Beware the Hemicrania

solar-system-emergence-spitzer-telescope-telescope-41951.jpegI get headaches all the time. Not those little baby headaches that lazy people get so they can call in sick or leave early because they don’t like the project they are on and can just as easily browse the web from home as they can from work. I’m talking about the king of headaches. The Alpha and Omega of headaches. The great, I AM headache. I am of course speaking of the migraine.

The Book of Webster defines migraine as:
Main Entry: mi•graine
Pronunciation: ‘mI-“grAn, British often ‘mE-
Function: noun
Etymology: French, modification of Late Latin hemicrania pain in one side of the head, from Greek hEmikrania, from hEmi- hemi- + kranion cranium
Date: 15th century
1 : a condition marked by recurrent severe headache often with nausea and vomiting
2 : an episode or attack of migraine
– mi•grain•ous /-“grA-n&s/ adjective

I, however, define a migraine as: shoot me up with crystal meth, throw me to the ground, stomp on my neck with stiletto pumps (which look great when worn with a bathing suit because they help slenderize your hips *snaps to Ellen*), while Metallica plays through seven Infinity speakers attached to my ears (one extra on the left side), and a two year old boy digs out both of my eyes using a rusted fork, while a Shetland pony is kicking my ass, kind of headache.

In days of Olde when Knights were bold if a limb hurt bad enough, say a left arm that became gangrenous, you just cut it off, sewed up the hole, and went on living. Such a method would be a bit life-prohibitive in dealing with a migraine. Clearly we see that the most evident solution to a problem may not always be the most effective.

I know someone who says that she has migraines every day. She loves to pretend she has a migraine just so she doesn’t have to go to work. I don’t know about you, but when I’m in the land of make believe, I like to pretend something good. Like that I’m wearing a huge black cape with tall black boots, and a sassy black top hat, and I’m in New Orleans in the middle of an Anne Rice novel. I’m the vampire Jejune, consort to Lestat and Louis, leader of a vast empire of vampires, feeding on all the insanely boring and tasteless people of the world.

Unfortunately, some people like to pretend bad things, so that others will feel sympathy for them, bake cakes for them, send flowers to them, or let them go home early. I, however, am not a pretender when it comes to migraines. I can’t even imagine how someone could pretend to be exploding and imploding at the same time (if they can they should be in Cirque du Soleil, because that takes true talent).

My style of migraine, which some people also refer to as a cluster headache (because they cluster themselves together for a few months, then go on sabbatical, then come back for more), occurs on the left side of my head. It starts as a dull throbbing, more of a tease-ache, that tells me if I don’t get medicated soon, I’m going to regret it.

It then unfolds, like a bad novel. Multiple characters, subplots, climaxes, dénouements, it spreads its tendrils out across the left side of my face (the migraine, not the bad novel), snaking its way into my left eye, my left eardrum, and my left temple.

Sounds become muffled as my ear drum begins to pound to the beat of a symphony gone awry. My vision becomes blurry as my eyes tear, trying to wash out the invading menace (not Dennis, the migraine).

My face flushes as if I’ve just heard the naughtiest joke ever told. Streaks of heat shoot through my temple causing veins and arteries to rise to the surface, pulsing and throbbing to the beat of my heart. And then, the pain hits.

The pain is not unlike what Cary Elwes went through in The Princess Bride, when he was subjected to the pain amplifier down in the pit of despair. (if you haven’t realized by now, I am the master of obscure analogies)

Once the pain begins, there really is no way to stop it. I am down for the count. My left eye continues to tear, and becomes increasingly bloodshot, as if I’ve been on an all night drinking binge (though apparently only drinking from the left side of my mouth). My left cheek starts to alternately tense and relax, finally slacking into a downward flow as if a stroke has rendered it useless. (Although, since the right side of the body is controlled by the left side of the brain, one would think my right cheek would collapse, but migraines break all the rules.)

The blood vessels in my temple strain against the pressure as my heart continues to send blood to the side of the brain that really doesn’t need any more pressure.

And then, the vice is turned. I find myself laying face down, head between huge metal plates attached to screws. Slowly those screws are turning and the plates are moving closer and closer to each other, with my head still between them. I start to feel the pressure building. I’m like a roast inside a pressure cooker. The flames are on high, and the steam is flying out of the whistle so fast it’s gone supersonic. Dogs in the neighborhood start howling and barking as I get closer and closer to blowing my top.

Suddenly, the metal plates are gone. The dull ache has returned. It feels like a torn fingernail, that pulses and throbs, again to the beat of my tell tale heart. The throbbing that won’t go away, but stabs at my senses over and over. And then, the nausea hits.

I rarely throw up (except for a Cadbury Cream Egg incident, which I’ll bring up at Easter). Even after a night of heavy alcohol consumption (which is usually only on a day ending in “ay”) I never throw up. I was actually born with the anti-hangover gene. While technically a recessive gene, not unlike the gene for green eyes, blonde hair, or hitchhikers thumb, the anti-hangover gene was quite the envy of my college aged friends. Unfortunately, migraine is an “e” word (despite the fact that it starts with an M, if you turn the M sideways it resembles an E enough to be considered e-ville), and breaks all those rules, including rules that are genetically encoded in my body.

