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.

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.


Hang out with all the boys . . .

I finally made it to the Y today. At the membership desk they really pressed me to apply for a reduced cost membership, so now I have to wait for their decision on the same, but in a few days, I should be good to go, bar code in hand. In the meantime, I had a tour.

The downtown Dayton YMCA was purpose built alongside the river in 1927. Like most YMCAs, it no longer offers hotel service, and that part of the enormous building has been transformed into apartments and condominiums. Through its sister organization, the YWCA, the Y does offer shelter in Dayton for homeless women at another facility and many YMCAs around the country are leaders in transitional and homeless sheltering. And there are actually a few Ys around the country that still offer regular hotel-style lodging, in Chicago and New York, for about a hundred bucks a night.

But not Dayton. In Dayton, the Y’s amenities are limited to weight room, cardio room, yoga classes, aerobics, Pilates, spinning, indoor running track, two indoor gyms with basketball, whirlpool, sauna, steam rooms, pool and racquetball courts. What is particularly wonderful about the downtown Y is that most of the facility still bears the hallmarks of  its original art-nouveau design. Beautiful tiles around the pool, fantastic ceiling moldings, absolute classic old gymnasiums. Parts of this YMCA could be a movie set for a great athletic epic from the thirties: The Hazel Leona Walker Story, or something.

It pleases me to say that when we were there at 5 p.m. on a Monday afternoon, that the Y was hopping. People were streaming in after work to get in a few laps, or reps, or whathaveyou. I asked what the quietest time of the day is (mornings) and I expect that’s when we’ll go. The members of the Y are skinny, fat, tall, short, black, white, old, young, fit and not fit and run the gamut from lovely to less so. I’m sure I can find my place along that spectrum somewhere. There’s even a bike rack where I can park my bike.

In other news, I had a migraine today, the first in months. I managed to knock it down with Relpax, but that left me feeling a bit flat for most of the day. I am wondering if it was not a direct result of my slide into the slough of despond. Have to watch that.

The other thing is this: on a public forum about the Chick-Fil-A controversy, a youngish woman, quite plump, and quite southern, delivered an extensive screed on the Bible and how stupid we all were to boycott Chick-Fil-A; you know the usual spew of prejudice and hate.

I felt compelled to respond to her and wrote “. . . and from the looks of your photograph, you might want to miss a few trips to Chick-Fil-A.” I didn’t post it. I didn’t post anything finally, but I was horrified that I too had fallen into that awful behavior of saying mean things to people because they’re fat.

If she’d been physically ugly or had a big nose (neither is the case) I would never had said anything about those aspects of her appearance. But because she was overweight, I was right there about to utter a phrase I knew would hurt her the most. Yes, she’s a hateful shrew, but I don’t have to sink to her level. I am most relieved that I caught myself before I said something that really would have made me ashamed.

Hit the ground running this morning and forgot to weigh, so no target number still.  Steps: 6168. Breakfast: yogurt with granola, two hard-boiled eggs. Lunch: green salad with chicken and avocado, feta cheese. Half a chocolate croissant. Dinner: three scrambled eggs, two cups of watermelon.  With the Olympics: half a cup of frozen yogurt.

With My Head in the Lion’s Mouth


Yesterday marked the second day with migraines. As there hasn’t been even a hint of a  migraine for several months, this sent me spiraling. On Monday, it just nibbled around the edges, sharp baby teeth punctuating an otherwise normal day, but just here and there. Not a major onslaught. It took me awhile to even recognize what was going on, and finally on Monday evening I took a Maxalt.  It kind of worked.

In a way that was worse than doing nothing. When you deploy the big gun, it’s supposed to work, and work well. Most of yesterday was in a kind of fog. I didn’t remember to write down my weight or what I’d eaten. I forgot the pedometer most of the day, though it didn’t matter as I was very quiet. I kept remembering that I’m not supposed to take the Major Migraine Medication more than once every 24 hours. It took a long time for the 24 hours to elapse, and this time, by the end of the day,  the headache was giving me a more definitive mauling. So I took a Relpax, and sat up for a few more hours waiting for relief.

Like the tide slipping out, the headache drew away, leaving me limp and exhausted. Unlike Imitrex, which always made me feel that way, this wasn’t the meds, which are remarkably well tolerated, but the result of 48 hours of headache, and the absolute mind-numbing depression that I’ve got my head in this lion’s mouth again. (He needs to brush more often.)

I wonder if the trigger is chocolate cake. I doubt it. All the foodies and the neurologist will jump up and down and say “Yes, that’s it! Wheat and chocolate!” but I am not convinced. Perhaps it is that the chocolate cake is such a novelty these days. Maybe it’s Pad Thai. Maybe it’s my relatives. Maybe it’s deadline pressure, which when it really bears down on me, makes me shut down like a possum. Today the lion is sleeping, but the blues linger. Hush, my darling, don’t fear, my darling.

