It comes out of the blue. Other conditions invade the body gradually, they stand on the doorstep and knock softly or at least cough. “Um, sorry to bother you, but your stomach really isn’t feeling well – perhaps it was something you ate?” “Gee, I hate to do this, but that scratching at the back of your throat, yeah, that’s me.” Not the migraine – it doesn’t shuffle its feet, or clear its throat; there is no gentle tapping here. Migraine breaks down the door and invites itself in.
It comes from the black, perhaps some void between sanity and madness? One minute everything is fine. You’re opening a pomegranate in a glass bowl of water, freeing the little rubies, the arils, from the spongy, Styrofoam connective tissue. You watch the juice bleed into the water; you trace the swirls with your eyes. Then you realize that the swirls aren’t in the bowl, they are in your brain.
Most of the time, it’s easy to forget that the nervous system is one big, complex electrical circuit. Easy until the lightning strikes. The aura, they call it, that series of flashes and swirling lines zapping across the brain. Some people get sound; I get lights. Perhaps the circuits fail at my weak point, my myopic eyes, perhaps it strikes the sense I use most. I live for color and pattern, the aura shreds those pictures with electric arcs of chaos. But, that’s sheer fancy, and the scientist in me knows better. The attack is not personalized; it is a matter of circulation and wiring, susceptibility to certain triggers.
The other half of the pomegranate sits on the orange laminate counter, a pool of its blood near its feet. Throughout the day, the arils will darken, congealing as the carcass of white tissue desiccates around them. It will sit there, half a globe, the swirling patterns of seed reminding me of the flashes of aura, the folds of tissue reminding me of the sulci and gyri of the brain. My brain has been ironed flat, then crumpled into a ball. The pomegranate will rest on the counter until my husband comes home to make dinner. He will move it, uncertain whether to throw it out, to the top of the microwave. I can’t touch it.
The aura is migraine’s way of letting me know it has arrived. “Take your meds now!” I stumble to the bedroom, passing Mike in the hall, saying, “Sorry. Migraine. Can you finish lunches?” I swallow two white capsules and fall into my bed, down the rabbit hole. Nothing else will happen that day. My daughter, home with a stomach ache, will fix her own ramen at lunch. “Mom, do you need anything?” she will ask, roles flipped. I can’t even cuddle her in my big bed. Every movement of the mattress rattles my skull and sloshes waves of nausea throughout my body.
Nothing else will happen. The over-the-counter pills will fall beneath the sledgehammer blows. I take a Vicodin. A five-hour nap later, I will try to write, pouring water into my wrung out body. One hundred words, two, a game of Mah Jong against the computer. The headache is returning, pressing against my eyeballs. Grilled cheese sandwich on white bread for dinner – not the Pugliese bread, just the sliced stuff for the kids’ lunches. I take another Vicodin and curl up on the couch, resting against my husband’s lap. My body floats away on a cloud of opiates, the headache and I stay on the couch.
The morning after, the storm has broken. I awaken an hour before my alarm, at my usual time. Brain and body have been reunited. Light is just light, sound merely sound. This is the gift of the migraine: the peace after the onslaught, door back on its hinges, unwelcome visitor gone.