a tube. Inventory left and right feet, hands, shoulders. It feels like the left side of my mouth is drooping, but when I check my reflection at a stoplight, it looks fine.
Frown lines, I hadn’t noticed those.
The streets are full of rutted snow. The usual U-turn in front of the house won’t be possible. I drive around the block. Where are the flashers?
He meets me on the sidewalk, a kiss. Our son is waiting for me, he says.
Half-an-hour ago I was fine.
The door opens and there’s my kid, smiling. “Are you okay?”
I shrug, nod.
The word is there, let me find it.
In the kitchen, I break some Irish soda bread, and butter it generously. I am suddenly starving.
Did I eat today? Yogurt, blueberries, granola.
My son is explaining something. The words cascade over me like water.
“Wait. I can’t. I’m sorry. I can’t do more than three or four words.”
My husband comes in the kitchen door, stomping the snow from his feet.
“Do you want some eggs?”, he asks taking off his coat. “You could use some protein.”
I nod. When he asks how many I don’t answer. I’m not ignoring him. I’m just so addled.
On the sofa, I sit with the buttered Irish bread. On the television, they are honoring Bob Simon on 60 Minutes. When Morley Safer talks about him, I wipe the tears from my face.
The eggs come, I eat them, measuring each bite. Focus on that one thing. The color, the texture, the warmth. A mean imitation of being drunk– everything swims around you, except a single thing you can concentrate on. In the old days, it might be the ice in the bottom of the glass. The cocktail napkin folded into abstract origami. Your lover’s mouth.
Now it is scrambled eggs.
On the sofa I doze sitting up. In half-sleep I hear Bob Simon’s voice and it confuses me. He’s dead. Oh, right. They’re covering his stories. Srebrenica. The Lost Boys. He’s delighted to return Rafael Nadal’s serve. Naked children swimming, the Moken.
I can’t keep my eyes open. They’re playing cellos made from recycled garbage. “Mongolian horsehead fiddles”, I think, knowing as I think it that I’m wrong. Wrong continent.
When I awake, half an hour later, it’s all over. My head feels tender, like it’s been bruised on the inside somehow. But my words come back to me, lined up in order, ready to serve. This struggle is finished, this one is done. I go into the kitchen to make a cup of tea.