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No pain in vain


My former mother-in-law, may she rest in peace, always used to say that you get sick in the part of your body that is the weakest. I think her problem was her lungs; she was a fierce smoker.

My problem--and my mother's and sister's and daughters'--has always been headaches. We have to plan our lives around the possibility that any morning, we might wake up with a headache. Consequently, we've become quite familiar with headaches in all their manifestations. I have a closet full of painkillers: various formulas containing aspirin, naproxen, ibuprofen and acetaminophen, plus some fancy combinations good for PMS headaches or headaches accompanied by nausea. I even have some prescription drugs for headaches that over-the-counter medicines can't touch. The first thing I ask myself is "what's causing this headache? tension? bad ozone? dehydration? eye strain?" and then I just go to my medicine cabinet and pull out the appropriate remedy.

Some kinds of headaches yield to applications of heat: to the forehead, the temples or the back of the neck. I also have a sinus mask that I can toss in the microwave and then lay across my face. Other kinds of headache cry out for ice; I have two choices: a regular ice bag or, for migraines, premoistened cloths that come sealed in individual packages. Whenever I go on vacation, I carry one of these in my suitcase, along with a selection of headache remedies, because the glare at the beach or the changes in barometric pressure in the mountains often trigger migraines. It pays to be prepared.

It's a lifestyle; I can wake up any morning and be incapacitated for a whole day. On the other hand, nothing else puts my life in perspective like a good headache. Did I promise on a stack of Bibles that I'd bring potato salad to the church picnic? Ah yes, but this burning pain in my head makes that promise automatically null and void. If I can't, I really can't, no matter what I said--and no one will starve. I can bury my face in the pillows with a perfectly clear conscience.

And after 24 hours in bed, in misery, the pleasure of waking up painfree is positively exhilarating-- like going to bed in a dumpster in the dark and waking up in the Taj Mahal, with rose-scented breezes blowing in every window. It's like starting all over again, 10 pounds lighter and 10 years younger. As weakness goes, having headaches is really not so bad, after all.

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