Wait. THAT was Spinal Tap?!!%^&$%








Baratunde at Mass General, originally uploaded by baratunde.





Last Tuesday at 10pm, I was on stage in New York's Greenwich Village making the people laugh. Twenty four hours later, I was on a stretcher in Boston's Mass General Hospital Emergency Room waiting to get an MRI. It's been a tough week.



After the Village show, I took a 12:30am overnight bus back to Boston, slept a few hours and got up to do some radio promo interviews for an upcoming show in Turners Falls, Mass. However, within an hour of waking, I had another freaky nervous system and headache episode like the one that followed my fast in late September. The good news is the fast probably had nothing to do with it. The bad news is that it happened again.



Nearly all of the same symptoms returned: numbness in right arm, inability to visually focus, painful sensitivity to light, horribly sluggish speech and sudden loss of vocabulary and lucidity plus the headache from Hell. The only difference was that I did not forget the names of the people around me. Oh, and I went to the hospital this time.



I've been to the ER so many times in the past four years (via wheelchair from the doctor's office, via ambulance from my home, via walk-in), I should get some sort of frequent flyer miles. Here's what I have in mind for perks.



  • The man sitting next to me, hacking up Avian Flubola, is forced to wear a face mask


  • The seats in the waiting room are not covered in bloody bandages


  • The People Magazines are from the current fiscal quarter


  • The ER staff only ask me to describe what happened five times, rather than eight or 10




Why do they ask so many, many times? It's like a damn interrogation! I mean, really, what would they do if my story changed? "Aha! You know you done f--ked up right? You know you done f--ked up. Twelve hours ago you said the headache started at 10am, but just now you said it was 9:30! You think you can play us punk???!!"



After eight hours, I had an MRI of my head which led them to want to perform a lumbar puncture (LP), commonly referred to as a "spinal tap." I saw the movie, I thought it was hilarious. How could I not? They had an amplifier which actually went all the way up to 11, ok? "Spinal tap" sounds like a pretty innocent procedure. I was envisioning one of those little triangle-shaped hammers tapping against my spine. All good!



No. All wrong.



A spinal tap involves them shoving a porno-sized needle in between your vertebrae and extracting spinal fluid. The doctor assured me it was simple, quick and relatively painless. He was also, really, really good at it. It should have taken perhaps 20 minutes.



One hour and many holes in my back later, the procedure was finally done. Apparently, I have a "unique" spine which made it difficult to find an entry point between the vertebrae. This, in turn, required much "exploration" along the spine and a retarded amount of local anesthetic. I was stabbed in the back so many times, I felt that for a few minutes, I knew exactly what Jesus would do. Jesus would weep! Then he would shut up because weeping made it hurt more.



So, the diagnosis? No brain tumors. No brain bleeding. My brain is pretty kick ass. What I have is a case of insanely debilitating migraines. Yes, migraines. Migraines that feel like a little stroke. Pretty sweet huh? Not!



The ER let me go after I slept for a few hours, post back-stabbing. I hobbled my way out, but not before they warned me about "the spinal headache." They said I should lay on my back for the rest of the day and drink plenty of water. That afternoon, I spoke with my sister, who reiterated in absolutely clear terms that I did not want to experience "the spinal headache." (you might as well add your own "dun dun dunnnnnh" sound effect here).



Here's what happens. The doctor has stolen something essential from your body, something called "spinal fluid." This fluid is also around your brain and provides a cushion between your brain and skull. With a reduction in this fluidy softness, one must lie down for 24 hours, even keeping the head slightly below the feet, in order to keep fluid in the brain at an adequate level. If one does not heed these instructions, one will incur the wrath of "the spinal headache" which will make one's migraine feel like "a walk in the park."



That got my attention. Anything that would make the migraine seem bearable must be terrible indeed. I laid down for a full 24 hours and managed to avoid "the spinal headache" (dun dun dunnnnnh)... or so I thought!



In addition to an extremely stiff and sensitive back, Friday evening, out having dinner with a friend, I started to feel something funny in my head. Then it was pain. Then it was awfully awfulness right behind my eyes and deep inside my head. Tylenol did nothing. The only solution was to lie flat. For the next three days, I could not remain vertical for much more than an hour. I abandoned friends at three consecutive meals just to go lie down wherever I could find a bench or floor. It was the second-worst pain of my life (just behind the 2004 US Presidential Election).



I'm happy to say that I'm through the worst of it. The spinal headaches are ebbing, and my back is much better. But how do I prevent this in the future? I have been given a few home-grown remedies for migraines (baby aspirin a day! awww yeah!), but there's a bigger issue going on here, my people. I need to chill the f--k out!



After falling asleep behind the wheel at 65 mph, getting surgery for a broken kneecap, contracting medieval-ass tuberculosis and now this migraine madness, I think I'm ready to listen to my body. What it's saying is: "We're 29 now. Twenty-nine, ya hear!? Not 22, not 19, but twenty-friggin-nine. You know you done f--ked up right?"