Tag Archives: pharmaceuticals

The Experiment.

Tonight was a sharp reminder that the other thing I wanted to do with my life was: study the brain.

How many migraineurs out there? How many Imitrex-dependent headaches?

Any [of the aforementioned] classical musicians also take beta blockers?

Suppose you’ve ever mixed the two – not on purpose, of course, but of necessity. You know, you have the headache; you have to perform. You take care of the headache first so you can eat and then, then you take the beta blocker, an hour before curtain.

Now, we are not talking about the time you took an allegra and then a benadryl and THEN called the pharmacist to ask if it was okay. Nope. That was a dangerous mistake, and a stupefyingly enormous one at that. Even if the kids thought you were a laugh riot.

No; I’m talking about the “head game” the synergy of two powerful drugs plays with your pre-frontal cortex and your long term memory. That, even when the pharmacist puts you on hold and looks them up and says that they are safe when taken together.

You are strangely relaxed, in a really unfamiliar way. Then, you discover that your edge is missing, the part that drives your impetus. It takes noticeable effort to pull off the simplest maneuvers, the kind that is more unpleasant than the jitters you have to suppress without the panacea. This is because the serotonin levels in your brain are way too high, negating the customary angst, sturm, und drang that produces a work of art, and you have absolutely no blood pressure.

Somehow, you make it through all the tough passagework and the phrases in this rickety contraption that has become your body. Then, you hit the home stretch.

Fatal Mistake: you think you’re already there.

This is when your brain throws it.

Suddenly, no warning. Your auto pilot jams and tosses a garble that would rival Elmer Fudd, auctioneer. You hear it happen but, like an acute attack of PMS, you are powerless to grasp after any remedy. Your hand is a runaway spider on a greased monkey. And, the thing has no choice but to play itself out until, by some miracle, you reach the final cadence and the eternal mercy of the last note.

People describe your performance. They use words like “great!” and “Thank you for playing!” and “SO musical.” This is code for “You Screwed Up.”

But, you know it. And, this time, you know why. You just wish you could prove it. You wish you knew the mechanism that clogs the synapses and capillaries, that spits out some clunk version of a flawless rendition of the dramatic chromatic ascent that everybody recognizes as the pre-orgasmic hook in the Prelude by Bach. You only know it as the part you’ve played what seems like a hundred times, each one sexier than the time before.

And, all of this titillating sensation is lost on two lousy pills the size of one pinkie fingernail combined.

Those who know the piece make the mental note that you have about as much musical depth as that pinkie fingernail. Those who do not shift in their seats and wonder why they are feeling like they just don’t like this song all of a sudden. Either way, you’ve lost your chance. Your audience. Your moment to make the music.

All because of one lousy migraine, and the belief that you couldn’t do it alone.

Funny about beliefs. Some people stake their lives on them. I think it might be time to dispense with them altogether. There is entirely too much beauty and truth waiting in the wings not to be wasted.




© Ruth Ann Scanzillo

3/15/15   p.s. There’s a version of the piece in question on my blog. Keyword “Bach Prelude from Suite I.” It’s a tad plodding and indulged, but the hook will take you all the way. If you need to change your pants after, chalk it up to the least I could do and know that Bach did it for you. I was just along for the ride.

A Wonderful World.

A headache, to some people, is that rare annoyance that heralds a hangover; to migraineurs, it can provoke wrecked weekends, expired sick days, and yet another My Note on Facebook.

I stared down at my prescription, rather proudly this time; for nearly five months, this middle-aged woman had managed to survive on only one round of 9 migraine pills. This was my all-time record. Even Jesse on his interminable Netflix Breaking Bad marathon would be proud. Noting, however, that the customary, 3-refill date had expired this time, I called the pharmacy. Sure enough; though no refill had been used since April, another would require the physician’s authorization.

Calling their office, I was assured by her nurse that the doctor, who was with a patient, would receive the request and that they would notify me as soon as the pharmacy had been.

Twenty-nine escalating minutes later, I called the pharmacy. No; they had not yet received the request, but to hold me over they’d sell me one pill. Gratified, I exclaimed with relief. Then, the pharmacist said that the fax had just arrived and the entire prescription could be filled within the half hour. Oh, joy. One attitude, headed for adjustment.

Then, the quick double-check: was it brand-name, or generic?

