Blood Tests

The poster on the wall is crooked. I wonder if she noticed that. The phlebotomist  is entering the tests into the computer to print out the labels.

The printer whirs to life and prints out a sheet of labels longer than my arm. The nurse looks at me, she must have seen me pale at the number of labels, the number of vials of blood she would have to take.

“It won’t be that bad,” she tells me.

“Better than a spinal tap,” I answer, “hopefully I’ll figure out why I have awful migraines,” I feel the cold wipe on the inside of my arm.

“I’d rather do this every day than a spinal tap…a small pinch.”

Yeah, I’d rather the small pinch too.


Another Day Another Doctor

I’m heading back to the family doctor in order to see where he thinks I should go next. It basically means lots of phone calls to lots of nurses and doctors and I hate talking on the phone to get my updated files sent to him. Good news, the doctor’s visit isn’t today. Bad news, I have to wait until next week.

The First Doctor’s Appointment

My mom called that morning, making the doctor’s appointment. I needed the doctor’s excuse from school. I had missed too much school already and it was only November. I’m sitting in the doctor’s office. I’ve been here a hundred times before, all sicker than this. I felt fine, I just had a headache. My head still hurts as I stare at the puce walls. My eyes squeeze shut with another bit of shooting pain. The only reason I don’t groan is because of the other people here, all a lot older than me. I’m 14 and they’re all adults. One woman is constantly sneezing and coughing into her balled up fist. Across the room an older man is sitting there reading a magazine. My mom sits across from me, reading her own magazine. She looks up at me, reaches across and nudges my foot with her own. My head lolls forward. “Alright?” she asks me.

“Yeah,” I answer. We’re still in the early stages. I haven’t started being honest yet.

The woman across the room sneezes again.

I don’t feel sick. I don’t have the awful cough this other woman has. I don’t feel like I need to be here. I want to be at home in my bed, and maybe that’s exactly why I’m here. I don’t feel sick, I just have a headache.

“Emily?” the nurse stands at the mouth of the narrow hall way.

I follow her back. I’m weighed. They check my height. I lost a couple pounds and gained a couple inches. Not bad. Now if only I could get rid of this…

“What brings you here today?”

“I’ve been having headaches for a while…,” I answer.

“How long?” she asks.

Christ. It seems like forever.

“For a couple months now,” my mom answers, “she’s missing school because of it,”

“What does it feel like?” she asks.

“An ice pick in my skull,” I answer.

She makes a couple notes, “the doctor will be in shortly.”

I sit back. My head hurts. I close my eyes.

“Hello,” the doctor enters the room, “how are we today?” she asks.

I’m not sick. I’m not coughing or generally feel ill. I just have a headache.

“Alright,” I answer.

People who feel alright don’t need to be at the doctor. The room suddenly feels too small with all three of us in here. I don’t belong here. I need to leave.

She gives me a skeptical look, glancing down at the chart.

“I’ve been having headaches,” I tell her.

God, I feel so stupid. Someone who’s dying should be sitting here talking to her.

I’m just some kid with some headache.

We talk for a little bit. Well, her and my mom. I just nod in confirmation, filling in the blanks.

“Okay well, I think a little diet and exercise should help. Try to sleep better. If it gets worse, then we’ll think about a referral to a neurologist,” she says at the end of the appointment.

My head thumps against the wall and continues to ache.


I yawn again for what seems like the millionth time. “I’m sorry, I’m just really tired,” I tell her. I give her a small smile.

She’s a new romantic interest, someone I met online who goes to my university. I probably would have never met her any other way. She seems really nice. We agreed to coffee in the library lounge.

I should just come clean.

“I started a new medicine,” I say awkwardly. She gives me a funny look, one eye brow cocked. Christ, “for migraines,” she looks relieved but gives me a look of pity, apologetic.

No, stop.

“I’m still adjusting to it,” I take a sip of my bitter hot chocolate, burning my tongue.

“Yeah?” she replies, “I’m still adjusting to the dorms – so noisy,” she laughs and yawns herself.

I laugh. I don’t find her joke particularly funny.  I slept fourteen hours from this new medicine, I still have a pounding headache from waking up  on my day off to meet her when I should be sleeping off this medicine. I’ll be up late tonight finishing homework I should be doing now.

I’m a little relieved to get the migraine discussion out of the way. I told her and that was the end of it. Now I don’t have to deal with it later down the road when I cancel, skip or forget about dates. Maybe it will be less awkward when I text her in class when I think our next date is now when it’s not for another hour or two. I can chalk it up to a migraine. Maybe she’ll understand.

I feel a little uncomfortable. As we’re getting to know each other, the first I basically said was, “Hi, I’m Emily and I have migraines.” Is that the most significant thing about me? I don’t want it to be but it has become just that.

Afterwards, I’ll walk out of the library with her to her next class and I’ll walk back out to my car – heading home. I’m surprised when she asks for a second date. Eventually it doesn’t pan out.

On Suffering

Suffering means to “experience or be subjected to (something bad or unpleasant)”. I think that’s a pretty accurate definition but it lacks a time line. There is an implied end of suffering. There was a time before and after suffering.  One suffers because it is worse than what is was before and it gets better after. I don’t like to say I suffer from migraines, headaches or chronic pain. I don’t feel that I suffer, not anymore. I only ever say I suffer because it’s easier to explain, it’s understandable. From time to time, the migraine will be worse, I’ll have other symptoms but migraines have become assimilated into my life so much that I don’t suffer, I just live with them. A migraine is definitely an experience and it’s bad but I don’t think I suffer. Can it be considered suffering when it’s every day? There was a before, seven years ago and I have no end. I live like this, do I suffer every day? Maybe. But I can’t think of it that way. The key word is live. I’m not suffering, I’m living.