Headaches

Like a vice tightening on the back of my head. That’s how I describe my headaches. Which headaches? All of them. I get my fair share, maybe a little more. Often enough to pay close attention to them. I know the causes. I know how to fix them.

When I was a drinker—not the moderate drinker I was five years ago, when my only sin was consistency, but a hard drinker, a-drink-to-get-drunk drinker—headaches happened daily. Dehydration. Alcohol strips the water from blood cells, and when the alcohol dissipates, those cells are left flaccid, parched, dried husks scraping through my blood vessels like so many desperate desert wanderers.

I awoke each morning in varying degrees of pain. A dull throb, nothing a couple of Tylenol and a sixteen-ounce glass of water couldn’t cure. Or a sharp, jabbing sensation, so intense and relentless that vomiting was the only appropriate response. Those headaches sometimes lasted through the next night and into a second day. Always in the back of my head. That spot where neck turns into skull.

With alcohol out of the picture, those headaches remain, just not as frequently. I know the two primary causes now. Dehydration and caffeine withdrawal. When I gave up drinking five years ago, I simply replaced my wine and beer with seltzer. I drink it with a lime wedge on the rocks. If I walked past you at a party, you would assume I had a vodka tonic. Or a gin and tonic. Or some other clear alcohol with tonic. It looks just like a boozy drink. In fact, in my house we call it a cocktail.

Me: “After I finish my cocktail, I’m going for a run.”

Fifteen-year-old Eli: “I think I’ll have a cocktail tonight with dinner.”

I spend my evenings reading novels and blogs or watching the X-Files (my latest binge) with a cocktail at my side. Sixteen ounces, three or four of them. Dehydration is unusual. Still, after a sweaty evening run in August, I leave myself dry and wake up the next day reminded of my hangovers of yore. Sometimes Tylenol solves the problem, sometimes not.

Over the past week, I had a headache I didn’t understand. The pain was right up front, behind my forehead, a little to the right. It started on my drive home from work on Friday night and it pretty much ruined my weekend. It alternated between a dull throb and a squeezing pain that left me incapacitated and sent me back to bed.

Back in my twenties, I endured a two-year live-in relationship with my girlfriend Kyra. I don’t write about her because frankly, recalling those two years leaves me feeling bad about myself. At one point in our rocky relationship, she got a crippling headache that lasted for several days. She kept going to work, walking like a zombie from one meeting to the next, enduring admonishments from her coworkers to go home and take care of herself. On Friday night, still feeling like hell, she went to bed while I went to a party. Returning home long after midnight I found her on the living room couch crying. “You need to take me to the emergency room, something’s wrong.”

The next morning, tests run, meningitis diagnosed, the attending physician chided me on my cavalier attitude towards Kyra’s headache. “Headaches are actually pretty unusual. If one lasts several days, it usually indicates something serious. You put her at risk by going out for the evening.” This statement stuck with me last Monday morning when I woke up with a painful throb for the fourth day in a row. I scheduled a Covid test.

In the hour-long line at the drive-up MinuteClinic® I texted Susan. This is stupid, I don’t have Covid. She responded: This is a necessary step. The peace of mind will help you feel better. She was right. By bedtime on Monday, my headache mostly disappeared, and I determined that I wasted one-hundred dollars of my insurance company’s money. Short lived. Tuesday was rough, and Wednesday, I couldn’t get out of bed with my alarm.

On Wednesday night, cleaning up the dinner dishes, I moved to wash my coffee pot. My coffee thing is stove-top espresso. Every morning I brew twenty ounces of espresso in a heavy steel percolator. I think the marketing behind this product suggests you can brew enough espresso at a time for a party of four to six people. Instead, I down two ten-ounce cups of espresso every morning. Like a hyper teenager popping an Adderall before school, the stimulating caffeine calms me down and helps me focus on my day.