For some, unexplained reason, generic isn’t as effective. Neither was the called-in refill. Furthermore, the pharmacist had no brand-name in stock. Would he call the other stores? He would. One branch, out in the county, Imitrex. This was a good nineteen minutes away – a day trip for any Erieite.

And then, I remembered: my car was in the shop.

Now, optimists would say: “Well, the walk (to the service station) will do you good! Maybe it will even take your headache away!”

But, what would we do without our pessimists? Without them, there’d be no warning of impending disaster. There’d be no sigh of ecstatic relief, collectively or privately. There’d be no reward for all the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, gentleness, goodness, faith, long-suffering, temperance, patience……there’d be just that dull glaze of the ever-present absence of anticipated expectation. I would theorize that there’d be little blood flow to the brain, as well, but what would I know? I’m just a brooding melancholy, raised by sectarian Fundamentalists, embittered by disappointment. And, head pain.

When I got to the service center, my car had been moved across the street and, for one moment of disarming disbelief, I wondered if they’d already checked the engine. Not a chance. I asked for the key, told the Armenian woman in English that I’d be bringing the car back, then crossed over to the parking lot.

Out onto the road, stopped at the corner, the Low Fuel light pops me a ding. That’s right. The night before, I’d opted to cover that problem the next day. The present now having caught up with itself, I chugged east on 12th to the nearest filling station en route.

Leaning against the rear bumper in the sunlight, I waited stoically for the tank to fill. A left turning driver had wildly cut in front of full oncoming traffic only a moment before, missing a magnificent collision in front of sixteen lanes of vehicles. Standing quite still seemed to calm that wake a bit, plus it  offered a cleaner sense of the progress of my migraine. Was the pain becoming diffuse? Was the barometric pressure changing? Was the presence of so much fuel exhaust affecting the relative pressure of the air around it? All of these questions floated like sea foam in my head, eyes still squinting behind the clip-on shades. I wondered if Walt ever got migraines, and how many drug deals would be going down within the hour on Parade Street at 12th.

The final car to slide under two consecutive yellow lights, I really began to feel the recklessness of the enterprise. The last time this car had headed east this quickly on 12th, the oncoming line of cars had slowed to a funereal pace and I’d only had time to glance their way in irritation before the tiny, black-brown, blind Chihuahua trotted into my left front wheel well. I’d pulled to the curb, frantic, trying to chase the dog down, running up and down the sidewalk and into driveways, desperately seeking a creature that could not be found. The fact that I had caused a fragile living thing such pain was more than I could fathom, but the animal never showed itself to me again and I left the scene like a criminal with no defense.

Pulling the car into the same service lot where I’d found it, a woman without teeth was just taking my slot. She exited her car, and walked over to the house where she lived, happy to have her own spot in a long line of homes without driveways, remnants of the west-side’s earliest railroad-track residents. I returned my keys to the auto service office and headed up the short hill towards my own empty driveway, passing the toothless woman and her cat, who had just retreated from his stoop. I wondered if the interior of her house harbored semi-comatose drug addicts rousing up just enough to mumble something about ordering their pizzas from Little Anthony’s. As I reached the corner of my street, an SUV slowed around the turn and, in one moment, its window opened and a guy called out quickly and quietly, asking if I needed a ride.

Forty years ago, this would have been considered neighborly; now, suddenly, I was moved to check whether my shrunken t-shirt was meeting the rim of my low-rise capris and hoped he’d seen that I had a full set of my own healthy incisors before I bowed my head in a curt: “No, thanks!” So shaken was I by this vulnerability, my head turned furtively in all directions, searching for a familiar face. The guy who lived on the corner was just coming from his garage. A total stranger to me, he cocked his head awkwardly when I called out:  “Some guy just asked me if I needed a ride…….and, I live here!  I’ve been here for twenty years!”

The weeds in the age-old sidewalk puffed under my shoes. I thought of paying the city, just to have one, block-long stretch of clean, flat pavement. My head was hardly aching right then but I knew that, upon entering the house, I’d probably still take one of those pills in the bag stuck in my purse. I’d do it, vowing that this would be my last one ever, just like this would be my last migraine, ever.

That was the best shot at optimism I could muster for a Thursday in my life. There was still the car, after all – new brakes and rotors, the mechanic had finally called to say. I’d known the news wouldn’t be good when the Armenian woman’s message asked me to call back, right away. People who get headaches learn how to predict these things. We partake, however briefly, in that grande massage of the underbelly of the pained. We are the bell-ringers in everybody else’s wonderful world.




© ruth a. scanzillo


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