I’m not sure who came up with the term dry heaves, but whoever they are, they should be locked away in Azkaban (snaps to Harry Potter) for all eternity. Just hearing those two words, dry heaves, is enough to send one running to the nearest restroom. Rarely are my heaves dry. (note: those readers with delicate or weak stomachs are advised that the next section contains vivid and graphic language)

Dry heaves would indicate that absolutely nothing comes out in the process more clinically described as reverse peristalsis (and just to point out how much of a nerd I am, I didn’t even have to look that one up. It’s part of my daily vocabulary). For those who have not incorporated this…

Main Entry: peri•stal•sis
Pronunciation: “per-&-‘stol-s&s, -‘stäl-, -‘stal-
Function: noun
Inflected Form(s): plural peri•stal•ses /-“sEz/
Etymology: New Latin, from Greek peristaltikos peristaltic
Date: 1859
: successive waves of involuntary contraction passing along the walls of a hollow muscular structure (as the esophagus or intestine) and forcing the contents onward

Unfortunately, for me, there is nothing dry about a migraine heave.

Let us consider for a moment, bile. Bile is a yellow or greenish viscid alkaline fluid produced in the liver, that aids in the emulsification and absorption of fats. I would assume that people who have had their liver removed for some reason would not be subject to dry heaves. I, on the other hand (or on the same hand – I am really not sure why you have to switch hands), have my liver, and get to have what I’d like to refer to as bile heaves. Sounds a lot better than dry heaves doesn’t it?

When my stomach and esophagus start to work in reverse, out comes the bile. A yucky, gooey, not dissimilar to Ghostbusters slime, comes spraying out of my body. The bitter e-ville sensation washes across my taste buds, causing me to heave again. (note: the taste buds have the ability to sense salty, sour, sweet, bitter, and umami – bile most likely falling into the sour and bitter category) (and that’s umami, not unagi for all you sushi fans who might get confused)

Quickly I down a glass of water, because when I was younger, I was told that throwing up water was better than a dry heave, and old habits are hard to break. The only benefit to drinking water during a period of nausea is that now you have something to mix with the bile before it comes back up.

Personally, if I know that whatever I drink is going to come right back up, I want it to be something that tastes good, or at least can mask the taste of the bile. My choice is rum. Not the nasty Bacardi gold rum, or the little bunny foo-foo Malibu rum that is so sweet I could throw it up even if I didn’t have a migraine…I’m talking about the Lieutenant Commander of rums, no, the Captain of rums. Captain Morgan’s Spiced Rum. Not only is this rum so crisp and refreshing that it can be shot or served on the rocks without a mixer, but it has the ability to overpower the bile, and eliminate any bitter taste of green digestive enzyme. The side benefit to using rum over water, is that you get a nice healthy buzz while you remain crouched over the toilet.

Soon the nausea passes and I feel like my body has expended the last remaining ounce of energy left. I’m not unlike the battery on my laptop, that is like a poor player that struts and frets its hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more. At this point I either collapse on the bathroom floor, or somehow stagger my way back to my bed or my desk (in the event I am at work during this brutal attack, in which case you may be wondering where I keep my rum, but that’s really not any of your concern right now), and lay my head down and close my eyes.

The tears start to stream down my face, as my body can simply withstand no more. I lay there panting like a rabid mongrel dog from a Stephen King novel (obviously Cujo), with small drips of saliva (another digestive enzyme but not one that is produced in the liver, nor one that is green) trickling down my dead left cheek. Obviously, I have my head left side down, otherwise the saliva would be defying gravity to flow down my left cheek, and despite the fact that saliva is a very cool enzyme, it’s not cool enough to break the laws of physics (I cannot change the laws of physics captain!).

Co-workers walk by with wide eyes and puzzled looks on their faces, as they see a little puddle of saliva and residual bile from my earlier heaving episode, wondering if they should call for help, or bring me a towel (because at Delta, it’s laid out like that).

As I continue to sit, and drool, and silently moan in pain (I’m once again screaming lonely in my nightmare), I realize that now the enzymes (including some leftover rum) are beginning to drip onto my polyester slacks (don’t ask why I’m wearing polyester…perhaps I became a flight attendant in my spare time, who knows).

Unfortunately, because polyester is made from multiple esters, and esters being any of a class of often fragrant compounds that can be represented by the formula RCOOR and that are usually formed by the reaction between an acid and an alcohol with elimination of water, I am in the position of having digestive enzymes reacting with acids and alcohols, and a terrible burning sensation ensues on my thigh. (ok, very obscure, I know, but you’ve read this far and haven’t stopped, so I’m trying to see how much I can get away with)

I glance over at the clock and see that’s it’s 8:05am. I lift my head up, send an email to the team, and tell them I’m going home with a headache. Thankfully they all have my address and know where to send the flowers and cake.

Author: Heath Buckmaster

I do marketing. Also YA fiction author, chef, former PBS TV producer and host, fundraiser, gamer, have @intel inside, and nerd in Sacramento.