A Journal of the Plague Week 48

Monday, February 15th, 2021

I spent all day yesterday in bed with a migraine. It was my own fault, really; I’d had a cheeky Negroni before dinner on Saturday night, and then far too much good red wine to go with our gigantic porterhouse, and my head refuses to tolerate such things these days. I could already feel a sliver of pain behind my left eye when I went to bed that night, and the sliver had turned into a dagger by the next morning. Our lavish dinner on Saturday had been kind of celebratory—not a celebration of any particular thing, just a moment to deliberately enjoy delicious food and a relaxed weekend and life in general. But honestly, I was also trying to drown some sorrows, and in doing so I landed myself with new ones.

As I lay in bed feeling wretched, I thought about how I was actually quite lucky that it was a Sunday and I didn’t have anything else to do or anywhere else to be. I’ve so often had to travel with a migraine that I’ve come to associate the headaches with being on the move. When our traveling came to stop last year, I wondered (rather too optimistically) whether my migraines might stop, too. They haven’t, but I’ve had somewhat fewer of them and they’re generally more manageable. Now as the pain starts to grow, I can sit very still on the couch and eventually crawl into my own bed and stay put for as long as I need to until the migraine passes.

That’s a downright luxury when I think about all the times I haven’t been able to do that, when I’ve gotten whacked with a migraine a quarter of the way into an 18-hour journey and had to muddle through anyway in private agony. I’ve suffered from migraines in planes, trains, automobiles, and even an ocean liner. I’ve buried my aching head in the pillows of hotel rooms around the world: Paris, Reykjavik, Budapest, Bangkok, Taipei, Sydney, Kyoto, and countless cities in the States. I’ve gritted my teeth in pain through fabulous dinners (including a multi-course kaiseki meal in Japan) and had to abandon other dinners altogether (I made it through the soup course at a lovely conference speakers’ dinner in Freiburg several years ago before giving up and shuffling back to the hotel in misery). I’ve sought out pain pills in multiple airports, train stations and foreign pharmacies. I’ve moved through so many parts of the world in a daze, either lost in the spaced-out feeling that precedes my migraines or blinded by the pain itself. I once landed on my own at Heathrow with a raging migraine and, unable to bear the thought of the circuitous bus journey that would have gotten me home in 2+ hours, I fell into the first cab I saw and asked the driver to take me straight to Brighton. And he did—for £300. And I would have paid £3000 if I’d had it and it would have gotten me there faster.

But there were no such concerns yesterday. It was just me in my PJs all Sunday long, going nowhere, regretting all the wine from the night before but also somehow not regretting it because I’d wanted that wine with the magnificent steak, just as I’d wanted the Negroni before it. There are so many things I want that I can’t have right now, so I stubbornly cling to things I can. Even when it does me no favors.

I’d started Saturday by breaking a glass, which was kind of a pandemic milestone in its own right. It was a “Bisolation Beer” glass from Bison Beer that we got fairly early on in the pandemic last year, during the first lockdown, after we’d moved from the “OMG” phase into the “OK let’s do this thing” phase, and it was still an exciting novelty to have local craft beer and fancy restaurant food delivered to the door. I’d been using the glass for my cocktails ever since, and though the Bison Beer design was eventually scoured off in the dishwasher, the glass itself was still sound—until Saturday morning, when I was unloading the dishwasher and I knocked a wine glass into the beer glass, cracking them both. Maybe it was a sign.

If it was a sign, I ignored it, and I paid the price. When I woke up at 7:30 yesterday morning, the migraine was in full swing, and I calculated that it would be around 3 p.m. before I felt better (my migraines generally last about 8 hours from the point where they become agonizing to the point where they fade away). There’s always a part of me that wonders if maybe the headache just won’t go away this time, and when I think such things, my heart starts to pound in terror, making my head pound even more—so I try really, really hard not to think such things. I needn’t have worried about that yesterday: as if on cue, I emerged from a fitful nap at 3:15 to find that the headache was mostly gone and I could tentatively re-enter the land of the living. I felt fragile and battered, like I always do, capable only of sitting on the couch and quietly sipping tea. But I sipped without pain, so it was the best cup of tea in the universe.

And at some point early yesterday afternoon, when I was still buried in my pillows and lost to the headache, there was a knock at the door and a kind person from Bison Beer delivered the replacement glass I had ordered the day before. A “Bison Brrr” glass this time rather than “Bisolation Beer”, in keeping with the season. Life in the time of COVID continues.


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