I have headaches, a decade’s worth of them. Blinding, debilitating. When they come, I cannot think.
In previous years, I would suffer through these bouts of excruciating pain and just work harder. Because of course the best pain relief was to bury myself in another kind of distracting pain, namely that of my previously miserable work existence. I would find a small tunnel inside my head in which I would be able to think and work clearly enough to appear competent to those around me and muddle through – and apparently, it helped to be working mostly with other highly dysfunctional, discontented, foul mouthed people.
Then, I dunno, I switched jobs and maybe I also just got really worn down by life, because more recently I can no longer take the pain and just keep moving through my little tunnel of clarity. Now, I need to lay down and be still — two concepts that do not mesh well with me. On these days, there is no part of my mind that can function and my entire body becomes a useless heavy appendage lolling around. I roll around in agony for a good 12 hour stretch. My children look worried and my colleagues and friends check in with real live phone calls to make sure I haven’t died when I do not instantly reply to texts and email messages.
So, in this, my tenth year of the decade of abhorrent pain, I finally decided to see a doctor. The headaches were now seriously cramping my plans and interfering with the modicum of pleasure I derive from life – and I just can’t tolerate that. It had been one thing to have a day of pain when I was still able to function. But this lying around in bed helplessly for an entire day was no good.
My doctor took a fancy but pointless picture of my brain and then referred me to a neurologist.
The neurologist was a soft spoken Chinese man who appears to take animals as patients too, for there was the soft clucking sound of a chicken coming from the exam room next to mine. The waiting room itself was a hodge podge of crusty, randomly assembled chairs and old magazines. Dour air was circulated by an old fan that emitted a husky low zum with each rotation. Fading health posters of the human skeleton hung crookedly from the dirty gray walls and various yellowed handwritten signs admonished patients to pay for services rendered.
In the exam room, he asked me a whole series of questions, none of which seemed related to actual headaches. I answered all of his questions, including when he asked whether I was happy — which really made me want to cry, though I laughed instead. After the end of the questions, he advised me to take a mixture of medicines at the first sign of a headache and in between headaches, to breathe deeply and meditate often. He also suggested I keep a journal about my headaches, including my feelings about them.
He told me to come back in three months – and I will, because I like him and his quirky waiting room where I guess I will sit among chickens again and contemplate my feelings about headaches from journal entries.