Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Anatomy of a Headache

I always know I'm about to get a sinus headache because I get a toothache.


After several trips to the dentist, it was explained to me in a not-so-patient tone that the roots of teeth come up surprisingly close to sinuses, and sinus swelling can put pressure on teeth, causing a toothache without a cavity.

My headaches start between my first and second molars. First it feels like I have something caught between them. Nothing is there. Slowly it starts to feel like I'd better have these teeth pulled or something, before they cause an infection that will kill the nerves of my face, but the dentist says that's not going to happen, so I cope.

If I take two Sudafed (the little red tablets) and two ibuprofen RIGHT THEN, as soon as I feel the problem starting, usually I can stop the headache in its tracks. I usually switch from my contacts to my glasses then as well, because the added pressure of two flimsy little contact lenses is enough to worsen sinus pressure for me, and that's not what I want.

At Loose Ends (that's knit night) yesterday, I got those symptoms. BUT I DID NOT HAVE IBUPROFEN.

As a result, I got a sinus headache. And when I didn't leave instantly for a cold, quiet, dark place, the headache quickly became a migraine.

Believe me when I tell you, if you think you've had a migraine, you're probably wrong. If you think "migraine" means "really bad headache" or "a headache I can live with but I'd rather not have to" or "a headache I have to lie down to get rid of" you're wrong. A migraine makes you think dying isn't so bad. A migraine makes you feel like dying is VERY GOOD. My mother has gotten migraines for most of my life, and people are constantly saying that they get them too, but the way they laugh and shrug and wonder why Mom can't just "pull herself together" the way THEY do means they have no idea what they're talking about. And, as a result, I lose my temper with them.

People who really have migraines talk about them differently. They go very serious and I swear, some of them look like old soldiers talking about war. Because finding medicine that can actually help you get rid of a migraine IS war, I watched my mother go through it all, back when you used to have to take your medicine by injection. Mom would have Dad give them to her because she couldn't manage it herself. He used to have to take her to the emergency room.

A migraine makes you feel like this.

Phineas Gage engraving, 2010, Warren Anatomical Museum,
Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine*

Sometimes, a migraine feels WORSE than that. And usually, the angle of entry on that railroad spike is different. Imagine the spike entering from the temple, then it's about right.

Migraines come with other fun things, like a heightened sense of smell. Wondering what newspaper ink really smells like? Walk past the local newspaper with a migraine! You'll also find yourself refusing to buy ballpoint pens because "the ink smells horrible," hating your family for cooking meals, thinking that the flowers outside are punishing you, hating the scent of balloons and inflatable pool toys, and so forth. Not appealing enough? How about sensitivity to light? Suddenly, velvet is in vogue again, and you have double-thick velvet curtains! Sensitivity to sound? Of course! You'll be screaming at relatives to stop "typing so loud" and yelling at your brother, "NORMAL PEOPLE DON'T LAUGH THAT LOUD," and generally making your bedroom a sound-free zone.

How about visual hallucinations? Those are fun, too. No, really. Those are fun. If you can get past the brain-crushing pain. Colors are very pretty and shiny.

You don't HAVE to get all of those extra symptoms with a migraine, but I do. Just like I get all the deadly, deadly side effects that come on the warning labels of prescription medications (metalfishdeath). Luckily, I don't get them as often as my mother does. I just get them when I make the stupid mistake of eating processed meats.

That means no hot dogs. Usually, anything sold in the hot dog section of a grocery store gives me a migraine. I am okay if I have kosher deli meats, because they're safe. But only if they're Kosher. I'm a big fan of Hebrew National hot dogs. The reason is nitrites. Sodium nitrite is used to preserve meat and keep it looking fresh. It does not preserve me.

But I know to avoid those things! So life is more or less okay.

Except for yesterday, when I made myself a frozen pizza. It was a new kind of pizza, with a super-thin crust and roasted red peppers and mushrooms and onion. And pepperoni. I have never had a problem with pepperoni before. Yesterday was an exception.

I left poor Rachael almost the second she arrived at knit night, raced down to CVS and bought ibuprofen. When I arrived at home, I threw up and went to bed. It was a great Tuesday.

You know how people say their leg or arm still hurts, after it's been amputated? That is how my head feels today. I don't HAVE a headache, but I feel the place where my headache used to be. It is unpleasant. And it stole my night from me, which should have been filled with knitting and maybe some Glee.**

No fair.***

*Image from the Center for the History of Medicine at Harvard University at Countway Library.

**Yes, I'm watching Glee. I hate myself a little.

***Was this entire blog post one long build-up to a complaint? Why yes, it was. I'll try to make the next one a bit less whiny.


  1. My teeth feel weird when I'm having allergy and sinus issues, it feels like someone is pressing on them, yuck!

  2. Isn't it weird? I keep hoping my dentist will come up with a cure, but he just gives me a strange look and tells me he can't put a pressure release valve between my teeth...

  3. It sounds just awful. I believe you.