It starts for me, as it does for many, with an “aura”. A painless patch of light in my right eye appears, as if I have been staring at a bright light – which spreads across my entire vision until I cannot see. I scrabble for the pink tablets because if I get to them fast enough I may alleviate the crushing headache which is about to follow. But then that’s all it usually is – just a bad headache. Perhaps mild nausea. I’m not scared of migraines.
Last week I didn’t get to my pills quick enough. I was blasé about it, I didn’t even have any spare, no packet in a drawer just in case. Once my vision had cleared I walked up the road, bought myself a coffee – a coffee! – got the tablets from the pharmacy and then took them only when I had got home, a round trip of about fifteen minutes.
More fool me. Two hours later, by noon, I had to go to bed and close the curtains. Twenty minutes later my nausea was so bad I had ceased to be a human being and was only a gently pulsing bag of awful green liquid. With a headache.
Giles brought me more pills, the yellow pills, that you are only supposed to take if the pink pills haven’t worked. I swallowed those, managing not to vomit.
The bright and sparkling lights came back. This was new. Usually there was only one round of lights – now another? The headache came on afresh. I breathed in through my nose and out through my mouth. There was no way I was going to be able to crawl out of bed, along the corridor and then heave my head – which now weighed approximately 15 stone and was the size of a giant watermelon – over the bowl in order to vomit. It was out of the question. I had to stay there. Stay there and remain calm and filled with light blue thoughts. You are lying on a beach, that is the sound of the sea, that is the sound of Kitty and Sam playing close by. That is the sound of a schmergun.
No, not a schmergun! Not a schmergun! I meant a schmergun. With the outaborgen! In the highsie, up an ahead on the bonda-bonda!
Fuck, my words. My words had gone. Gone totally. I rang Giles. “Please come,” I managed.
I could repeat words, single words.
“It’s the donda. On skeepie!” [It’s the pills, I was trying to say, on the bedside table. The pills were making me talk funny.]
But I couldn’t say it. My mouth didn’t match my brain.
I shrieked, held my hands to my face, cried tears of horror and laughter because it was absolutely hilarious as well as being terrifying. Was I having a stroke?
“What am I corner endo? None too the house on the above long way!”
“Can you write something down?” said Giles. “Can you text?”
I tried, but nothing. I just wrote “phone phone app”. It wasn’t that there was nothing in my head – there were all sorts of words and phrases that I knew and wanted to use, but they kept slipping away from me. It was all just on the tip of my tongue, it was just there it was just… there… if only I could reach out and grab the word and use it.
“Don’t try to talk,” said Giles. “I am going to call the doctor.”
“Yes,” I said emphatically, using one of the words totally available to me (the other one being ‘No’). “Yes, yes, yes.”
By the time the doctor arrived, things had untangled a little. Normal service had resumed and the magical, mystical thing happened where I thought of something I wanted to say and then said it, and everyone understood me.
It wasn’t the pills, said the doctor. It’s the migraine – it can affect the part of your brain that controls speech.
“Have I had a stroke?”
“No, but migraines mimick strokes.”
He shone a little torch in my eyes and made sure both sides of my body were still connected up. He probably didn’t need to, he could probably see quite plainly that it was a migraine and he knew how terrible they could be without actually being in any way life-threatening – but he knew that I didn’t know. My pain was real, my fear was real.
It can take days to recover from a migraine. I still have to read emails a few times to make sure I have used the right words, not written “the” five times or said “but or and” all in a row.
I am a little jumpy and neurotic about searching for the onset of those bright and sparkling lights in my right eye. And I still lose words as I talk, I reach for them, but they bank away from me and thump off into the sky, calling loudly to their fellow lost word-mates, like a schmergun.