I think all of us at one time or another have sprained or pulled a muscle. Most of the time this is associated with twisting an ankle the wrong way which results in pain and swelling, on top of a slow recuperation since every time we walk on it the injured body part reminds us with sharp stab to the nervous system.
In the past month there have been heavy vacations on my job which results in vacancies that are generally covered by those of us still there working overtime. I have done this for most of my career and it is a common practice. Some of us indulge more than others in a “make hay while the sun shines” attitude, while a select few imbibe more deeply (which requires a certain mental defect I believe) almost to the point that I think their own children would regard them as a stranger if they walked in the front door. I have never been part of the latter category but I thought a couple of weeks ago I might give it a run for the sake of pounding on my credit cards.
The two guys who work the shift following me had back to back vacations so my thought was I could lean into some long hours for a couple of weeks for the benefit I would get in return. Now working 16 hours, then 8 hours off in which to commute, shower, sleep and be back to work on time can be taxing. Doing it for 5 or 6 days in a row helps you find a whole new feeling of degeneration you didn’t know you had. I completed the first week of 6 out of 7 days and then relished one day off to recoup before starting the next vacation coverage week. I made it through three days of double shifts the next week before coming home one afternoon after finishing a 12-8 then 8-4pm double. I followed my usual routine of grabbing a quick shower and then a glass of milk before it was off to bed.
I must at this point pay a large vote of gratitude to my wife, who ever since we bought our house has kept my sleeping at odd hours clearly in mind. Our bedroom has only one north facing window that never gets direct sunlight. The room is painted a soothing soft rose color with dark walnut accents, and said single window is equipped with blinds, shears and drapes. A window unit air conditioner provides some “white noise” while cooling just the one room without blasting the central air which would most likely result in the cats tunneling under the sofa cushions in an attempt to conserve body heat. All in all, the bedroom is something of a sleep vault which remains virtually undisturbed from the cats, rowdy neighborhood kids and even the phone if I remember to turn it off. I also have to give credit to her for being the equivalent of a tenacious guard dog when she is there. Nothing short of burning the house down will make her allow passage into the room and I thank her eternally for that. On this particular day however she was attending her monthly quilting group, so I had the house to myself.
Upon settling into bed I began to feel a headache coming on, since most all of us have had a headache at some point this was no biggie at the moment so I decided to get up and take some medicine. In the time it took me to think about getting up, the headache escalated into something far past what I would have ever referred to as a throbbing headache. No siree, this was on the order of put your head in a vise, stab a fork in the upper part of your neck at the base of your skull and then pound liberally with the nearest dead blow hammer. Sitting up and standing to get out of bed only turned the intensity level up even farther, by the time I made it to the kitchen the concept of swallowing the entire economy sized bottle of Ibuprofen felt like a viable option. Instead of following that instinct I phoned my brother in-law who is 20 plus years a RN and has spent the bulk of that time working the ER for reasons beyond my understanding but you cant deny it lends itself heavily to his credibility. His answer was pretty much what I expected but it confirmed what I had already thought of in fear…get your butt to the hospital.
I phoned my wife and she said she was on her way and her being so close by I felt that would be just as quick as calling 911. I sat down on the back porch and waited for her to arrive.
Long ago I remember hearing a comedy bit from the late, great George Carlin where he talked about “The 2 minute warning”. This was when your mortal time was near to being over, an angel would appear and say “Two minutes…get your shit together”…but we have no way of knowing for sure since everyone who has gotten the two minute warning isn’t around anymore to warn us. I always thought it was a very funny routine, but when your head was exploding like mine was you almost started looking for some smiling faced, white haired, male model in a toga to be leaning on the porch rail and speaking in a gentle but jovial tone; “two minutes, get your stuff together”. One can then recall Bill Cosby saying when faced with certain doom two kinds of shit will happen, first you say it, then you do it.
Thankfully that experience never occurred but one other phenomenon did take place in a certain way. We’ve all heard the expression of “my life passed before my eyes”…I wouldn’t say that was what happened but maybe I’ve been spending too much time staring at a computer screen and watching loading bars move across or icons on auto arrange but it was as if so many events and people began to flash through my mind. Things you’ve done, things you havent, people you love and those you miss, things you regret or were just not sure of, all grabbed by my organic version of a CPU and being de-fragged and placed in order of priority on some mental monitor…then all dashed away by the sound of tires on gravel as my wife pulled in the driveway…surreal to say the least.
Upon arrival at the ER you are confronted by the receptionist and I must say it must take some serious intestinal fortitude to man that desk. People come in and are turning various shades of red, blue or green and through it all she maintains the calm to say “Fill out this form, give me your date of birth and do you have a living will?” All important questions to be sure, but none that matter so much as a micron to a man with splitting headache. I have to admit the living will question is a bit of shaker but I can see how it applies to her job, morbid as it may sound, especially to the patient. All you really want to do at this point is lie down, and even the floor looks like a much more appealing option than the typical waiting room chairs. I personally don’t know who ever thought that equipping a waiting room with such rudimentary seating devices was supposed to make anyone feel more comfortable is an oxymoron in itself.
After a cat scan of my head and shot in my buttocks, to which I have to address a thought. In my opinion nurses should start to advise patients with hyperbole instead of down playing. I got “This might be a big stick and it could burn a little”…the effect was more like “Are you injecting my butt or my hip joint?…and is that syringe filled with napalm?” Why don they just say;”Roll over and this is gonna hurt like hell”…then when it doesn’t we might be quite relieved.
The attending doctor then came in and asked his battery of questions and informed me that my cat scan results showed nothing at all. My wife stated that she had suspected that all along but it was nice to have confirmation. It seems I have been reduced to the same level as my pet cat Hamish…two eyeballs surrounded by some graying fur with a large hollow void in between.
The doctor then informed me that I had suffered a migraine or tension headache. I had heard of migraine headaches before but I must admit I have a whole new sympathy level for anyone who has dealt with this experience. He went on to tell me it was most likely brought on by stress, fatigue and lack of sleep, so I was batting .1000 so far. He then explained further that it was essentially muscle related, saying the muscles on your head and neck can cramp or be pulled or injured just like any other muscle in the body, with the result being the muscles squeezing the skull, restricting blood flow and therefore causing pain. Such simple explanations for such debilitating pain seemed somehow skewed. Could it be that he would next tell me how brain surgery was simple childs play?
The next few days felt like they went by in slow motion which I can only attribute to the codeine laced pain killers I was prescribed to take. This must be what its like to be under the influence of this drug during your waking hours. Any interested readers may refer to another blog post entitled “Two Teaspoons” for the effect of my taking this drug during sleep (with colorful results).
I’ve injured a lot of different muscles over my 50 years but this was first to have done so with own head…maybe next time an ace bandage and an ice pack should be applied first, or maybe I should have a cat scan performed on Hamish to see if we are more alike than I would like to guess.
T. A. Green