Performer: Geddy Lee
Songwriters: Geddy Lee, Ben Mink
Original Release: My Favorite Headache
Definitive Version: none
I recently started another cycle of cluster headaches. Dad, who got them, too, said the last time he had one was around the time Casey was born, which was when Dad was 48. I hadn’t had one since Thanksgiving 2010.
The one that I had then wasn’t my favorite headache by any stretch of the imagination (coincidentally around the time that I pulled My Favorite Headache, aka the Lost Rush album, out of storage). In fact, it probably was the worst one I ever had.
Thanksgiving that year was in Cincinnati at Scott and Shani’s, and everyone was there except the L.A. contingent. I had been in a headache cycle, but I hadn’t had one in a few days. But after dinner I felt one coming.
I get two types of headaches: one that wakes me up in the middle of the night and one that comes on slowly in the evening. The ones that come on slowly always are the worst. I describe the onset of these headaches as The Alien crawling from my right shoulder blade, up my neck and into my head, where it explodes out my right temple and eye.
When I feel The Alien start to move, I have to kill it before it reaches my head. I take what I call big bomber pills at the onset, which works, but because I thought I was done with my cycle, I didn’t bring them with me to Cincinnati. In other words, I was defenseless against The Alien.
Advil can work—as long as I take enough soon enough. I took two, holding off on a third in what was a critical miscalculation. Sure enough, either the timing or the amount wasn’t enough, and when I took the third, it was too late.
I flopped around on the couch in Scott’s living room and then on the floor holding my head. Laura said she once found Dad beating his head against a wall to try and knock himself out when he was having one of his, and I know exactly how he felt. I wanted to do the same. I couldn’t move though. To move would mean to have my head explode.
Finally, Shani helped me up to the guest room where I was staying with Laurie, who had gone to bed already. I took two more Advil, and Shani gave me a cold rag for my head. It didn’t hurt although it didn’t help. Laurie had left me alone earlier, because she said she felt helpless—she had never seen me have a headache like this before—but I was fetal on the bed, crying in agony, so she again asked, what can I do? All I could say was, “hold my head.” She did.
(If it occurred to you that by this time perhaps we should have gone to the hospital, I wouldn’t disagree with that sentiment. But because I had been through this before, I knew what this was and that it would pass. There was no need to go to the hospital. I just had to deal with it.)
Eventually, I went to sleep. The next day I felt particularly groggy and weak but otherwise, I was OK. That was the end of the cycle, and for the next two-and-a-half years, I was hopeful that my worst headache was my last big one: Might as well go out with a bang, right? Alas, it wasn’t to be.
However, Thanksgiving 2010 WAS the last time I saw Mom as herself, more or less.
As I mentioned, Mom’s throat cancer was diagnosed in August, and by November she had been through a surgery and multiple chemo and radiation treatments. Before Thanksgiving, she another larger surgery, and it was successful. The doctors said they got everything and figured a couple of chemos to make sure would take care of the problem. Mom was taken to long-term rehabilitation at Mayfair, a facility just down the road from her home.
Thanksgiving weekend Saturday we drove to Columbus to see Mom and stay with Dad before heading back to Chicago the next day. I was a bit apprehensive. Unlike when Mom had lung cancer, Scott had been the point person for all of this, so the last time I saw her was … the previous Thanksgiving? I don’t remember. I hadn’t been home in a while.
I was shocked when I saw Mom, not how bad she looked, because that was expected—being strapped up to this, that and the other thing. What I wasn’t prepared for was how old she looked. Between the years of smoking and drinking, Mom hadn’t aged well, but she had looked the same for the previous decade. Now, she looked 20 years older. I never had seen her look so frail.
But it still was her. Since I moved to Chicago, our relationship had become distant, entirely because of me. In fact, when I left, in addition to feeling excitement about the change, I was relieved I wouldn’t be the closest family member to Mom any more. I contacted her sparingly over the years.
All that was water under the bridge, and we had an excellent visit that Saturday. She told me everything that had been going on and how glad she was that she’d be home before Christmas. Needless to say, I didn’t bore her with the details of my own very insignificant recent health issues.
When we left, Mom got out of her bed and stood by the window of the one-story facility, waving goodbye to us. Laurie remarked how the thing that surprised her was how small Mom looked. But she was in good spirits, right? Maybe she finally was on the mend after a trying fall.