Target number 55. Steps 1361+ whatever I walked most of the day. Food– I don’t remember, really. Pad Thai and Coconut curry soup. A piece of chocolate cake. A slice of roast pork, half an ear of corn, quarter cup of nut clusters, a few pretzel crackers. Ennui.

A Year Ago Today

Last Memorial Day, in tears, I gave up and asked my husband to take me to the E R at one of the local hospitals. I was in Day Four of the worst migraine of my life. I’d missed a cousin’s wedding, my grandmother’s 95th birthday party, and nearly 100 hours out of my life that I could never get back. I knew that just walking through the doors of the ER was going to set us back the cost of a nice vacation, but I couldn’t take it anymore.

My blood pressure, which is usually around 110/70 (even at my weight) was through the roof. I was shaking with pain, and at that point I would have agreed to anything to make it stop. I kept picturing taking a hatchet and cleaving away the left temporal lobe of my brain. That’s how I came to spend Memorial Day of 2011 on a hospital gurney hooked up to the most strangest brew ever ingested by i.v. Toradol, an antipsychotic (save your comments), Benadryl, an antihistamine and Compazine, for nausea.

God only knows how they come with these concoctions. But it worked. It worked after making me so incredibly anxious that I had to stop myself from yanking out the feed and running from the ward. It worked after 90 minutes of steady dripping, which made me have to roll the works with me to the bathroom across the hall. It worked even though the symptoms from the drugs were so disconcerting that I didn’t notice right away that the headache had stopped. (Which would have been immediately apparent with say, morphine.)

Of course, there’d been a long wait before the I.V. Miami Valley Hospital is the area’s chief trauma hospital (and this in a city that seems to have a major hospital every mile or so) and though I’d been quickly put in a dim room with a heated blanket for the chills and ice chips, I’d had to wait nearly two hours while the ER docs patched up some people who’d been brought it from a car accident.  I suppose I understand– for the longest time, the conventional wisdom has been that people don’t die from migraines. They know better now, that people with migraine with aura (as I have) are at a hugely increased risk for stroke. But I guess I wasn’t in the immediate danger of dying as the people who drove their car into a tree.

Eventually, sheepishly I pushed the call button, and when the nurse came I told her I was sorry to bother her, but that it was getting worse. Tears were rolling down my face. She rushed out and lickety-split, there was the good doctor, Harold Guadalupe, angel of mercy, apologizing for having kept me waiting. He told me something very interesting, which was that everything they thought they understood about migraines has been de-bunked in the last couple of years, and that they are starting over from scratch. He ordered the state-of-the-art cocktail, and cautioned that it might make me feel strange.

Later, after I’d been through the wringer and come out the other side clean and new, he wrote me prescriptions for Fioricet and Zofran and sent me home. Word to the wise, Dr. G., they aren’t using Fioricet anymore — it causes rebound headaches. My neurologist was adamant about this– “throw it away,” she counseled, but keep the Zofran. Something in the use of anti-nausea meds increases the effectiveness of other anti-migraine compounds.

So that was a year ago. Since this is Monday, the accounting day, I am pleased to tell you that in the year since I’ve found a neurologist who specializes in migraine headaches, and got some treatment. I also came face to face with myself and where I am in my life and made the decision to change, and here I am now.  Since I’ve started eating better and getting more exercise and taking better care of myself, I have been free of any migraine symptoms. For nearly three months. Even though this is one of the worse times of year for migraines. Yay, me.

This year for Memorial Day, I showed my dog and was not winded, even after running a few hundred yards in 90 degree heat. I enjoyed visiting with friends, I had some lemonade in the shade of a big tree. I laughed and grinned and commiserated . We didn’t do much in terms of winning, but it was a really good day.

A note about goals. I have changed the steps goal to 35,000. It turns out that 40,000  a week was simply not realistic, I was never meeting it. (Well, until today, as it turns out.) So I’m going to try 35,000 and see if that stepping stone in the middle will help me eventually get to 40,000 a week and beyond. 

This week’s tally.

The target number for today is 55. I walked 6125 steps.

Number of pounds to lose this week: 2

Number of pounds lost this week: 5

Cumulative number to have lost by this point: 22

Actual cumulative number lost: 25

Number of steps to have walked: 35,000

Actual number of steps walked: 40,248

Cumulative number to have walked: 335,000

Cumulative number walked: 426,610  (161.2 miles!)

Breakfast yogurt with granola, banana. Lemonade. Lunch was a large chicken burrito (chicken, black beans, pico de gallo, corn salsa, a bit of sour cream and guacamole. Later: half a cup of blueberries and half of an iced coffee.