“Shhh! Your dad is upstairs sleeping. He has one of his really bad headaches again.” My mom would inform my sister and me in an attempt to keep us from disturbing our poor father while he tried to recover from the excruciating pain that occasionally plagued him.
All I knew about his headaches were that they were referred to as “cluster headaches” and they made the whole side of his head and face hurt. He couldn’t even brush his hair without extreme pain.
“You girls leave your mother alone. She came home with another migraine today.” My dad would warn us while my mother rested, writhed in pain or ran to bathroom to throw up again. And we would eat takeout for dinner if she hadn’t already suffered through cooking our meal BEFORE addressing her own needs and collapsing on the bed.
What I knew about her headaches were that they were called “migraines” and they typically made her lose her vision along with whatever she ate that day. Oh yeah… and I decided that between her and my father… adulthood pretty much sucked.
Fast forward to my junior year in high school. I vividly remember sitting in art class and reading a text book. I’m not sure why I wasn’t painting or drawing at the time but that is irrelevent here. As I looked at the grey lines of copy on the page I noticed that entire sections of the page began to disappear into what can only be described as bright, white blind spots. I felt funny and asked to be excused.
Sitting in the office while the secretary called my dad to come and get me — a terrible pain I had never felt before began gripping my forehead like a vise. On the ride home with him, the nausea came. He had to pull over just four houses down from ours as my lunch began to resurface. It was then that I remembered the horrible migraine headaches that my mother and grandmother (as I would later learn) got with some regularity. And it was then that I learned how privileged I too was to be a member of that genetic club. Thank you, mom and grandma… I love you too.
I have since learned to manage the migraines that fortunately only come around two to four times a year. I have a prescription, know some of the “triggers” and warning signs and have thus learned how to keep from losing my lunch or an entire day. I count myself lucky that I am not one of those chronic sufferers who get several in one week.
Fast forward AGAIN to four days ago. While managing an estate sale at Lee’s childhood home I began to feel a burning ache in my inner ear and several “ice pick” stabs to the back of my neck and head. I took my migraine medicine figuring it couldn’t hurt and waited for it to work. And I waited. And I waited some more. Nothing. The untouchable discomfort soon spread to the entire right side of my head and face and by dinner time I had trouble chewing because my jaw and teeth ached as well. And I couldn’t brush my hair without wincing. Thank you, dad.
Four days later of ice packs, towels wrapped tightly around my skull and “chill pills” to help me sleep… the headache (though vastly better) is still with me. Apparently, unlike it’s lesser-of-a-pain-in-the-ass cousin, the migraine… these “clusters” can last for several days. Severe episodes are often treated with visits to the ER and injections of steroids, strong pain killers and other drugs to help the sufferer through. OTC pain medications do NOT work and you wanna know the best part — they don’t KNOW what causes them other than GENETICS! Ha!
So, as much as I love and adore my amazing parents for ALL that they have done and continue to do for me and for EACH of the selfless sacrifices they have made in the name of love… I would also like to say a hearty thank you for the great genes too! I know you had nothing to do with it, really. But if I’d had the choice… I would have much rather inherited my mom’s knack for baking chocolately goodness from scratch… and my dad’s green thumb.