It began, as it usually did, suddenly. One thing was slightly different this time -- instead of the pain beginning from behind my left eye, as it usually did, this time it began behind my right eye. That was a bad sign, since when the pain began behind the right eye, it was usually going to be a bad one. And this one turned out to be the worst one of all.
I'd been having headaches for most of my adult life and, from time to time, they had been severe. I'd had a variety of tests done before, CT scans and the like, and the reason for the headaches was never quite clear. The symptoms didn't match the classic migraine, but I tried Imitrex and other similar medications, which sometimes worked and sometimes didn't. The headaches tended to be a Sword of Damocles hanging over daily activities, though, which made them especially problematic. A number of family events were destroyed by the onset of a headache -- a trip to the State Fair cut short, a sudden departure from TwinsFest, a 4th of July that ended suddenly and turned into a trip to urgent care.
I was used to carrying various analgesics in my pocket -- sometimes Advil, sometimes aspirin, sometimes something stronger if I could get it. The one thing that seemed to work best was a drug called Fiorinal, which combined aspirin, caffeine and butalbital (a mild barbiturate). It would knock out the headache but it would also pretty much bring an end to the day. I wasn't supposed to use it much and most of the time I didn't have any. As it happened, I didn't have any that day.
What I had was pain. I was up most of the evening, trying to figure out how to get the pain to stop. I took some aspirin, then more, then more still. No relief. As the morning light began to shine into our windows, I was straight up in agony, screaming in pain. The pain was cascading through my head, throbbing behind both eyes now, each pulse a spasm of pain. I needed help, but we still had normal things to do -- the kids had to get on their buses for school. By now, they were almost used to the spectacle of a father who was screaming in pain. I'm not sure you ever really get used to it.
This headache was the worst yet and then it started to seem sinister in other ways. My vision started to blur. My speech started to get harder to understand. Was I having a stroke? Was it an aneurysm? I'd had those things ruled out before, but perhaps this was different. Or was I just in so much pain that my body was trying to slow me down? The kids had to get on the bus for school; I knew that. Would I see them return? Not long after the kids were on bus for school, we set off for the clinic. By then the headache, which had been ramping up to a full rage all evening long, was starting to subside, but just a bit. As we left for the clinic that morning, I said to my wife -- "I can't live with this any more. We need to find some answers." As it happened, we were about to find out many things.