I know headaches or: Memoirs of a Middle-Aged Mess


SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK



                Oh yeah, I know headaches.

                Headaches usually come in two types: The one that starts with the body and the one that starts with the mind. I suppose if someone decided to smash a bottle over your head, it would be their mind and your body. I don’t recommend this.

                There’s the “You screwed up your spine and the pain’s radiating into your head” headache. I screwed up my spine at a fire in downtown Albion, in 1983, and it’s been screwed up ever since. Just for fun, the location of my back pain changes frequently: lower, middle, upper, up and down like some manic kid is playing air guitar on my spinal cord. I suppose the headache comes when he smashes my spinal guitar on the stage.

                There’s the “You have kids” headache. Early on it’s caused by noisemaking devices, or by common objects being turned into noisemaking devices, such as pots and pans, window panes, small pets, and siblings. Later it’s caused by wondering what your kids are doing, and remembering what you were doing at their age. This headache commonly lasts from 40-60 years.

                There are two kinds of cluster headaches: One is characterized by severe pain on one side of the head. The other has a variety of causes, such as studying politics, getting stuck in traffic, or trying to figure out a family dinner seating arrangement when half the family hates the other half. This second type of cluster headache is often characterized by people moaning, “What a cluster …”

                Only a few times have I had headaches that met the definition of a migraine, and they were mild by migraine standards – which means I overmedicated, rather than begging someone to just shoot me.

                Overmedicating leads to the next type of headache, the rebound headache. Take too much headache medicine, and it gives you a headache. The irony … well, the irony makes my head ache.

                Then there’s the bean headache. No, not from eating beans – that problem’s at the other end. I’m talking about when you bean yourself on something, such as a low hanging branch (as in my front yard) or a badly placed pipe (such as my basement). Not that it ever happened to me.

                The stress headache is caused by ... well, a lot of the stuff above can cause stress headaches. When my doctor asked me if I’d been stressed lately, I just laughed. Laughter is a great stress reliever, although maybe not the kind of sarcastic, half-hysterical laughter the Doc heard from me.

                Then there’s the sinus headache.

                The main cause of a sinus headache is living in the Midwest. Not just here, though: Experts believe that not only are sinus headaches common, but that they progress to sinus infections for 30 million people every year, just in America. Untreated sinusitis can cause permanent damage to the sinuses and lead to meningitis, bone infections, heavy drinking, or throwing people through windows when they ask how you feel. Knowing that causes stress, which leads to headaches, which leads to medicating, which leads to rebound headaches …

                During December I embarked on an epic journey into the medical world, involving a full blood draw, multiple office visits, lectures, and two courses of antibiotics.  I had a bunch of problems that needed to be looked into, so as long as I was going in about one I asked about all of them. That was my mistake. By the time the testing was done, the Doc had me on so many medications that the pharmacy named a filing cabinet after me.

                There was heavy-duty ibuprofen for my back pain and tennis elbow; baby aspirin and fish oil for my cholesterol and family history of heart attacks; some stuff that I can’t pronounce for acid reflux; and of course the antibiotic. They also put me on an anti-depressant, telling me it was for my seasonal affected disorder. I suspect they really gave that to me because of the look on my face when I realized I was now taking more drugs than my grandmother.

                Then, because my sinus swelling wasn’t going away, they gave me a shot of Cortisone.

                I haven’t had a shot in – that place, shall we say my hip – since I was a kid. It went in very smoothly; then I couldn’t sit or walk straight for an hour.

                Now, here’s the fun part – and those of you over forty who have to take more than one medication probably see this coming: Instead of the headache going away, it moved. Over the next few days it migrated from the sinuses behind my face to the top of my head, the back of my head, my jawline, my upper neck – pretty much everywhere else. The drugs forced my sinuses into retreat, and now they were taking over the rest of my head!

                I sat there, sweating, feeling hot even though it was December, unable to sleep, feeling anxious, and after awhile I thought: “Hey. I don’t ever sweat or feel hot in December, and I can always fall asleep. What a cluster.”

