“Okay, so you’ve had two brain hemorrhages. And how long have you had this headache?” the ER triage nurse asks me. “Eight days,” I reply. “And you are just now coming to the ER?” she says, shocked. “I didn’t think it was an emergency,” and then I start to cry. “Well, that’s a first!” she says, implying that most people would have considered this an emergency 7 days ago.
What I don’t tell her is all the reasons my brain came up with over the last 8 days that seemed perfectly reasonable explanations for my headache. Sure, the OBVIOUS one, given my history, would be that my brain was bleeding, but that was an abhorrent and unthinkable and frightening explanation, so my brain decided not to think that one. Unique to human beings, our brains relentlessly search for meaning in what happens to us, but those meanings aren’t always logical (consider superstitions.) Deep below my consciousness, a little invisible battle was going on between reasonable and unreasonable, and up until my husband insisted on taking me to the ER, the unreasonable explanations for my unbearable headache were, as follows: (go ahead and laugh, because in retrospect, WHAT was I THINKING!)
1. My head hurt because I was using unclean St. Lawrence River water to brush my teeth – At our Thousand Island River House, the tap water is filtered of seaweed and fish, but not purified, so we don’t cook or drink it, but sometimes we do brush our teeth with it. That must be what was causing a massive headache. Yeah, right.
2. Okay, then, I had ingested an exotic “river worm” that was burrowing into my brain and eye socket because, see #1. Sure, that sounds reasonable, because Canada is such an exotic country?
3. Six weeks ago I had cut one of my anti-depressant doses from 20 to 15mg. Hmm – a side effect that doesn’t show up for 6 weeks? Not likely.
4. I was eating too much sugar and drinking too much coffee. Yes, while on vacation, I was grabbing a handful or two of m&m’s a day, and I was spending mornings drinking coffee watching the river go by – But one cup of caffeinated coffee and some m&m’s causing a headache that wouldn’t end?
5. It was just a migraine brought on by #4. Ok, I do have a history of migraines, but 8 days of a migraine that Tylenol didn’t touch? Don’t think so.
6. I was short on sleep, because I kept waking up to see the Perseid Meteor shower (the falling stars that fly across the August sky.) Well, being short on sleep could cause a headache, I supposed, but by now that was 8 days ago.
And the headache was getting worse and worse and worse. And it was absolute torture to lie down and try to sleep – For some reason, lying down made it hurt so much it was hard to breathe. Fine. Obviously something other than a run of the mill migraine is going on. I’ll just soldier through the Friday night wedding rehearsal, the Saturday wedding, the Sunday worship service, THEN I’ll get it checked out.
Ah, you can see how unreasonable my brain was being, but it is hard to explain just how much sense this all made to me at the time.
Why do our brains function so poorly sometimes? Had I been honest with myself, then honest with my husband, I would’ve been seen by a doctor days ago. But the thought of another brain bleed was so detestable to that very brain, it refused to consider that as a possibility, until the pain was unbearable and I was willing to do just about anything, including facing reality, for drugs. Yet another example of how our brains are not always trustworthy.
(All is well now: The headache is mostly gone; alleviated by occasional Tylenol; and appointment with the neurosurgeon for follow-up is set for 3 weeks from now. And my interest in just how our brains work and sometimes don’t continues!)