The Gauntlet

October 16, 2008
By Justin Goetz, Barrington, IL

What do you think of when you think of a headache? By definition, a headache is a pain in the head. This is the definition that I carried for the first sixteen years, eight months, and, approximately, ten days of my life. But, in last October, my definition changed to something more along the lines of a skull-splitting, everlasting pain throughout the head, neck, and, often times, behind the eyes that has, and will continue, to change my outlook on life.

One day, during the second week of October of my junior year at William Fremd High School I got a headache. I wouldn’t normally take anything for it but just sleep it off and expect it to have disappeared by the next morning. But, I missed five days of school after that from that headache. Then, a few weeks after I made my return, I was out for another six days. From what you ask? Why it would have to certainly be the very same headache…still. These next months, going all the way up through June, I like to call The Gauntlet. When someone ‘runs a gauntlet’, for those of you who aren’t familiar with the term, they are being put through a rigorous number of tests and challenges. There were two types of tests for my gauntlet. The first of these is the medical tests, a series of tests from almost twenty different doctors and/or medical professionals, and the second being the school related kind.

Step one for my headache, was to have my eyes checked. I’ve worn glasses for over five years and have only changed prescriptions twice. It was about the right time for a biannual checkup anyway, so I was brought into Sullivan-Ostoich off of Palatine Road in Hoffman Estates to find that my eyes had only worsened by about -.25. Now, I’m not entirely sure what that means, but I do know that it is miniscule.

The pediatrician was step number two. I waited in a room full of screaming kids for an hour only to sit in a room for half an hour and, finally, talk to a doctor for all of five minutes. In that time, he did the routine checkup things, asked if I had already had my eyes checked, and then told me to go get a CT scan…. So, later that day, my dad and I went into Northwest Community Hospital for a CT scan. We arrived and waited for probably a solid hour only to be brought some paperwork then for about another hour. Finally, I was brought to the scanning machine, on which, I laid down for about thirty minutes. During that time, the machine took pictures of my brain for a doctor or a panel of doctors (who really knows?) to read.

Shortly after getting back home, we received a call from Northwest Community Hospital explaining that there was a patch of my brain that was seemingly irregular and that I should come back for an MRI. So, we went back, waited, filled out more paperwork, waited, and then went in for my MRI. I’m aware that a small number of young adults my age have actually had the joy of experiencing an MRI, so I’ll describe it to you. You lay down on, essentially, a table with a cloth laid over it and proceed to get sucked into a HUGE metal ring. This machine leaves no room on either of your sides and about an inch and a half above your nose. Needless to say, it’s uncomfortable. Then, your doctor will turn on this contraption so that it can take HD pictures of your brain. So, at this point, I’ll ask you to imagine the loudest thing you’ve ever heard. Now, multiply that by at least ten. That’s what you’ll be hearing for the next forty-five minutes to an hour. Enjoy!

That MRI only proved that nothing was wrong with me. From there, I got tested to see if I ever actually fell into a REM cycle, the part of your sleep where your mind rests. Turns out, I never did. And the only way to fix that was to reduce the amount of stress in my life, which I will soon address. Shortly after this test, I saw a headache specialist, a chiropractor, a massage therapist, a muscular therapy doctor, got another, longer MRI, and saw two kinesiologists. I won’t bore you with the details of each of these visits, considering that none of them really solved anything, except for the last. But first, I must expand upon the second series of tests.
As I mentioned, this was my junior year of high school and the reputation that the dreaded junior year carried was more than confirmed. I was taking as many AP classes as I could fit into my schedule and kept busy with marching band, a few jazz bands, a job, and, somehow, managing to keep up with my friends. I understand that everyone goes through this and it’s, honestly, not that big of a deal. But, when you can maintain an A in AP Physics with your head feeling as though it’s always being crushed, I’ll be impressed. So, obviously, school was a massive part of the stress factor I previously alluded to. The other big part was of my own accord. I tend to put too much pressure on myself and expect perfection, even though I’m completely aware of the sheer impossibility of it.
Getting back to the final, most recent doctor visit, I realized that I don’t know how to explain what this man did. He placed pressure on the back of my head, where it meets the neck, and did an ‘energy reading’. I’m not sure what that means, or how he did it, but, half an hour later, I stood up and felt FANTASTIC. For the past several months, I’d felt like I was upside down and that my head was holding the weight of my body, and this man flipped me upside right. It was very much like the elated feeling you get after setting down something extremely heavy that you’ve just been lifting or carrying. I felt positive and happy.
Much to my dismay, though, before I reached home, a short, twenty-minute drive, my head hurt again. Bummer, right? So there is no happy ending to my story yet in sight. I have learned a few things, though. That night, I faced the distinct possibility that I might have a headache for the rest of my life. It didn’t really bother me as much as you might expect. In fact, this experience has really forced me to find ways to stay happy and manage to enjoy myself wherever I am and whatever I’m doing. I believe that this, to quote myself, ‘skull-splitting, everlasting pain throughout the head, neck, and, often times, behind the eyes’ has changed, and will continue to change, me for the better.

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