Iman Inshasi | 02-05-2019
When I tell people I have a migraine, they shrug their shoulders and say, “Why don’t you just take a painkiller?” As if painkillers are magic beans that instantly heal—and as if I haven’t taken loads of them already.
When a migraine moves into my brain and takes up residence, I’m paralyzed. I can’t move, eat or do anything that produces any sort of sound. Anyone who enters my room during a migraine episode would likely mistake it for a vampire’s nest. Light blinds me, so curtains are drawn, lamps are turned off and not a single sound is allowed. A mandatory hush cloaks our entire house.
I wallow in my bed, waiting for the drugs to kick in. It takes a while—if they work at all. It feels like two little genies are playing jump rope with the nerve above my right eye. The genies refuse to stop, taunting me even when I cry. It’s their playtime and my crying time. If I try to open my eyes and scan the room, my vision is blurry. I close my eyes. Life becomes dark when I’m in pain, literally.
I remember the time I had a migraine for over than six hours. I wished I were some kind of inanimate object, like a table. Tables are static and don’t possess human feelings. The pain throbbed so much I let go of all of my dreams for the future. I found them inane and trivial. The only dream worth dreaming was for the migraine to go away.
When I was a child, I watched my mother endure the same ordeal. At first, I knew only that she was sick, and to me that meant she had a fever. So, I would open the fridge, grab a bottle of cold water and pour it on a towel. I placed the wet towel on her forehead while squatting next to her and waited for the fever to go away. Little did I know then, it wasn’t fever. Rather, mum’s brain was on fire.
Later, when I learned the truth of her affliction, I decided to become a neurologist. But I hate math. Sorry, Mum. And I followed in her footsteps, at the unusually early age of 13 or 14.
Gaza is hell for everyone who lives there, but especially for people who have migraines. When desperately trying to fall asleep at 5 a.m., it is particularly nightmarish to hear hawkers screaming at the top of their lungs, “Broken fridges for sale!” Covering your ears doesn’t help when the neighbor kids decide to stage their own World Cup match right outside your window at 7 a.m.
My mouth has a bad taste too when my migraines strike, sort of like a bitter aftertaste that lingers forever. I think how hungry I am, but simultaneously, the very thought of food turns my stomach. Plus, the act of chewing is torturous. Anything crunching or sliding between my upper and lower teeth sounds to me like stones grinding against bone. So, I starve.
My whole day is on pause waiting for the throbbing to go away. I shrink into my bed, as if making my body small is going to stop the pain from spreading. I feel my brain cells shatter—and yet I every sound (and smell) seems magnified. Houses are too close here and sometimes I can hear the next-door family’s entire conversation even in routine times. When I have a migraine, I can even hear finger nails being trimmed.
However, due to the Israeli blockade, it’s impossible to find the specialized migraine painkillers I read about in local pharmacies. And even if they were available, a single pill would cost over $15, like other such medicines. Most of us can’t afford it.
My last resort becomes the ER. After I get there, I wait, wait and wait some more. I feel as if I am in a beehive. I hear moans of pain. It’s so damn bright in here. A vampire shouldn’t be in here. The place smells like vomit. I feel sick. This isn’t helping. White lab coats move all around the place. At last, a nurse who’s been on his feet for eight hours asks me in an impatient, condescending tone, “What’s wrong with our patient?”
I plead, “Can you please dim the lights a little?”
A stronger combination of painkillers is infused into my left arm. I’m not bleeding in the wake of a bombing; I’ve not been mutilated by Israeli sniper fire at the Great Return March. “You shouldn’t be in the ER,” I know everyone is thinking.
Tell that to my fried brain.
Posted: May 1, 2019
Mentor: Deborah Root