As a self-diagnosed hypochondriac, I have a tendency, when I am truly ill, to let things go really far before I admit it (and a reverse tendency to question whether I have every improbable disease when I am clearly not ill. For example, last summer I was convinced I had rabies). I felt, late last week, that I was getting ill but I wasn’t sure if I was really getting sick or if I was thinking I was getting sick, so I denied it and then boom, I ended up with this disgusting virus.
All day on Sunday, I felt that something was not right. I was anxious, panicked even and didn’t feel like I could or should rest. Then the headache started—right around 3PM. I thought it was just going to be a normal headache and treated it as such (I usually put on a wool hat, fill up my hot water bottle and put it on my forehead and lie down) but it was not a normal headache.
It was the mother of all headaches.
It wasn’t even a migraine. It was some sort of mutation of migraine and sinus headache. The pain was everywhere on my head—even behind my ears and at the base of my neck. I stayed in a dark and cool room with my dog by my side. Poor Allen running back and forth to check on me and try new things to see if they would take away my pain, feeling it almost as though it were his, too.
I tried petting the dog to take my mind off the pain but it only worked momentarily. Then I tried lying on my back with my arm over my head. Didn’t work. On my stomach, with my head buried under the pillow. Didn’t work. On my side. Didn’t work.
Here’s one that did work, if only for a few minutes: an old holdover position from childhood (I had a “nervous stomach”—this is what the doctor called it when I was five—as a child and had many stomach aches. Have we any wonder where the hypochondria came from?)—I tucked my knees up under my stomach and put my head into an almost handstand position—ah! The pressure was just about right to take away the pain for a while. But, as I said, this was fleeting.
One or two times I was able to focus on something else for a minute or two and get rid of the pain, but then I would remember it.
And then there was that moment, the dark one, when I thought or said aloud even, I would rather be dead than feel this pain. And my dog looked me in my eyes, telling me to take it back. To not wish for that. I took it back but it stayed there, lingering on the fringes of the pain, asking to be let back in, this thought.
And then came the vomiting. Horrible, wave upon wave, my body hot and cold and just when I would think it was done it would start again. Allen was about to call a priest for an exorcism, when it stopped.
And then sleep, oblivion. Wake up and the headache, while not gone, had changed to a normal headache. A headache one could deal with with advil and a cap and hotwater bottle.
That was yesterday. And today, I feel almost back to normal. My headache has turned to sinus pressure, my nausea is mostly gone. I took a walk and remembered how good it is to not be in pain.
I thought of how we women are programmed to take pain. It is part of our body’s training, probably so that we can make it through childbirth without losing our minds. Some of the stories you hear, about ripping, tearing, babies caught on the way out, hours and hours of brutal, excruciating pain and the relief. Coming through pain is like birth, being born.
Every month we relive and retrieve a certain amount of pain and realize that our bodies are functioning correctly. I feel a twinge in my ovary and know that I am ovulating. Fire running down my thighs and up into my womb and I know that I am about to get my period. I have learned to pay attention to it all. This is a gift. Often a horrible one, a gift we would rather return, but a gift nonetheless. And I do wonder what will be there when it’s gone?
And with this virus, too, my body did what was expected of it. It fought it and released it. It showed me that something was wrong and then it let it go. When I thought of death, I believe I was doing what is expected of me, as well—some genetic code, which tells us just how much we can stand. Typically, I can stand a lot and have a strong desire to live but this was different. I was tested and while some may say I failed, I believe I learned my limit or found that I have a further limit yet to test.