Tuesday, January 11, 2011


I had a really good weekend. Most weekends with DH qualify as "really good", except the ones that rank as "fantastic". This one was somewhere in between the two. I got less work done on my thesis than I had hoped to, but I got some work accomplished, and I was able to sleep in both mornings and still do some wandering around the Chicagoland area with my favorite person.

We started the weekend on Friday night at a very hip art exhibit opening at Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art, where we were so hip we were on the guest list so we got in for free. I am related to one of the artists in the exhibit and I'm very very proud of him... and this is supposed to be a quasi-anonymous blog, so I'll stop there. But if you're around Chicago, do check out the New Chicago Comics exhibit this month - there's some really cool stuff there.

On Saturday DH found a sheet-music store that he wanted to check out, so check it out we did, and then we continued wandering, like we do, and - as happens when we're both gamboling around together - we talked. We had a conversation that was important enough to span both days of the weekend, important enough to ponder in my heart during the times we weren't talking.

Important Conversations are part of really good weekends, too.

On Sunday, after church and lunch, we went for a long, sunny stroll in our neighborhood. We walked along the frozen lake. We talked and didn't talk. We noted the high number of cute dogs being taken for walks, and the big chunks of ice on the lake.

Before we'd left for our walk, I had started to get something of a headache, but we both thought the walk and the fresh air would help. It did help, temporarily, but when we got home and I sat down, my head started hurting a bit more. I began having trouble keeping my eyes open. I decided that what I needed, despite needing to work on my thesis or on dinner or on dishes or on something, was a nap. (This should have been a warning, I'm a terrible napper.) I went in to our bedroom and laid down in the dark and tried to sleep. But my headache just grew in ferocity, and I couldn't sleep. And then I felt like I wanted to puke.

And then I knew what was happening.


I used to think that migraines were made up, or exaggerated. There was a time in my youth when I just didn't think anyone could have a headache that bad. Seriously, buck up. It's only a headache. But one summer break from college when I was in my home town, working a somewhat-dull office job, I got my first known migraine. I'm fairly sure it was the worst migraine I've had, actually - I was unable to function at all. I remember shuffling in to a small, unoccupied office, turning off the lights, laying my head on the desk, and wishing I could cry if it just wouldn't hurt so much. I couldn't move. Breathing too deeply made my head want to shatter. I wanted to vomit, but I knew that the act of moving toward a wastebasket would make my pressurized forehead explode into a million fiery pieces. Walking to the bathroom was simply not feasible.

I finally just told my boss I was sick. I can't remember how I got myself home, but I managed to get a doctor's appointment for the next day. The pain, by then, was mostly gone, but I described it to my family doctor. He's a general practitioner in a small town where everybody knows everyone. His kids went to school with me. I trusted him, for good reason.

His first question was, "What did you eat yesterday?"

I didn't know that migraines ever have a cause, I thought they were just mysterious punishment from the beyond. So I presumed this was just some kind of unconnected standard procedure.

So I started to list it off: I'd had a ham sandwich for lunch that day, Chinese food for dinner the night before, a similar ham sandwich for lunch two days ago, some bacon with breakfast that day...

"I think I know what caused it."



So it turns out that many meat products in the US, and anything made in a Chinese fast-food restaurant, are treated with nitrites - preservatives used primarily to make meat look more pink. Americans really are that obsessed with appearance, it seems, that we'll put freaky chemicals in our deli meats so they won't adopt a greyish tinge. And then we'll ingest those chemicals without a second thought.

And, as it happens, some weaker individuals develop an intolerance to those chemicals.

This weekend, as I was curled up in a ball in my darkened bedroom, I thought through the last few days. And the answer dawned on me in that migraine-way where an idea actually hurts: "Chinese food!"

Before we went to the schmancy museum opening, we stopped at Panda Express for a quick dinner. I observed to DH that, though the place was two blocks from my office, I'd never gotten food there before. I wasn't sure why not, I said, as I happily munched some spicy beef and fried rice.

Because you can't eat commercially-produced Chinese food, Schmei.

This seems to be my pattern: I'll go as long as a year being very careful not to eat anything that contains nitrites, and then I'll get hubristic and conveniently forget this truth about myself. And THEN I inevitably eat six nitrite-laced meals in 48 hours, which makes me a sniveling, nauseous, cringing mess. I didn't only have Chinese food this weekend. Over the course of three days, I had Chinese food, pepperoni pizza (pepperoni generally has nitrites in it), a few bites of DH's turkey bacon club sandwich (bacon = nitrites. So does turkey, often), and two hot dogs (is there anything that occurs in nature in a hot dog?).

I guess to some degree the Important Conversations had left me not really paying attention to what I was doing.

Fortunately, the doctor back home had told me that, as soon as I felt like I was getting a migraine, I should take two ibuprofen and just not move for an hour or so. I'm fairly stubborn about taking painkillers, but I knew I couldn't tough this thing out. I took the pills. DH got me a can of seltzer water to help settle my hash. I wrapped myself in a blanket on the couch and half-watched a football game (side note: commercials these days are REALLY bright and jerky, aren't they? Ow.) and sipped my fizzy water. Roughly every ten minutes, DH would ask "how're you doing?" And I'd say "better." Once he was sure I wasn't going to follow it up with "better get a bucket," I think he became a bit less concerned.

An hour later, though I was still a little woozy, the headache was definitely subsiding.

I'm blessed to have migraines that come with known causes and leave with known solutions. I know there are folks who just get them for no reason, or who get them for days, or who have chronic headaches that never go away. And that is simply terrible. I think people who are dealing with that level of pain and are doing anything but lying in the dark feeling sorry for themselves deserve medals or cash awards or a special place in heaven. Or all three.

It's difficult for people who haven't experienced migraines - people like my younger self - to appreciate how impossible it is to function with one, and in the rosy way that human memory works, I eventually forget how much they hurt until I wash my Spicy Asian Beef down with a ham sandwich and hate myself later. But once again I've learned my lesson. Each time I learn it, the lesson seems to stick for a little longer, so maybe I can make it something like two years before I do the migraine thing again.

So, that was my weekend: 93% fantastic and 7% agonizing.

Overall, it was really good.

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