As I cleaned my coffee pot, I found it half full! I felt so terrible on Wednesday morning, I forgot to drink my second cup of coffee. I’m not sure that has ever happened before, and I paid dearly for it. I woke Thursday morning with a caffeine-withdrawal headache in the back of my head competing for attention with my maybe-Covid headache in the front. Crushing.

Later that morning, I got my test results: Negative. I had no idea what caused my week-long headache. Friday was more of the same. My caffeine levels still not caught up and my not-Covid headache feeling better but still present.

Today, Saturday, is the first day I’ve been headache free in over a week. To celebrate, I drank a third cup of coffee, and then moved on to a cocktail. Caffeinated and hydrated—I think today will be a better day.

20 thoughts on “Headaches

  1. Headaches are the worst. My mom is a migraine patient – my formative years were spent watching her spend most of her days in bed with an ice pack. If I got close I could watch the veins in her temples pulsate. She is a hypochondriac by nature, but her migraines are the real deal. Just 10 years ago she was diagnosed with celiac disease and discovered she was eating all the wrong foods. I think I get all my food sensitivities from her, but thankfully, not her migraines. I gave up coffee, but switched to tea. Twice I have had to do fasting bloodwork and wondered if I would get a caffeine headache. Happy to say I didn’t. And then I have my gallon of water a day thing. I am glad you do not have the coronavirus. And I hope the headaches give you a break!

    Liked by 1 person

      • You’re not a hypochondriac – trust me. With the amount of doctor’s appointments and “ailments” my mother is completely checked out weekly. If there is anything actually wrong with her it will be picked up early, that’s for sure. Two weeks ago she got her first apple product just so she could face time her doctor’s. I think my eye roll to her years of many ailments is what has kept me from going to the doctors myself for anything.

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  2. You might have your eyes checked too. Eye strain will give you wicked headaches. Glad those brain scans are coming up. Headaches are awful. I’m so glad my migraines went bye-bye.
    I’m glad you crossed COVID off the list. It’s better to know… especially for you. Stress will cause headaches too😉

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  3. Yeah Jeff, re: the eyes I got a pair of glasses that cuts out the blue light or glare or whatever from screens and that helped my energy level a lot. I don’t know if your job has you in front of a computer a lot but if it does that’s another possible thing to consider. Funny about your cocktails. I quit drinking now about 6 weeks ago for good I think, but I’m doing a couple NA beers every night and a cup of decaf. Still have that oral fixation habit thingy. Glad to not have to worry about hangovers anymore though.

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    • Yeah, my oral fixation of drinking never changed. I made a seamless transition to seltzer and if anything, I’ve picked up steam. I hear some of those NA beers are pretty good these days. I’ve ever only tried O’Doul’s which was fine but not worth the calories. I’d rather eat ice cream.

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  4. Yeah! No Covid. That’s a plus! Someone mentioned Warby Parker….great advice. You may not have one in your home town but you can have several delivered to you to try on. And they are cheap – I think Sean paid $95 with lenses (single lens) And they are cute! I had migraines my entire life until I moved to Colorado 20 Y ago. Mine were mostly stress related and from and OD of sugar when I was a kid. They suck…Advil seems to knock headaches out immediately for me.

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  5. Jeff, I think you need those diagnostic tests ASAP. I know, I am a worrier. Doesn’t Adams County have pretty low COVID numbers? It’s still good to be sure you can rule it out. I remember once while visiting my sister, my husband and I were both beset by terrific headaches. As it turned out, she had decaf and we didn’t realize it. We were going through caffeine withdrawal. That was enough for me to swear off coffee forever. I didn’t want to be tied to drinking a cup of coffee to ward off headaches.

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    • Ah, next post. Moving forward. Our numbers (per 100,000) are fairly high (not compared to the urban areas but surprising. I went to the hospital today for an MRI. Very few people walking around and those who were, on guard. I got stopped while looking for the bathroom. I would count a headache from drinking decaf as proof that I needed the caffeinated.

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