My first experience with migraines was not my own. I didn’t experience an onslaught of pain in my head or visual disturbances, no nausea. The sun did not suddenly become too bright and the playground too loud. There was pain but it was in my nose. And blood.
I vividly remember going to the nurse’s office for a bloody nose from recess. I was still in elementary school, third grade. We were playing Marco Polo on the half dome jungle gym. When the aides called us in, my eyes were still closed and I was still screaming “Marco” at the top of my lungs. Some kid swung down from the top and the bottom of his sneaker connected with the tip of my nose. There was a lot of blood.
I walked up to the nurse’s office with a wad of tissues and blood all down the front of my face and hand, a little on the collar of my tee shirt. I managed to drip blood the entire way there, all over the tile halls and on the carpet in the main office. I showed the secretaries at the front, pulling the tissue away and letting the blood drip down my face. The nurse’s office was just down the hall, past the lobby with secretaries. I knocked on her door when I noticed another boy in there.
There was another kid sitting in the chair next to her desk. She looked up from him and saw me. She sat me down in another chair with a box of tissues and a trash can. When I pulled the first wad of tissue from my nose, I looked at the vivid red on white. I looked closer and saw little bits of wood chips in the tissue. I balled it up and threw it in the trash. I pulled more tissues out when I felt the blood begin to drip down my nostrils.
I was familiar with the nurse. When I was in first grade I was diagnosed with asthma. Every morning I would bring her my inhaler to keep in her office and every afternoon I would retrieve it before going home. I wasn’t in her office for asthma much. I always seemed to be on the ground. Either falling and twisting something or falling and scraping something. I always ended up in her office bloody and scraped up but this was my first bloody nose.
She gave the boy in the chair two pills, a cup of water and sent him to a bed across the room. I moved to her chair and she saw me. She tutted over me and cleaned up me. I took another spill at recess, no blood but a couple wood chips pressed in my skin on my legs. She pulled the tissue away, dropping it in the can and looking at my nose.
“How did you manage this?” she asked me.
“Tyler did it,” I told her, “We were playing Marco Polo.”
She asked me how I was feeling. That meant “how are my lungs doing?” I told her I was having trouble breathing due to my nose and asthma. She lets me lay down. The boy got out of the bed, got a cup of water from the water cooler and sat down across the room. His eyes closed and his head lolled back against the window to the hall way.
“Have you had an MRI?” she asks.
“No,” he replies. I watch him squeeze his eyes shut and his head loll forward.
I zone out, not knowing what any of it means. I catch a couple words, migraine, headache, doctor, no insurance, and MRI again. The gist of it was that he had headaches all the time but his family had no insurance to go to the doctors. All he has is the nurse.
He lies back down after a bit, facing the wall, curled up, and cradling his head.
She sends me back to class. I still smell and taste copper.
My own migraines don’t start for another 4 years.