The Migraine Diaries: Four [1978]

It would start with a silent pop, a feeling of letting go, somewhere deep between the eyes and behind the bridge of my nose. Next came a similar burst of panic in my chest, rapid searching for the nearest tissues, washable cloth, or, if all else failed, a place to hide and cup my hand to my face; it was so much easier if I could catch the surge of blood before it reached my mouth. That taste of of rust, of brains. Of health gone wrong.

When I was young I was afflicted with severe, frequent nosebleeds. I can’t imagine the terror my parents must have felt; just imagining my own five or eight year old with blood pouring in a torrent over tender lips, chin, and carefully laundered shirt is enough to make my heart seize. There was never a reason. Never a connection made to the headaches, either. Blood, bright red and deep from the source and hard to stop. Silent violence, unfair, insult to injury.

We were told to tip my head up and pinch the hollow at the top of my nose firmly until the bleeding slowed and stopped. My eyelids would blink rapidly, tears forming at the corners. I would try not to gag at the thick clotting warmth at the back of my throat. And then it would be over, sometimes quickly, sometimes only after repeated attempted releases. We all felt traumatized, the detritus of soiled bright red tissues scattered around the scene like abandoned bandages in a temporary triage unit. A strange fragile heaviness in my face and sour stomach would remain all day.

My only memory of kindergarten involves the pop, the rapid search, and the cupped hand, with nothing to sop up the blood and nowhere to hide from the stares at my little round table. This time the panic surged and overflowed. Since I hadn’t gone to preschool or daycare I was separated from my parents for the first time, and my matronly teacher seemed stiff and stern. As I’d been taught, I gingerly raised my free hand for attention, and when her gaze rested upon me I felt exposed and guilty as though I had caused a scene on purpose, created a heavily bleeding, misbehaving nose as a distraction. Apparently unassociated and comparatively invisible, the migraines would cause me to feel a similar way for the rest of my life.

“I – I need to go home,” I stammered miserably. “My nose is bleeding.” Being rejoined with my gentle quiet mama was the only solution which made any sense to me at the time and I longed for the soft familiar, a yearning intertwined in my memory with the salt of tears and blood. Make it all better, Mama. Because I was sure this woman could not. And she did not, her displeasure alarming me to this day.

“You will do no such thing,” I can feel her pronouncing, annoyed at the interruption, like the Queen in Alice In Wonderland. “We will take care of… that… here.” Of course I don’t remember what she said, exactly. And I have no idea what happened next; I just know I wasn’t allowed to go home. Though obviously not made to sit and continue bleeding onto my hands at the table, my forty year old heart feels like that was exactly what happened, blood drying on white pinafore, the shameful evidence of my aberration.

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