Let’s Do It Like They Do on the Discovery Channel (March 1, 2013)

Scared Panda


Although I work in a creative field, one of the personal attributes that instills the greatest amount of pride is the ability to think logically and rationally. Although knee-jerk instinct is often emotional or sentimental, I am proud of the fact that I am usually able to take a step back and evaluate the potential short and long-term effects of a decision.

Yeah, but all of that good sense goes right out the window when we’re talking about anything involving a trip to the doctor’s office. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: a young mother takes her 5 year-old daughter for booster shots right before the start of the kindergarten school year. The mother’s 3 year-old daughter needs a shot too and comes along for the outing. The mother has chosen a Catholic charity as the vendor for the immunizations as the family is on a tight budget. The nun in full habit (this was the early 1980s) who has been assigned to the little girls decides to start with the younger one, surmising that she may be the more scared patient. She whips out her air gun and gently walks the toddler through the procedure before the injection. The 3 year-old barely moves and doesn’t make a sound. The perfect disciple.

The 5 year-old witnessing this exchange decides that, despite her sister’s fortitude, she wants nothing to do with what’s coming and takes off at a full bore run. Cue Hollywood-style chase scene with mother and a pack of nuns hitching up their skirts in hot pursuit of the runaway kindergartner. Our heroine manages to evade the villains for long one stretch of hallway and a full flight of stairs before being snatched by her angry and embarrassed parent. With mom virtually sitting on top of the hysterical child while clucking Sisters lament the little one’s irrationality, the nuns finally manage to disperse the inoculation.

I will leave it to the reader to decide which child was me.

This anecdote was chosen for its physical comedy as well as to drive home the point that not much has changed. Several years ago my ex-husband Eddie drove me to the emergency room to seek help for a violent gastrointestinal infection. The IV inserted into my arm dispensed necessary electrolytes as well as antibiotics that would immediately start to attack the bacteria. In principle, I understood this. In practice, the unnatural feel of a tube extending from my arm won and it was only by calling in nurses with restraints that the IV was permitted to continue its work. If you think I bore Eddie’s traitorous behavior with silent resignation, then you haven’t been following this post. I am the nightmare, worst case scenario patient about which medical students are warned.

Tomorrow morning, bright and early, I am to undergo to CT scan with contrast in an attempt to identify the underlying causes of a chronic, cluster migraine condition that has grown persistently more acute and resistant to treatment. I have scheduled the procedure first thing in the morning so as to decrease the amount of time I have to overthink, perhaps even flee the scene, before the doctors can do their work. This strategy will in no way prevent me from spending a sleepless night imagining all sorts of innovative horrors that cannot possibly live up to the hype, but this is the best I can do to work around an absurd and delirious self that I barely recognize.

When it comes to enduring emotional trauma, I am a veritable Odysseus with a seemingly endless capacity to pick myself up and move forward. Yet the idea of a pinprick elicits foolish hysterics of which I would otherwise be ashamed, if I weren’t too busy dropping banana peels while bolting out the door.

Pity the long-suffering partner who has volunteered to escort (perp walk) me to this appointment. Neither one of us has had much time to consider the actual possibility that the CT scan will reveal a larger problem, busy as JC has been deflecting my attempts to evade the whole experience. So manipulative has this baser self been this week that, well aware groundless emotional appeals will fall upon my partner’s scientific-minded deaf ears, she has resorted to more logical-sounding budgetary concerns. As we know America’s health care delivery system sucks, and even with a “Cadillac” insurance plan, the CT scan will still run upward of $1,000 dollars I don’t have. JC says this is why God made credit cards (an avowed atheist, this retort is an obvious dig at my willingness to grasp any straw to avoid the scan – harrumph!).

I have worked for years in therapy sessions, through writing and silent contemplation to attempt to understand and overcome this situational Dissociative Identity Disorder – to no avail. A simple comprehension that the CT scan is a pathway to unlocking a year’s worth of on and off pain and misery is not enough to calm Crazy Becky, or dissuade her from concocting ever more desperate plans. As calmly as I sit here analyzing and disavowing her refusal to engage reality, I also understand that when the moment comes, all bets are off.

Why is rational self-control so difficult, especially for a grown woman in possession of her faculties, completely aware that the actual discomfort of the scan cannot outlast the torture she inflicts on herself and others? Just a drop of fortitude would expedite everything for everybody. I hate Crazy Becky just as much as everyone else does. But she takes control at the mere smell of hospital antiseptic. It’s at moments like this that it becomes starkly clear when all is said and done, I am not the cosmopolitan thinker I imagine. I’m just a dumb animal obeying a carnal flight or fight response, a lemming going over the cliff, unable to understand she’s running toward her own, avoidable misery.


Migraine Season (February 7, 2013)

Migraine Season



This is the kind of winter that migraine sufferers dread. Take last week for example. Here in Chicago the temperature touched 61 degrees on Tuesday, the warmth punctuated by springlike showers. By Thursday morning, the mercury stopped climbing at 10 degrees with brutal winds and icy road conditions.

Remember when the El Nino weather pattern was the subject of much news coverage back in 1997 and 1998? Well as a native Chicagoan, I never saw what the fuss was about. It’s El Nino here all year-round. Many times we cycle the four seasons all in the same Windy City day. As a child and young adult, the varying climate was either a fun adventure or a wardrobe challenge, but as I enter my mid-30s, in peak mental condition, but somewhat hobbled physically, the volatile elements have a similar effect on my temperament.

Back in November of 2012, on Election Day to be precise, I fractured my coccyx and sacrum in a bad judgment call involving L’il Red, a yellow light and an SUV. As an avid gym goer and infamous pain intolerant, the long recovery of this injury, aggravated by the bipolar nature of a Chicago winter, has left me rather short on patience – with myself and others. Midsummer last year I was also diagnosed with a debilitating cluster migraine condition that has been stubbornly difficult to regulate. The worst fate for a control freak is the body’s capricious tendency to dive into a tailspin of throbbing pain and nausea that can endure for days. In the worst moments of these episodes, I cannot talk or write. The ability to communicate, an attribute I value so highly, drowns in suicidal levels of painful inertia. To look at my scientific, solutions-oriented partner in the eyes and see a helplessness I can’t comfort may be the cruelest turn of all.

As I sit here typing these words, it’s a manageable 32 degrees outside but freezing rain has been dropping in sheets since the middle of the night. I know this because I awoke with a dull pressure ache in my sinuses when the downpour began. My physician, the eminently patient and kind Dr. Gong, has theorized that the parts of my brain which trigger a migraine don’t seem to know how or when to shut themselves off. This could explain why the headaches can last for days and are immune to all the usual remedies. My brain just ignores what’s good for it. Wouldn’t be the first time.

Throughout two years of recovery and convalescence, which began in early 2011 when I said goodbye to my ex-husband and our broken marriage, I was warned about the mind-body continuum. While I was in survival mode, on constant high alert, the ability to function without food, sleep or emotional balance was a phenomenon to be taken for granted. It was only paradoxically as I began to relax and morph into the new, less self-defeating person I am on the inside that the body started to give way: a battle with cervical cancer, the cluster migraines, alopecia, insomnia. If my psyche is in large degree healed, why can’t my body get with the program? It seems it feels the need to follow the arc of this typical Chicago winter: up, down, all-around and completely outside my jurisdiction.