The New Normal

September 16, 2014

Posted By: Shaunescy

I thought they were migraines.

For a year or more, in my early twenties, I suffered through frequent headaches, headaches so debilitating that my forehead was tender to the touch, and my right eye watered constantly. The pain was so awful that I would lay on my couch and jam a pillow against my head, cutting out the light and easing some of the hurt. If I could manage a nap, then I’d normally be alright once I woke up. A six pack of Budweiser (in bottles, not cans) would also do the trick, but I never mentioned that particular home remedy to my doctor—whose tests consistently revealed nothing. My wisdom teeth were all removed, working on the vague theory that maybe they were coming in crooked enough to be putting pressure on my jaw, causing pain to phantom into other parts of my skull.

Then they went away. For more than twenty years.

A few months ago, they came roaring back—same pain as before, the sort of pain that aspirin can’t dent. They start in my left temple, radiate across my forehead and scalp and down my neck. My right eye first turns beat red and then runs.

They suck.

My doctor now is smarter than the doctor I had then, and she recognized “cluster headaches” when she saw them. They have all the markers of migraines, but they come and go, for months and even years at a time. I can’t keep a refrigerator full of Budweiser to support my brown-bottle remedy, but I can take prescription medicines. I take one whenever I feel a headache coming on (although I’m reluctant to take one of these nasty chalk bombs because, even with insurance, they still cost $12 each). I also take a (thankfully cheaper) “prophylactic” medication daily, something that’s usually for high blood pressure but also thwarts cluster headaches. (Until I was diagnosed by my awesome doctor, I had never heard the word “prophylactic” used in this context. I now try to work it into conversation whenever possible.)

Taking one prophylactical (I’m pretty sure I just made that word up, but I like it better than “prophylacticen” or “prophylactish,” both of which occurred to me.) medication daily and one at the first onset of pain is just part of the routine now. And those pills have joined a growing collection on my side of the shared medicine cabinet in the master bathroom. There are pills for my bad stomach and pills for my bad prostate. There are pain pills for my back, now that I managed to somehow herniate a disc this summer while taking a shower. A muscle relaxant works on the back, too, although stretching exercises work better. When I do them. Which isn’t anywhere near daily.

All of this is part of my “new normal,” I’m told.

New normal. It’s a nice alliteration, but I hate everything else about it, including the fact that I’ve been ordered onto a “no starch, no sugar” sort of diet...because I somehow managed to put on twenty pounds in two months and (a) drop into a bad-cholesterol sort of category and (b) double the “safe” level of triglycerides in my blood. Both indicate potential trouble with diabetes and heart disease, but is it my fault that potatoes are awesome in all forms?

No chips, no corn on the cob, no rice. The new normal.

If my new normal only included dietary restrictions and prescribed medications, I could probably deal with it (although I’m spending an inordinate amount of time wallowing in a middle-age self-pity trough). But my new normal extends to my twins, John and Samantha.

As I write this, John’s away at camp. We’ll go get him tomorrow...after five nights away from home. He called us the first night (mostly just to touch base, I think, since he clearly didn’t want to go home). He hasn’t called since.

When he comes home, he’ll learn something new: Starting two nights ago, we began to allow Sam to go to the local skate park with her friends...under no adult supervision. She’s done well with this new freedom, an extravagance of epic proportions, given that months ago I was barely letting the kids ride their bikes around the block. (I’m a little over protective, alright?) John will expect this privilege to be extended to him, and it will be. Letting the kids go off with their friends is normal matter how much it makes me sweat and fret.

It’s quiet where I live, and the sound of kids laughing carries well in the hot summer air. Last night, while Sam was at the park with two friends (both boys, one sweet on her, I think) I sat on my back deck and read. I mowed the lawn in the afternoon, a big job that takes two hours and four beers (think of that as a preemptive strike on the next headache). Even better, I finally got my favorite sprinkler working. It’s a green tractor with big, black wheels, and it crawls along 100’ of hose, watering from my side yard all the way to the garden, finally fetching up against the swing set.

My son was enjoying camp. My daughter was enjoying her liberty. I was enjoying my book and the smell of cut grass and the fact that my favorite sprinkler was finally moving as it should be.

And then I realized that I have become a man who actually owns not just a sprinkler but

a range of sprinklers—one of which is acknowledged as the favorite, the first among equals.

Who has a favorite sprinkler?

Apparently that’s part of the new normal, too.


With Love, Dad

Shane Borrowman is a native of Anaconda, father of twins, and professor of English at The University of Montana Western.  He has published on a wide range of topics, including the development of boxing in Renaissance England, medieval Arabic philosophy, and American zombie films.  He is editor or co-editor of four writing textbooks and six collections of original scholarship.

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