I wake at 4 a.m.-ish with a migraine, an old enemy who has lately decided on random drive-by shootings after a long absence. I know to the exact millimeter on my forehead where he stabs me with a hot knife, jagged spears of pain shooting into each eye, the bridge of my nose and across my skull to its base.
I blame the sushi from last night. I block out that he’s returned because yesterday I retired after 32 years. I’m an official retiree. Retiree, what a strange word, as if I’d once been in the pit at Daytona and have now been regaled to pulling out nails and patching bald tires, puttering around an abandoned racetrack. Retired. Impossible. I still have a mortgage and a condo, empty as it might be. I still have financial obligations. And now, no paycheck. We have no closing date, which means no arrival date in Hawaii, which means no starting date on a new job.
It must be the sushi. Note to self – sushi causes migraines.
I stagger to the kitchen and tentatively click on the light on the refrigerator door. Brilliance swings toward me like a spotlight on the Academy Awards stage. “The Oscar goes to Front Temporal Lobe for its portrayal of Jack the Ripper.” I reach for a bottle of generic migraine pills and brace myself to open the refrigerator for a cold drink.
The eye of Sauron blinds me in the three seconds it takes to grab the grape juice and pour some into a plastic cup. I swallow the pills and juice, entrusting in four ounces of anti-oxidants to do its job.
After a trip to the bathroom, I dissolve onto my pathetic air mattress, the only bedroom “furniture” left, if you don’t count the nightstand constructed of cardboard boxes. I don’t move my head. It’s the tip of a nuclear missile, loosely wired, ready to detonate at the slightest offset.
I awake again at 5:54. “L” is up, I don’t mention the pain. He knows I’m not a morning person and will not get up.
Somewhere around 9:00 I’m awake again, the victim of a full bladder. Note to self – migraines are diuretics. I want to crawl, but make it upright and walk the Green Mile to the next room. I wish I had the stamina or courage to take a shower and wash away the pain. I move, oh so carefully, back to the kitchen, each step measured, like my feet have fallen asleep and I’m trying to make them work without falling over.
This time I go for the big guns – Excedrin migraine relief. Three magical pills. So what if I overdose? It can’t get worse. This time, I chose Vitamin water, trusting in electrolytes to dull the ache, knowing it won’t. “A” and “H” are up, I’m supposed to go with them to the post office this morning. I apologize in advance, I think. My memory is fuzzy.
Back on the bed, I experiment with a cold washcloth over my eyes and forehead, but the pressure is too great. I drop it on the floor. I’ve opened the window, needing fresh air and oxygen. The road noise outside doesn’t bother me, only the northern sunlight. I try to fashion a tent with a spare blanket, but give up on the attempt. It’s too much work.
My head is a crater. I’ve never experienced migraine auras, but red and white blobs move across my eyelids like a twisted lava lamp. I pretend to breathe in through the bottom of my lungs, steering the air from my upper sinuses, where it might bump into my brain and send off a firestorm of lightning. Each breath is exactly the same, no deviation. To move my head at all sends a new knife through my skull. I worry about brain tumors.
My body is perfectly still. I worry about bedsores. I’ll be trapped in this position for weeks. I wait for the Excedrin to kick in. It’s never failed before.
I breathe some more, using a trick that’s come in handy with occasional insomnia. Pull good energy from the air and earth, circulate it through my body to pick up the toxins, then exhale. Usually, I breathe though the top of my head, but today, it would be suicide, so I breathe through my feet, as far away from ground zero as possible. The good air stretches to brush against the pain in my head. I feel it start work, slowly, like millennium of sandstorms covering the Sphinx in a picture I once saw.
My stomach growls. Hunger or the pills dissolving? Not hunger, I decide, not wanting to get up yet again.
I move my hand to my chest, and nothing hurts. I don’t sleep, it’s always easier if I can sleep and wake up without pain, but it’s not in the cards today. After awhile, I turn my head five degrees, a brave endeavor. I feel like I’ve run a marathon. The continual stabbing has stopped and morphed to an ache I think I can contain. I build a wall around it, a two-centimeter barricade starting at the corner of my right eyebrow. I wait awhile to see if the enemy breaches it, but it holds.
I turn to my other side without preplanning the move. Other parts of my body take precedence over my forehead. I scratch an itch on my arm. My stomach rumbles again. I start to notice the noise from outside. The alarm clock, always twenty minutes fast, reads 11:50. I decide the worst is over.
In the bathroom again, and I feel brave enough to take a shower. I find the sweet spot where the shower spray hits the base of my skull, and I try to wash without moving from it.
Excedrin is my new BFF. What company owns it? I have money in with Scottrade that should be used.
I dress and emerge into the living room. It’s almost noon. The pain is at DEFCON 5, lowest state of readiness. I’m ready to face the day.