I’ve mentioned it a few times, the Big Hemiplegic Migraine that sent me to the ER in a dramatic sort of full body alert that I’d never before experienced, unable to speak or fully use my right side, barely able to remember how to form words on paper, too weak to walk alone, and very very scared. Those big and obvious symptoms have long faded, and now the extreme versions of other symptoms are starting to recede a bit too, but right now those lesser, non-scary symptoms are still somewhat ramped up and extreme, and a little distracting.
My ADHD brain has taken this distraction and run with it, constantly making analogies to explain and categorize the odd sensations I’ve been experiencing. I’ve cataloged them here for your reading pleasure. I hope you enjoy them more than I do.
Nearly all the time, there’s a gentle vibrating tickle at the back of my neck, trailing down my spine. If you were raised in a church with a leaning toward Pentecostal, Apostolic, Charismatic, or some other such Holy Spirit-led group, or belonged to another fervent religious group, this may be a familiar sensation to you. You’re caught up in the heights of ecstatic praise, and a brother or sister or elder begins shouting out a prophetic message in the exact words of the Scripture you read that morning: there it is, that gentle tickle on the back of your neck. A more mundane setting for this sensation might be a struggling single mom who brings a five-dollar coat for her child to the register at a secondhand store, and happens to slip her hand into the pocket, where she finds…a five-dollar bill. I guarantee she feels a tickle on the back of her neck, a shimmer along her spine. That, dear readers, is the finger of God.
I feel the finger of God a lot these days. It’s a little disconcerting. When I was a teenager, my Aunt Gaye and her sister, my sort-of Aunt Julie, used to run their fingers down our spines (or their knuckles, if they felt like being emphatic) when their daughters and nieces were demonstrating poor posture. I grew to half-expect this from my aunts; one never quite expects God’s finger to hover permanently over one’s spine.
Most days, this tickle intensifies and spreads upwards into my scalp. My hair lifts, and my skin prickles. I can describe this one easily, in terms everyone will understand: spooky stories during a sleepover! Or… that feeling when you know you’re sharing space with a ghost.
About fifteen years ago, when I was a student at a Christian college which was part of a network of communes spread across mostly North America (with a few elsewhere worldwide, too), I was visiting friends at the home of one of the commune’s hosting families (that is, they were commune residents who hosted college students during the school year). It was just us five girls, the high-school-aged daughter of the family and four college girls. We knew we were in the house alone; we’d recently been upstairs, where we were the only ones present, and were now down in the kitchen getting a snack. During a pause in conversation, we heard footsteps. Heavy footsteps, above our heads. Five heads swiveled toward the stairs, then back toward each other. Sherri shook her head; no, she confirmed, no one else was home. We listened in utter silence as the footsteps moved back and forth from room to room. And then. The footsteps came to the top of the stairs. We clearly heard footsteps descending. Vertebrae in five necks crackled as our heads whipped toward the staircase, which was in clear view from the kitchen counter.
No one was there.
Oh yes, our scalps were prickling.
I feel that way a lot these days. I’m pursued by ghosts.
Some days, the gentle tickle and the prickling scalp intensify still more and spreads into my face and hands and sometimes my toes. It becomes a tingle punctuated with numb spots. Usually it’s merely bothersome, though occasionally, rarely, it’s enough to make my hands clumsy or make eating difficult. It concentrates around my eye sockets, temples, nostrils, mouth. Sometimes my lips, tongue, and roof of my mouth become partly numb. Is this sounding a bit familiar? Yes, indeed. It’s like a visit to the dentist.
I’m a redhead, incidentally. In addition to feeling certain types of pain differently than other people, redheads are also, weirdly, resistant to certain types of pain medication, like the lidocaine dentists use. Often this isn’t too much of an issue, but I remember one horrific incident. Really unpleasant. My childhood dentist, the wild-eyebrowed, kind-eyed, bluntly-spoken Dr. LeCoq, to whom all the commune mothers took their children, was preparing me for an extra-deep filling one day in my late teens. I’d had plenty of fillings before, and had often felt a little pain with drilling (though the good Dr. LeCoq didn’t entirely believe me), but this time was different. This time, I never went entirely numb.
Dr. LeCoq gave me a shot, told me I would soon be able to feel pressure but not pain, demonstrated by tapping my thumbnail, and left the room. He returned the appropriate amount of time later, cheerfully tapping my gum with some metal instrument of torture. “Ow,” I said. “Huh,” he said, “that’s odd,” and gave me another shot. This continued as long as was ethically allowable — at some point I’d had as much lidocaine as I could possibly have, and he simply had to either drill or let me go home. I was almost numb, really, so I told him to drill. Oh, yes. There’s a reason anesthesia is widely used in modern times.
Well. Anyway. That’s not really the point. The point is, my face often feels like that. It feels like my dentist — who felt terrible about the whole thing, by the way — has given me the first ineffective shot of lidocaine, and I haven’t gone entirely numb: I can smile with both sides of my mouth, talk clearly, eat without drooling; but it feels…funny. On those days, I’m in a perpetual visit to the dentist. But no one’s giving me free toothbrushes.
Most days, that’s as bad as it gets. I mean, there are a few days when the facial sensations are amped up to electric fly swatter levels, when I’m nearly convinced that should a fly happen to land on my face, it would be zapped to death. It’s mildly painful. Mildly, as in, there are mild electrical shocks running across my face and sometimes through my hands without stopping. It could be worse. It’s nothing like sciatica, which feels more like the sensation of running full bore into an electric livestock fence, concentrated into one area of back and hip. So, really, it’s mild. Fly swatter… electric fence… meh, I’ll take the fly swatter, thanks.
So there you have it. If you’re a family member, and a friend is asking after me, and you REALLY feel you wish to give them all the details, just remember: finger of God, ghost stories, dentist’s office, electric fly swatter.
I’m fine, by the way — energy is returning bit by bit, to the point that daily life is about back to normal; migraines have receded completely, thanks to preventative medication; I’ve recovered nearly all the normal use of my right hand, only noticing issues if I’m trying to thread a needle or write in a small space; I haven’t had trouble walking in nearly a month. The painful electrical sensation in my face is rare, usually lasting just a short time. I’m thankful that, so far, this is affecting me less than it seems to affect other people who experience hemiplegic migraines. Those symptoms I listed above? Weird; strange; distracting; sometimes amusing. Almost never painful. They don’t interfere with daily activities. So yes, really: I’m okay.
I’ll just be even more happy when the finger of God lifts for awhile, the ghost goes off to haunt someone else, the dentist gives up and sends me away, and the batteries in the fly swatter give out.