YEARS AGO, there was a television commercial for some cold or headache remedy that showed a haggard housewife holding her throbbing head, desperate for relief. All of a sudden, a bunch of urchins burst through her front door screaming, "Hi, Mom, we'er home." You knew right then that the poor woman's nevres were like shatted glass and that the only reason she didn't shoot herself or her children was the miraculous effects of X-brand product that flashed on the screen.
Wednesday afternoon I went home from work because of a migraine headache. People who don't have migraines don't understand them. I know this for a fact since I didn't used to get them and I thought that people who did were exaggerating hypochondriacs. I know now that migraines aren't merely bad. People have been know to bang their heads against stone walls for relief. Medical books have described them as the worst pain know to man.
I saw no exaggeration in any of this by the time I left work to go home. Belatedly, I'd taken the prescription medication for migraines, and I knew the only thing that would help me was to go to bed in a nice, air-conditioned bedroom. Rest, peace and absolute quiet in a nice, cool, dark bedroom were what I needed.
But I was thinking I was someone else.
In my medicated misery, I was thinking I could slip into a cool robe and lie down on plumped-up pillows like Jean Harlow. I was thinking it was early afternoon, and no one would be at my house to disturb my convalescence -- no children, no husband, no pets, not a sound -- and I would be able to drift off to sleep and wake up a couple of hours later feeling terrific.
Here, of course, is what happen. First, the air conditioning was turned off, and the house was hot and stuffy, and the mail was nothing but bills. There was nothing appetizing to eat or drink in the refrigerator and instead of being able to slip into something nice and cool and gauzy and comfortable like Jean Harlow, the only cool thing I could find to put on was a pair of maternity (yes) shorts and a top.
I pulled down the shades, crawled into bed and tried to get comfortable. This is not easy under the current circumstances, but then neither is tossing and turning. I got as comfortable as possible and closed my eyes, listening to the shooting hum of the air conditioner. Finally, I started to doze off.
Slam. Crash. Slam. Large feet were running up the stairs, but they weren't the feet of an intruder, who could have taken the valuables and cleared out quickly so I could go back to sleep. No, these were the feet of the 13-year-old , who had come home and found my car in the carport, and leapfrogged to the conclusion that I'd come home to have the baby. He yelled "Mom" from the living room in a loud, panicked voice before bursting into the bedroom.
I pointed to my head. "Terrible headache," I whispered, hoping he would get the hint. He was so relieved that I was having a mere migraine and not a baby that he sat down on the bed and started to chat about this day. I listened, eyes closed to a voice I normally love to hear but which right then pounded into my head like a pneumatic drill. He finally kissed me, patted me on the head and went off to deliver his newspapers.
Quiet again. I tried to doze off, only to hear the mournful howling of our alley cat, which in its old age has taken to hollering like a Siamese. He came into the bedroom and onto the bed. My headache was getting worse.
Then the phone started to ring, something it continued to do the remainder of the afternoon and evening. The temptation, of course, was to throw it outside or at least disconnect it, but what if it was my office calling, or my husband's? Is it fair to have my son's friends dial into busy signals for hours just because I feel rotten?
About 6 p.m. my husband arrived home with the three (almost four) year-old, who filled with concern, burst into the bedroom, jumped on the bed and peered into my face. "Mom, you got a cold?" I tried to explain but by then I was in such pain that there were tears in my eyes. I defied all the dire warnings about being pregnant and taking medicine and stumbled to the medicine cabinet for a codeine pill. The three-year-old was so concerned that he sat rigidly on the side of the bed, staring at me, patting me occasionally on the head. I started thinking about running away from home to my mother's.
Moments later, the 13-year-old came into the room carrying a silver cake platter. On it was a cup of tea, the bowl of sugar, a quarter lemon and three Ritz crackers. I saw food and thought I would be sick, but then I thought of all those Mother's Day breakfast jokes. He propped up the pillows and I sat up, dreading the next step. But instead of the tea being too weak or too strong, too qot or lukewarm, it was perfect. The Ritz crackers tasted good.
My husband came into the sickroom for a few moments while I finished the tea. Then, everyone left. They knew I was sick, they would be quiet, my husband would take care of dinner. At last, I could be alone and get some rest. Or so I thought.
Then the phone started ringing again, and my family was so concerned about me that someone came into the bedroom every 20 minutes or halfhour to see how I was and whether I needed anything. The three-year-old particularly was in and out, perching on the side of the bed or on top of the headboard. At one point he became convinced that a little rock music on the radio would do wonders for me. At another he snuggled up and began distributing profuse kisses, convinced they would help. Then he leapt off the bed and raced out of the room, slamming the door behind him.
I kept thinking of the poor woman in the television commercial during that miserable afternoon and evening. And I thought of people I know who aren't married and who don't have children and who can go home when they are sick, pull the shades, disconnect the phone, crawl into bed and sleep undisturbed until they recover. No teenagers burning up the telephone wire, no cantankerous old pets, no worried children to sit with them or bring them tea, no solicitous spouse waking them up to see if they need anything. For a couple of moments, when the headache was really unbearable," I thought about people who can get sick in peace and quiet, and I knew I wouldn't trade places with them for all the world.