July 23, 2010

fortification spectrum

I had only a couple of writing-related things I really wanted to get done today. First off, respond to some friends' pages on a chapter exchange. Then maybe get back to looking at the first pages of my so-called fast novel.

Unfortunately, as soon as I sat down at the computer, I realized I couldn't make out half the screen. I shifted the monitor up, then down, then back, then started sliding back and forth in my less-than-ergonomic rolling desk chair, trying to get a new angle, before I realized that the flickering glare covering most of the left of the screen had nothing to do with the computer and everything to do with my brain.

I was a little bit scared and though I pushed through reading the pages, and even sent out one brief and probably unhelpful email with feedback, I had a hard time settling down to anything, wondering when the pain would kick in or if it would and trying to strategize when to take a Tylenol and also trying to figure out what on earth I could do with myself that wouldn't be seriously hampered by a pulsing light show.

The last checkup I had, my doctor asked me if I had ever had migraines and, not seeing what she was getting at, I rather chattily described the flickering in my field of vision I'd experienced on a couple of occasions before crippling headaches. (It's so freaky that I was kind of excited to talk about it.) She then informed me that migraines with aura were a counterindication to the prescription she was about to write for me, and instead wrote me a referral for a neurologist (an appointment I have yet to make). She offered me a one-month renewal of the medication but warned me that if it was her, she would stop taking the drugs immediately. She said, "I tend to be a very careful person. Maybe the medication increases your chances to 1 in a 100,000 instead of 1 in 300,000, but if you're that one person who does have a stroke, the odds stop mattering." Clearly, she is a very good doctor.

So I did stop, but then I started again, and now I've had the most intense aura ever -- according to Wikipedia it's sometimes called the fortification spectrum, as the flickering light starts to expand and look like the walls of a castle seen from above.

A dear friend of mine is a fiction writer who suffers migraines. A few years ago, she also had a very minor stroke, and this has made it infinitely harder for her to proofread. She just can't process the words on the page the same way she used to.

Last month in the New Yorker, Oliver Sacks wrote about the alarming case of a Canadian novelist who had a stroke and lost the ability to read. He could still write, but as soon as he put his pen down, what he just wrote looked like nonsense. It's called alexia, the inability to recognize written language.

Obviously, strokes can be a lot more serious than just losing the ability to read. But it's a frightening prospect nonetheless.

This probably won't make a difference, but I'm going to go drink a few tall glasses of water -- my go-to solution for every kind of malady, physical or psychic.


Jonathan Ball said...

Wow -- you should probably go back to the doctor. I hope things get better... I will have to check in with you when I'm back in Canada (just leaving now for a short camping trip).

Ariel Gordon said...

I get migraines. My pre-headache symptoms include numbness on one side that moves around, obstructions in my vision, and, sometimes, garbled speech.

But I don't get them that often. And caffeine and bio-feedback helps. And there are much worse things.

(Don't read Catherine Bush's Claire's Head as research. It's enough to BRING on a migraine.)

Also, go see your doctor.

B.Kienapple said...

Take care of yourself Saleema! I've heard acupuncture is really good for migraines though I haven't tested the theory myself.

Rebecca Rosenblum said...

Ugh, that doesn't sound like fun. I get migraines that are milder than yours (no auras) and I still find them nightmarish, so I can somewhat emphathize, and send healthful thoughts!

saleema said...

@Jonathan Yeah, no big deal, but I'm going to make that appointment with a neurologist like she suggested.

@Ariel The garbled speech thing is scary! And I've read Claire's Head! I didn't want to plug it here as I feel like I'm already her scary superfan, but yeah, agreed. In fact, I don't think I had any before I read that book! Huh.

@Bronwyn I am really curious to try acupuncture for lots of things! Esp. allergies. A friend of mine is thinking of getting certified in it and I really hope she does.

@Rebecca Thanks for the thoughts! So far so good. Massive amounts of caffeine have helped me feel back on track.