Monday, October 18, 2010

Right Between the Eyes

Big Eyes
Big Eyes
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
Contrary to popular belief, cruising is hard work. It is not, however, the same kind of hard work as living on land. Land is tedious, frankly, and we are all heartily sick of it. No number of beautiful train rides through stunningly green spring pasture and meadow can make up for the fact that this train is taking me to a grey and blue cubicle on the tenth floor of a downtown office building. I think the worst part of working in cubby-land again is the lighting. Flourescent lighting is a complete menace. To those of us who are sensitive to the flickering, it's like being immersed in a spinning, dizzying white walled hell. As I stare at the monitor trying to make sense of the words in front of me, I recognize the incipient signs of an ocular migraine.

Unless you have had the dubious pleasure of experiencing an ocular migraine, it's hard to overstate how much it hurts. The first sign of the headache is a glittering, glazing effect. It's like the world is coming in to your eyes in chunks that your brain decides to randomly rearrange and send into constant motion. It's nauseating and disturbing, but this isn't the bad part. The next phase is when the motion becomes so extreme that you literally can not see what you are doing through the ever-shifting cascade of random images. Yet still we are not done. Now the world begins in one corner of your eye to be overlaid with sharply delianiated chevrons and stripes. These too are in motion, zig zagging across the field of view in ever growing, mesmerizing patterns.

Now... NOW... the headache hits. Up to this point, it's merely been a parade of increasingly nauseating, unpleasant visual auras and disturbances -- distracting and delibitating but not particularly painful. When the pain does make it's presence known, however, it is like someone is putting your head in a 360 degree vice and tightening rapidly. The pain is punishing, the neck and upper back clench in sympathy, and the body just shuts down.

I have found two cures for migraine -- neither of which are practical in a downtown office building. The first involves an incredibly hot bath or shower at the first onset of symptoms. DrC tells me this dilates the blood vessels in the neck and brain, the increased blood flow stemming the progress of the headache. I stand in the shower with the water just short of scalding and let it flow from the top of my head down the back and over my shoulders until my skin turns bright red and I feel like collapsing in an overheated puddle. Then I take a handful of iburpofin and lie down for awhile until my skin is no longer hot to the touch. This works. What also works is to simply skip the shower, take the ibuprofin, cover the eyes so absolutely no light gets in, and sleep until the episode is over.

I am very fortunate. My migraines generally only last for two or three hours. They leave me tired, cranky and bitchy but essentially unscathed. Online, you can read horror stories of migraines lasting days, weeks, even chronic. No joke, but if that were me I'd seriously be talking to the hemlock crowd. It's very hard to imagine the drain of constant, intense chronic pain. At minimum and regardless of the choices I would make in that situation, I empathize with the limits of their choices.

Here in the grey soul-less corporate world there is no escaping the worst of this headache. I can't lie down in a dark place, I can't take a hot shower, I can't escape the flourescent lights which are a known trigger. The commute home is nearly two hours -- by which time I will have endured both the peak and the valley of this particular episode. There's nothing to do but to get a large cup of water, turn on some Vangelis, and pretend to work. I'll make it up to them when I get home. For now, I'm just going to dream of a sunny beach on Hiva Oa.
The Tropical Butterfly Garden
The Tropical Butterfly Garden
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.


Relentless Toil said...

Hello from MY fluorescent-lit cube farm! We have a fellow here who wears a canvas sun visor like golfers used to wear - looks lame, seems to work great. I am thinking of acquiring and dolling up my own with supreme bling.

kherbert said...

This is why in my classroom I keep the overhead lights off and use lamps around the room + the projector when possible.

Also florescent lights are the worse for kids with LD's.

Anonymous said...

I've found that using something like Deep Freeze on my forehead helps enormously. Works far better than 'HeadOn' or Tiger Balm. Combine with ibuprofen for best effect..

judith said...

I would have these when I was still in the classroom and once after I moved into the office. I found working with my sunglasses on seemed to help if I caught it early enough. Most of the time I'd have to cover one eye to combat the nausea and then just go home and go to bed. It really made a difference once I got glasses that I wear all the time.

Unknown said...

First time commenter, so take this with a grain of salt.

My wife (a third year resident doctor) uses Zomig (zolmitriptan) in nasal spray form, when she has the symptoms of a break-through migraine. It seems to help her a lot. From what I understand, it does not seem to entirely stop the migraine and it's symptoms, rather it seems to mediate them greatly.

I'm not sure if it is available in New Zealand at the moment, but once you're back state-side (assuming you fly back to Seattle first) to pick up Don Quixote down in Mexico, you should check the product out.

best wishes, and enjoy the ride!

The Captain