It is my second week of in-patient hospitalization through the Michigan Headache and Neurological Institute. I have daily, intractable migraines, which just keep getting worse. They have affected my family life, my work life in a big, bad way, decreased my circle of friends, changed my retirement plans and much more. Migraine runs in the family, and unfortunately, I've passed this nasty disease on to my (now) 35-year-old son. The hospital was a huge step for me. I've never been in one except to birth my two kids, and that's, of course, quite different. I have learned many things here that I hope will help me when I go home. Michigan Headache and Neurological Institute is the oldest and one of the best headache pain programs in the country, which is why I chose it. The multidisciplinary team is impressive and the nurses have been fantastic.
One of the many things that drove me to seek help was that I began to realize I could no longer deal with numbers, a side effect of some medications. I couldn't make change, add my hours correctly on my request-for-leave form, not to mention subtract, multiply or divide. I became afraid that my teaching skills were slipping and it was therefore affecting my students and their learning.
Morning comes early in any hospital. A lab tech shows up to draw blood as I surface into semi-consciousness. It's 5 a.m. She leaves, and Peggy, my night nurse, plugs the IV tube into my arm to start my morning protocol of medications. By 7 a.m., breakfast arrives, and I'm told to "eat up" and get ready for morning rounds. To hell with food. I can eat later. I throw on my clothes and go to the kitchen to make my tea. I drink coffee, but that's not what seems to arrive in the cup on my tray. I like my morning brew dark and strong. I hustle to the green room and chat with a couple of folks from New York, Maya and her father Avi, who is a very funny man. He begins a long story about their cab ride to the hospital. Maya, wearing dark glasses to protect her from the painful light, rolls her eyes. I never do hear the end of the story as my name is called and I enter the conference room for morning rounds. There must be 15 to 20 people in the room, including neurologist Dr. Joel Saper, who established the program in 1978, more docs, physician assistants, nurses, psychologists, physical therapist, nutritionist, activity therapist, and more. Dr. Saper tells a story, asks questions, goes over my progress so far, asks if I have any questions. (I always do.) Then he changes course on my medications, and there is some discussion. After about 10 minutes I leave; the team has another brief discussion about and without me. Then the next person is called.
Migraines have been a part of my life since my childhood, and I'm now 65 years old. I am an artist, and I a few years ago I began to use my art to express the feelings, events and pain of migraine. My first piece was a doll, La Migraña, a self-portrait of sorts, now exhibited on line at the Pain Exhibit.com.
This recent stay at the hospital in Michigan was so intense and otherworldly for me that, so far, I have completed two small drawings and two large collages - a new medium for me. And I'm not through yet. Before I left the hospital on May 4, I saved and then packed all the miscellaneous papers generated by the institute and the hospital. My roommate Kathy was puzzled. Why was I carting all this garbage home? But I knew that what I had was the raw material for art that was already in process in my imagination. Art lets me get it all down - and out. Migraine is a difficult, lonely disease, but once I spend the thought, time, and energy to put it all together in a new work, I can move on to the rest of my life with more ease.
MORE ON MIGRANES
About 40 million Americans suffer from migraine, some 12 percent of the U.S. population. Seventy-five percent of those are women. According to the World Health Organization, migraines are a leading cause of disability worldwide. Twenty to 30 percent of U.S. soldiers returning from combat develop migraine disease. For more information, go the National Headache Foundation at headaches.org.
Whatcom artist Candy Meacham was an occupational therapist for 30 years. During her training, she encountered her first loom and began to weave. Now her days in the studio combine images and patterns fueled by stories she hears in the evenings when she teaches English to immigrants from around the world. For more information, go online to candymeacham.com.
Window On My World is an occasional essay in Monday's Bellingham Herald that allows Whatcom County residents to share their passion for what they do, an idea or cause they support. Send your Window On My World, which must be no more than 700 words, to Julie.firstname.lastname@example.org.