No, I’m not referring to Trump, although he could be used as another example. I’m referring to myself. I’m kicking myself in hindsight and calling myself a bloody idiot.
So what did I do that was stupid? I drove to a local fast food outlet to pick up dinner for the wife and myself on Friday evening. No, I’m not referring to the consumption of fast food occasionally as stupid, nor to the fact that I drove instead of walking. I chose to leave home when it was potentially unsafe for me to do so, and I chose to drive at a time when I posed a danger to myself and others.
We all know that alcohol impairs one’s ability to drive safely, and most of us won’t drive after drinking, either because we don’t want to put ourselves and others in harm’s way, or because of the repercussions that will be heaped on us if we get caught.
What many people aren’t aware of is that a migraine can seriously affect one’s ability to drive safely. Even fewer people realise that driving can be impaired up to three days before a migraine headache occurs.
Not every migraineur is impaired this way, but for some, cognition is impaired before the headache stage: during the prodrome and aura stages. I fall into that category.
Migraine goes through four possible stages: prodrome; aura; attack/headache; postdrome. Not every stage occurs in every migraine attack. For those unfamiliar with the stages, a very brief description follows:
Prodrome: Begins hours to days before the attack stage. Experienced by about 60% of sufferers. Symptoms can include: mood changes such as depression, irritability or euphoria; food cravings; sensitivity to light , sounds and smells; fatigue and yawning; frequent urination; muscle tightness.
Aura: Typically lasts for up to an hour, but in rare case can last considerably longer. Experienced by one in 5 migraineurs. Symptoms can include: visual disturbances such as zigzag lines, stars/strips/spots, scintillation, blind spots, and tunnel vision; Numbness; loss of motor skills; confusion; Alice in Wonderland syndrome; loss of spacial perception; vertigo; memory loss; visual and auditory illusions; aphaia; disorientation.
Headache: Typically lasts hours to days. Occasionally migraines can occur without this stage. Symptoms include: severe throbbing headache, sensitivity to light, sound and smells; nausea; vomiting.
Postdrome: Typically lasts hours to days. Symptoms include a “hungover” feeling; symptoms similar to the prodrome stage.
They may appear to be 4 distinct stages, but in my case, the transitions can take hours and there’s considerable overlap of symptoms. I’m unable to distinguish between the prodrome and aura stages unless the visual clues kick in, and sometimes I recognise the prodrome and aura stages only in hindsight. And that is where my stupidity arose. The clues that I was in the prodrome stage of a migraine were staring me in the face, but I failed to notice them.
I am very mindful of the potential hazards that I might be confronted with during a migraine, and I tend to err on the side of caution. While I can accept a higher level of risk for myself that results from my migraine symptoms, I’m not prepared to place that risk on others. Before I undertake any activity I normally take some time to consider the possibility that a migraine might be just around the corner, or even if a silent migraine has already arrived. Except Friday.
I drove while visually impaired and initially didn’t realise that I was. To make matters worse, when I realised that my vision was impaired, I drove home – an executive decision I should not have made.
So how did all this play out? The first clue surfaced on Wednesday. We decided to have sausages for lunch and I offered to drive to the supermarket to pick some up. That was the first clue. “How so?” you may ask. Well, I’ll tell you.
We have no idea what are the triggers for my migraines are, except for one: the red tone lighting frequently found over the meat section in supermarkets. It takes less than a minute under those lights before I start to feel light headed and within a few minutes I am completely disoriented to the point where I can’t find my way to the checkouts or exit. In fact I exhibit symptoms that can be confused with a stroke. When we first discovered this phenomenon, I first I thought it might have been a psychological reaction to seeing all the meat, but when we realised that it was related to specific shops, but not others, we eventually were able to pin it down to the lighting.
These days I avoid supermarket meat sections like the plague, and in stores where the meat section runs along the side of the shop at right angles to the isles, I avoid going to the ends of the isles, and keep my eyes diverted away from the meat. So what possessed me to even offer to pick up the sausages? And why didn’t the wife pick up on it? She knows what happens when the lighting triggers an attack even better than I do. She has to manage me while I’m kind of spaced out and not totally aware of the situation. Clue missed.
At the supermarket I had already picked up the sausages before it dawned on me what I done. To say that I was concerned is an understatement. I was by myself and if the lighting triggered an attack, I could be in an ambulance and on the way to hospital with no choice in the matter. It’s happened before. Several times.
