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Humour: What not to say to a migraineur

A bleary-eyed look at the one-sided headache 

brunch Updated: Oct 15, 2017 13:04 IST
Rehana Munir
Migraine is  a non-glamorous headache that’s  impossible to ever communicate, leave alone transmit
Migraine is a non-glamorous headache that’s impossible to ever communicate, leave alone transmit(Photo Imaging: Parth Garg)

I must try yoga. I’m just waiting for the hype to die down.That’s the sum total of two-and-a-half decades of deep research into the cure for a condition that I’ve likely inherited. My paternal grandmother and maternal aunt have both struggled with it, so I can’t pin this down on an X or Y chromosome. My mother’s line of hot-blooded descendants are from a pre-Partition Punjab, and my father’s line of cool-headed descendants are from Aligarh, UP, not far from Agra, home to – what UP Tourism apparently believes – a nondescript marble monument made by some megalomaniac marauder.

But I digress. Anything to change the topic. Migraine appears to be quite the glamorous headache from the outside. But if you’re after glory, I urge you to try more hospitable conditions. A seasonal allergy. Or a gluten aversion. Something that’s either visible in an array of terrifying, ideally contagious, symptoms – itchy skin, runny nose, scratchy throat. Or a condition that hipster menus are only too happy to cater to. (‘Meatless meat on a bed of riceless rice, with lashings of nirvana.’)

If you’re a woman, a popular migraine remedy states the obvious: Have a baby, they say. It’s the cure for everything!

So this migraine – not only is it not glamorous, it’s impossible to ever communicate, leave alone transmit. “Oh, you have a headache?” I’m asked at the end of a typical five-day attack. “Yes,” I utter weakly, knowing exactly how Napoléon must’ve felt at the Waterloo village bar when asked, “Bad day, huh?” But that’s not all. “Have you tried drinking water? You must drink lots of water.” I nod at an amplitude and frequency that controls the retching while also preserving a friendship that’s rapidly galloped in the acquaintanceship zone. Before I can say acetaminophen, my friendly apothecary continues, “You must be dehydrated.” I say yes. It’s that. Surely. Glug glug glug. Anything to stop my interlocutor from peddling homeopathy. I’m rabidly homeophobic.

Lauki for some

To make a gory condition gorier still, I’ve a suitably macabre name for it. It’s called a menstrual migraine. A high percentage of women migraineurs (okay, that name is kinda glam) tend to develop this condition. It is a nervous system response to the ups and downs in the level of oestrogen during a typical menstrual cycle.

Why the nervous system in sufferers does this, science has not been able to discover so far. But what it does to a body is pretty much what Pete Townshend from The Who would do to his guitar at the end of a concert in his heyday. Smash it silly.

Enter friendly apothecary #7593956 on Day 3 of a particularly virulent attack. “Lauki. At five in the morning. On an empty stomach. For 14 days.” Lauki and 14 are interchangeable with a host of mystically curative edibles and numbers. “Yes, yes,” I promise and rush to the neighbourhood salon and ask for the most muscular employee in the establishment to give me a head massage, no matter if he’s the visiting accountant or AC repairman.

What’s the cure for babies?

Another popular migraine remedy, if you’re a woman, is the obvious. The cure for anything, if you’re a woman. “Have a baby. A woman’s body is designed for childbirth.” I bribed someone and found out mine was designed to be a vessel for cheerful nihilism. But I do not say this to my friendly apothecary. I say, “But don’t you think there are too many humans already in a world full of suffering, and should I add to that just …” “You read too much. You think too much. That’s why you have a migraine.” I glug some water and humbly slink into a not-so-cheerful nihilism.

And so I keep away from the sun. Avoid wine, light and sound triggers. Eat and sleep at the right time. These days, I even snack on fruit. Of course it doesn’t help. It’s like evolution wants to keep some mysteries alive. Neurosurgeon and overall rock star Oliver Sacks followed about 1,000 migraine sufferers closely and wrote about it in his landmark 1970 book Migraine. Anyone with the condition, or with loved ones who suffer, is highly recommended this deep, incisive and compassionate study. Does it offer a miracle cure? (Spoiler alert) Nope. But it shows how much work has gone into finding one. And that will have to do for now. Time to slather on some Tiger Balm. It’s been changing the smell of migraine since the 1870s.

From HT Brunch, October 15, 2017

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