                A little research revealed that both the anti-depressant and the Cortisone had the following symptoms: anxiety; insomnia; and, of course, headache. (The Cortisone threw in the sweating, which – ew.)

                I had been victimized by modern medicine.

                So that’s the story of how, in the space of one month, I moved from being a young man to a broken down middle aged mess. I thought this was supposed to be a gradual thing … but fast or slow, it sure turned out to be a headache.

16 comments:

  1. I've had sinus infections on a couple of occasions, and it had me wanting to drive my head into the wall. It was no fun at all.

    I suspect that if I'd ever have kids, I'd have ended up with a lot of headaches!

    And the cluster-headaches... well, let's see, seeing as how I'm pretty much permanently done with two members of my family, the figuring out the seating arrangements would lead to one of those!

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    1. The difference is that if you have a sinus headache you can improve it by taking medications, while if you have a loud kid headache you can improve it by giving *them* medications!

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  2. I too suffer from migraines and sinus issues. It sucks. Literally. Anyway, this piece is one of many reasons why you're sooo hot, Mark.

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  3. You handled such a serious matter in such a great way! I hate headaches, too, and I'm lucky I don't get bad ones often, but I have had a couple that made me wish I were put out of my misery! One was form a toothache. My previous root canal was done wrong and they missed a part of the root and it got infected and they could not find which tooth was bothering me until I went to a specialist. I suffered for a week where I thought the top of my head would come off or explode and it would come in cycles of intensity. Strange thing was I overdosed on Ibuprofen (and that is dangerous) and still the pain did not leave!! I finally got relief when the doc redid the rootcanal (immediately it felt better). Whew! Believe me I feel for you! And don't buy into all that modern medicine. They love to give you prescriptions for anything and everything. Try to find more natural methods or vitamins to deal with some of it. Some medicines and their side effecs will lead you to feeling worse! I hope you feel better soon!

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    1. We're definitely overmedicated, these days. I've been lucky enough not to have had a bad toothache, but Emily's had them and I'm glad I haven't!

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  4. Mark this is excellent! Many can relate to all of this. (The fact it's written amazingly entertainingly is no surprise!)

    Just stay off the anti-depressants. They are often prescribed for back pain, but one of their side effects is depression. And addiction. Just throw away the prescription.

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    1. Emily can't take anti-depressants for that reason; for me, at a fairly low dose, they go a long way toward helping me get through Indiana winters. You wouldn't want to be around me this time of year before Zoloft!

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  5. Having experienced every one of these headaches, I can also add that not having any medical insurance is a big headache. It means no doctor visits for me and no medications either. I guess this kind of headache will keep me from getting the over medication headache. Maybe I should be happy I don't have insurance? Now there's a thought!

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    1. My fiancee can testify to that -- she doesn't have insurance, either. And, while it really is true that it's best to avoid medications if possible, insurance can sure come in handy!

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  6. I've had all these, and the migraines and the sinuses are worse. Wait until your migraine lasts several days, you go to the doctor and he insists on giving you a shot of whatever and life becomes a fantasy of odd colors and lots of sleep, and tripping over yourself if you're not careful until it wears off and the migraine comes back. I love this post, Mark. One of your funniest.

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    1. Thanks, Donna -- I have to admit, I hope I never get that migraine!

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  7. Sounds like a sciatic nerve. I only know this because my husband is in pain too and I sent him to the acupuncture guy. Try it, he feels a lot better.

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    1. My chiropracter does a pretty good job of fixing me up -- I just keep breaking myself again!

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  8. ugh.. headaches. I am a lifelong Migraine Sufferer (Thanks, Mom!). I wake up with them so there is no preventative measures to be taken. I have had other types of headaches as well.
    Headaches suck. Especially Bean headaches!

    Great post, Mark.

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    1. They all have their own little areas of suckage!

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