What I should have done when I realised my mistake was phone the wife or another nearby family member about what had happened and for them to come and get me. I didn’t. I hastily paid for my purchases and sat in the car waiting for the worst to happen. That was a stupid thing to do. If an attack had come on, I might have decided to drive, but I would not have had a clue where I was going. I wouldn’t have known where home was. Clue missed
I waited for nearly ten minutes before concluding I was lucky on this occasion, so I drove home. It was there that I realised that I had made a poor choice of sausages. One pack was Angus beef. No problem there, but the other pack was venison and herbs. To the wife, venison equals Bambi. Because of her sensitivity over this, I never bring home food containing venison. Clue missed.
At 2 am on Thursday morning I got up and made myself a couple of sandwiches. I haven’t done that since my twenties. I felt really hungry. I never feel hungry except before the onset of a migraine. It never occurred to me that this might be one of those occasions. Clue missed.
Later on Thursday I drove into town on some errands. I drove for the fun of it. Heavy acceleration and braking. Feeling the tyres grip under fast cornering. It was exhilarating. I don’t drive like that. Well not for the last 45 years. Clue missed.
I chatted with every one I met and enjoyed it. I have no idea if it was reciprocated. I didn’t care. Normally I converse as little as possible with persons I’m unfamiliar with. Experience has taught me to be cautious as I’m completely unable to read body language and only the most basic of facial expressions. I usually can’t read between the lines. I’ve learnt the hard way to carefully measure what I say and how I say it. But not on Thursday. Clue missed.
I went to bed four hours earlier than usual. I was unable to stay awake. Clue missed
In the very early hours of Friday morning I got up and made myself some sandwiches. Second night in a row. Clue missed again.
On Friday I worked on a number of Websites, but I frequently forgot HTML and CSS coding I use regularly and had to resort to cheat-sheets. I frequently found myself editing the wrong files. Clues missed.
Late Friday afternoon, I found that words were disappearing off the screen, or lines of code started undulating in front of my eyes. I knew I had to stop. I put it down to eye strain. Clue missed.
I this point I should have been fully aware that I was well into the aura stage. The sunlight was very bright, the shadows very dark. The face of the wall clock was blank. We discussed what to have for dinner. I kept tripping over words. I Couldn’t think of the words Turkish kebabs. We “agreed” on KFC. Clues missed.
There’s a deep dip where our driveway meets the street and I normally cross it at an angle to avoid the front air dam scraping the road. Except then. Oops. Clue missed.
I drove to the kebab shop. Wrong place. Headed for KFC. Clue missed.
At KFC the illuminated menu above the counter had pictures but most of the words kept shimmering in and out of view. And I couldn’t remember what we had “agreed” to purchase. It was then that it finally dawned on me that I was in the aura stage of a migraine and that I should get home as soon as possible. Decided to telephone the wife to confirm what I was supposed to order. No phone. I never go out without my phone. Decided to order what the wife probably wanted, No problem ordering the Hot Wings, but I could not think of the name for a Zinger Burger. Finally I resorted to describing what it was.
By the time the order was ready, everything before my eyes was shimmering, and my peripheral vision was all but gone. I should not have driven home. I could no longer see the speedo and other dashboard instruments and still it didn’t occur to me that I should not drive. I can remember thinking I must hurry home before it got worse. So I did hurry. How stupid can one get?
If someone had stepped out into the road in front of me, (a) I probably wouldn’t have seen them, (b) I would probably not have known how to avoid them if I did see them, and (c) even if I did, my reaction time would have been too slow. As it was I didn’t see a vehicle approaching from my right at one intersection until I started to move into it. In fact I’m very lucky to have made it back home in one piece.
Today I’ve been re-evaluating all the procedures the wife and I have developed over the last decade or so to prevent exactly what happened yesterday. It had been working very well up until now. I still don’t understand why so many clues were missed. I am very angry at myself and to a lesser extent my wife. Was it a one off slip of our guard, or have we become complacent because it has been working so well? Or are we both are loosing the ability to recognise the signs.
I really don’t want to hand in the keys for driving just yet. My mother drove until she was ninety and I’d like to think I can do the same. But yesterday has given me a scare.