I Know Headaches

Headaches come in two types: The one that starts with the body and the one that starts with the mind. I suppose if someone decided to smash a bottle over your head, it would be their mind and your body. I don’t recommend this.

There’s the “You screwed up your spine and the pain’s radiating into your head” headache. I did this at a fire in 1983, and it’s been screwed up ever since. Just for fun, the location of my back pain changes frequently: lower, middle, upper, up and down like some manic kid is playing air guitar on my spinal cord. I suppose the headache comes when he smashes my spinal guitar on my rib stage.

There’s the “You have kids” headache. Early on it’s caused by noisemaking devices, such as pots and pans, window panes, small pets, and siblings. Later it’s caused by wondering what your kids are doing, and remembering what you were doing at their age. This headache commonly lasts from 40-60 years.

Headaches really bug me.

There are two kinds of cluster headaches: One is characterized by severe pain on one side of the head. The other has a variety of causes, such as studying politics, getting stuck in traffic, or trying to figure out a family dinner seating arrangement when half the family hates the other half. This second type of cluster headache is often characterized by people moaning, “What a cluster …”

A few times I’ve had headaches that meet the definition of a migraine, and they were mild by migraine standards. I handled these by overmedicated, rather than begging someone to just shoot me.

Overmedicating leads to the next type of headache, the rebound headache. Take too much headache medicine, and it gives you a headache. The irony … well, the irony makes my head ache.

Then there’s the bean headache. No, not from eating beans – that problem’s at the other end. I’m talking about when you bean yourself on something, such as a low hanging branch (such as in my front yard) or a badly placed pipe (such as my basement). Not that it ever happened to me.

The stress headache is caused by … well, a lot of the stuff above can cause stress headaches. When my doctor asked me if I’d been stressed lately, I laughed. Laughter is a great stress reliever, although maybe not the kind of sarcastic, half-hysterical laughter the Doc heard from me.

While driving, my son-in-law gets stabbing headaches.

Then there’s the sinus headache.

The main cause of a sinus headache is living in the Midwest. Not just here, though: Experts believe that not only are sinus headaches common, but that they progress to sinus infections for 30 million people every year, just in America. Untreated sinusitis can cause permanent damage to the sinuses and lead to meningitis, bone infections, heavy drinking, or throwing people through windows when they ask how you feel. Knowing that causes stress, which leads to headaches, which leads to medicating, which leads to rebound headaches …

A few winters ago I embarked on an epic journey into the medical world, involving a full blood draw, multiple office visits, lectures, and three courses of antibiotics. I had a bunch of problems that needed to be looked into, so as long as I was going in about one I asked about all of them. That was my mistake. By the time the testing was done, the Doc had me on so many medications the pharmacy named a filing cabinet after me.

There was heavy-duty ibuprofen for my back pain and tennis elbow (no, I don’t play tennis); baby aspirin and fish oil for my cholesterol and family history of heart attacks; some stuff that I can’t pronounce for acid reflux; and of course the antibiotic. They also put me on an anti-depressant, telling me it was for my Seasonal Affected Disorder. I suspect they really gave that to me because of my expression when I realized I was now taking more drugs than my grandmother.

Oh, and winter. Winter gives me headaches.

Then, because my sinus swelling wasn’t going away, they gave me a shot of Cortisone.

I haven’t had a shot in – that place, shall we say my lower hip – since I was a kid. It went in very smoothly. Then I couldn’t sit or walk straight for an hour.

Now, here’s the fun part – and those of you over forty who have to take more than one medication probably saw this coming: Instead of the headache going away, it moved. Over the next few days it migrated from the sinuses behind my face to the top of my head, the back of my head, my jawline, my upper neck – pretty much everywhere else. The drugs forced my sinuses into retreat, and now they were taking over the rest of my head!

I sat there, sweating, feeling hot even though it was December, unable to sleep, feeling anxious, and after awhile I thought: “Hey. I don’t ever sweat or feel hot in December, and I can always fall asleep. What a cluster.”

A little research revealed that both the anti-depressant and the Cortisone had the following symptoms: anxiety; insomnia; and, of course, headache. (The Cortisone threw in the sweating, which – ew.)

I had been victimized by modern medicine.

So that’s the story of how, in the space of one month, I moved from being a young man to a broken down middle aged mess. I thought this was supposed to be a gradual thing … but fast or slow, it sure turned out to be a headache.

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6 thoughts on “I Know Headaches”

  1. I’ve had sinus headaches, enough to progress to sinus infections. It wasn’t fun.

    1. I used to get those regularly, three or four times a year–talk about not fun. Since my sinus surgery I still get them once a year before, but overall it’s a lot better.

  2. Great column! A thoughtful and cautionary piece, Mark. I used to suffer a terribly stinging headache just above my left eye whenever I drank hot coffee. Then I took the spoon out of the cup. ZING! Hey, hey! One in a row!

  3. You forgot the so-called music of Bon Jovi. This is a headache that began 1n 1983 and the medical profession have no cure for it.

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