Lori Thatcher

Writing and Thinking about writing

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Once a month or so, a pinpoint of light appears in the center of my field of vision. If I’m watching TV or driving in the car, I don’t notice it at first, but if I’m staring at a blank page or even the blank computer screen, I see it right away.

This time, I pick up the bottle of liquid Advil capsules nearby and realize it’s empty. I shake it to make sure, and then panic. I yell to my husband to help me find some. There’s usually a small supply in my handbag and another in the car, since I don’t want to be caught without it. The sooner I take them, the less time I will lose to this migraine.

By the time I down the pills, the point has grown to a circle, the size of a penny at arm’s length. Within the tiny circle, the colors are brighter and distorted by undulating lines. It’s not dissimilar to the areas of wavy glass on very old window panes that bend and alter the light passing through them.

It’s impossible to look away from it. As I avert my gaze, it follows, always in the center of my field of vision. It’s like the floaters in my aging eyes, except when I try to look straight at those, they jump to the side. This spot is impossible to look away from. Even closing my eyes doesn’t make it disappear and it carries into the dark of shielded eyes or unlit room, the last colors in view, magnified and sparkling.

By now it’s impossible to read written words. Soon it would be dangerous to drive, or for me, even to walk.

By the time it’s grown to the size of an apricot at arm’s length, the spot will change into a zigzag, wavy, backwards C. It will continue growing, usually until it takes up half of my field of view.

I go and lie down with my hand over my eyes to wait out the twenty minutes it usually takes for it to develop and then dissolve.

Except that this time, the capital C is not backwards and it disappears before it gets much bigger than a grapefruit. Different than usual.

Still, I’ll have to wait another twenty to thirty minutes to know if I medicated fast enough to dodge the headache completely, or just to mute it. Regardless, I’ll be left slightly nauseated, like I imagine a mild hangover would feel, similar to how I feel the day after taking the Valium that allows me to tolerate being constricted in an MRI.

The first time I experienced this migraine, I was in my thirties. Late for supper, I was making a quick stop at a discount store after a long day at work and before a long drive home, desperate to find an appropriate white blouse for a performance by the chorus I had joined recently. Without warning, the light in the store changed, increasing in intensity and appearing to flicker. I tried to ignore it, but finally, with several white shirts in my hand, I ducked into the dressing room and cowered on the bench. Lines of fluorescent lights above me changed into menacing zigzag teeth. Was I losing my sanity?

Closing my eyes didn’t help, the gaping mouth stalked into the dimmed area behind my eyelids. I froze and attempted to slow my breathing and relax; perhaps it was just stress playing tricks on me. After a while the visions dispersed and I flew out of the cubicle and thrust the hangers at the attendant mumbling something about the clothes not working.

I was already more than half way home when the nausea hit and horrid pain clamped onto my head. I took some aspirin from the glove department, dissolving several of the foul tasting tablets in my mouth. But it was too late to help. A half hour later, I limped up the steps into my home, said barely a word to my husband and tunneled under my bedcovers. Sleep brought relief but the next morning, I felt hung over.

The lull between the visual disturbance and the headache was such that it took two more occurrences before I made the connection. Now it’s a rush—get some pills into me as soon as I see the pinprick and I can intercept and knock down the worst. I still get the hangover, but it’s not dreadful.

I feel lucky not to undergo the excruciating, debilitating pain most migraine victims do. If I have to be a migraine sufferer, this silent migraine or “aura type” is probably the best type of migraine to have. As soon as I think that, it seems silly to me, like I had any choice in it. But not quite the same way it did in 2003 when my gynecologist called me in on lunch hour with the office closed and dark—“Knock on the window and I’ll let you in.”—to hold my hand and gently tell me I had cancer. She said, “If you have to have cancer, this is the one to have.” I pray it will be, one day, a world where no one has to have cancer, or for that matter, migraines.