Monday, December 10, 2007

essay excerpt

Hi! Below is an excerpt from my migraine essay. This is the beginning; the rest of the piece includes a detailed description of the most recent migraine, more on the migraines of my female family members, examination of what could be some of my migraine triggers, and a bit about my health/state of mind during the migraine-free years. Let me know if you have questions. Thanks for reading and I look forward to hearing about the rest of your projects next week!

(As we would say in publishing all the time, right up until a book went to the printer, this is NOT TO BE CONSIDERED FINAL! I'm still proofing, refining, etc.)

The Mind of a Migraineuse

On a gray, humid day in late summer, Lauren S. decided to take a walk in the park by her house. She had awakened that morning feeling discombobulated, like her skin was too tight for her body, and thought the edginess may have been due to the fact that she hadn’t exercised since moving from peaceful Vermont to suburban New Jersey three weeks earlier. A mild sinus headache pulsated by the top of her nose as she washed the previous night’s dishes, but she put on her sneakers and headed out anyway.
She completed two laps around the duck pond then returned home. Tired, thirsty, hot, and hungry, she changed out of her sweaty clothes and opened cupboards in search of lunch. That’s when it happened: While reading the cooking instructions for Annie’s microwaveable mac and cheese, Lauren realized she couldn’t make out the words on the box. She glanced away and back again; still a blind spot. The sun was tucked behind a thick quilt of clouds and none of the lamps in the house were turned on, so her impaired vision couldn’t be the result of accidentally looking directly at a light. This was Lauren’s first migraine in fourteen years.
She was a frizzy-headed, bifocal-wearing kid of nine when migraine made its first appearance in Lauren’s life. It was a hot day halfway through her first summer at sleep-away camp and her parents were visiting, there to watch her in a play later that evening. In the afternoon she developed a headache unlike any she’d had before, a rhythmic, dull throbbing on one side of her head, inches behind her right eye, deep within the skull. When she coughed or turned too quickly the pain would bounce to her scalp as well. After two hours of rest in her quiet, dark bunk, she felt better. If her mother and sister—both migraines sufferers—understood from her description of the pain that it was her first migraine, they kept this to themselves. She appeared in the play that night as scheduled. As far as she knew, there was no vision disturbance—the migraine aura—before the headache began.
The second came a few months later when Lauren was in fourth grade and this time she knew what it was because, before her head began to ache, the blue rules on her sheet of paper seemed to wiggle away and disappear behind a beam of light. Her mother had described this light, like a sun spot or the after effects of a camera’s flash. This migraine also lasted just a couple of hours and she waited it out in the carpeted corner of the classroom, surrounded by bookshelves. She was grateful that, so far, her migraines seemed more like her mother’s than her sister’s: While their mother could take over-the-counter pain relievers at the first sign of migraine and continue to function, her sister was left incapacitated, bedridden for hours, only getting up to throw-up.
Her good luck continued until puberty, around her twelfth birthday. Up to that point, the migraines were coming once or twice a year; after fifteen or twenty minutes of disrupted vision the headache would beat its dull, continuous thud on one side of her head and pass after two or three hours; she never became nauseated; and the only residual pain she experienced came when she laughed or coughed, like a jab to her scalp. This changed suddenly. Instead of an episode of a few hours, her migraines became all-day events. The headache itself, which she had previously thought of as finger tapping her from within, turned violent, no longer a finger but a fist, beating her up from the inside out, the waves of pain bursting from the blows tumultuous, crashing, incessant. The only time the headache would lessen, just a little, for just a few minutes, was after she vomited, which she did over and over again. She was either writhing in bed or running to the toilet. Four, five, six hours into the headache the aura would return, diamonds of light piercing her eyes, reminding her that it wasn’t close to being over; it may never end. And this was happening about once a month. Unable to keep anything down, medicine came in the form of suppositories, administered by her mother.
One of her worst migraines came a few months after her thirteenth birthday. It was a Monday—she had seen Dead Poet’s Society with her mother the day before—and hot: She wore a tank top to school. She’d eaten Apple Jacks for breakfast, slurping down the sweet pink milk after all the cereal was gone. She was at school just long enough to feel self-conscious about her pubescent boobs in the tank top, but not long enough to digest breakfast. An expanding star of blinding light floating in front of her eyes, she got home quickly, took Tylenol before the nausea would make swallowing anything impossible, put on pajamas, and settled into her parents’ big bed, a few feet from their bathroom. Apple Jacks shot out of her nose the first two times she vomited, but not the next nine. Sometime in the evening, when her family was eating dinner, the headache finally began to fade. She put on MTV, watched the video for Tom Petty’s “Runnin’ Down a Dream,” changed her mind, shut the television off. The next day a remnant of the headache was still there but felt like her early migraines, a nagging finger poking her in the right side of her brain.