I’ve been having fun and games with migraines of late, most of them likely down to work stress. On Thursday afternoon however I was sitting at my desk when I was hit by the most intense headache I’ve ever had. Horrible, blinding pain in what I presume to be my left frontal lobe, just above my eye, so bad that I had to struggle not to burst into tears.
I’d had a mild headache all day, but this was something else entirely. It wasn’t preceded by the entertaining visual disturbances that usually herald one of my migraines, and it felt entirely different anyway. My immediate thought was that it was some kind of aneurysm, so I spent a few minutes making faces, sticking out my tongue and waggling my arms around testing for any kind of weakness, which must have looked quite odd to my co-workers. Then, entirely without warning, it went away. Bang. Gone. leaving behind the same mild headache I’d had since that morning and some general spaciness and dizziness.
I considered my next move. I could assume it was an atypical migraine, complete my work day, go home and go to bed. Of course if it was some kind of brain bleed I would then most likely expire in the middle of the night. On the other hand if it wasn’t some kind of brain bleed I’d lie awake all night in sheer terror of expiring, which would be almost as bad, if not – from a personal perspective – worse. Alternatively I could head a couple of blocks over to the emergency department at Charlie’s and get prodded and poked and be fed interesting drugs for a few hours at the government’s expense. So that’s what I did.
Now, the annoying thing about public hospitals is the time it takes to get everything done. Don’t get me wrong, the doctors and nurses do an amazing job dealing with dozens of patients, and when a choice has to be made about treating a guy who had a nasty headache which is kind of gone now and someone who’s spraying blood all over the wall from an arterial bleed, the bleeder is definitely the one you should be concentrating on. But it is frustrating being shoved in a bed in the corner and then – after your initial examination – being ignored for several hours, short of a nurse occasionally coming by and checking your blood pressure, especially when you’re trying not to think about important parts of your brain getting metaphorically lost in a field in Hampshire.
Eventually however I was sent off for a CAT scan of my head. Which was interesting, since I’ve never had one before. They strapped me down onto a special pillow and shoved my head into a giant plastic doughnut which made some strange noises and flashed red lights at me for a bit. Then they wheeled me back into the emergency department and ignored me for another hour or so.
Eventually someone materialised and informed me that they were taking me to an observation ward. I was wheeled out and across the hall to a somewhat quieter room when I didn’t have to listen to intermittent screaming and the woman in the bed next door demanding to talk to her doctor, be given food and be sent home – despite being told repeatedly that the latter two actions would result in her kidneys messily self-destructing.
After what seemed like another eternity in the limbo of the observation ward a rather attractive doctor with the remarkable surname Vlad wandered over and informed me that the CAT scan had found nothing (great potential for jokes there I must say) and that as soon as a letter was written up for my GP I was free to go. Knowing the hospital system of old however I knew that such letters are written when the doctors have a bit of down time, sewing people back together taking precedence over paperwork, so I prepared myself for another lengthy wait, reassured at least that my brain wasn’t about to do me in, and that I could get properly dressed rather than continue to lounge about in one of those gowns that don’t quite tie up properly at the back.
But, surprise! My original doctor popped back up and explained that the CAT scan had shown that my lymph nodes and parotid glands were swollen, and so they needed to do a chest X-Ray. Exactly why was not really explained, I presume it was to ensure that I didn’t have some kind of very stealthy lung tumor. After some muttering it was decided that my t-shirt was light enough not to intefere with the process, so I at least didn’t need to get changed again. After a surprisingly short wait I was whisked off to the radiology department (again) where they took a bunch of glamour shots of my ribcage. Then it was back to observation. Again.
Finally, after more interminable waiting, I was presented with a clean bill of health and a doctor’s letter. I was free! Free! I stepped out into the cold night air after a good seven hours of taking up a bed that could probably have been better used by someone who was actually sick.
But I didn’t come here to talk about that. Came to talk about parotid glands.
When I was about eleven I got sick. Not dangerously sick, just running a temperature and feeling miserable. Mum dragged me off to the doctor who diagnosed a generic virus, drew some blood, and sent me home to take a few days off school. A couple of weeks later the blood test results come back and it turned out that I’d actually had the measles – but such a mild case of the measles that it wasn’t even identifiable as the measles without the very blood tests that had, in fact, identified it.
I was of course immunised against the measles as a kid and I put the disease’s inability to cause me any serious problems down to that fact.
While there are various viruses that can cause swelling of the parotid glands the most common is the mumps. I can’t help but wonder if I’ve picked up a case of it somewhere and my pre-prepared immune system (since I was immunised against mumps as well) has kept it down to a mild inconvenience. No way to tell short of blood tests of course, but I’ve been wandering around humming The Song of the Jollyrock Light for several days anyway, just in case.
Over and out.