September 14, 2018
For the first time since the house was built 26 years ago, we were getting the re-wiring done. In the last few days, the electricians had traced a mess of wires, and detected points where, dangerously, there was no earthing; just sheer, dumb luck had seen us through the summer storms and the monsoon’s power fluctuations without a major disaster.
So far, we’d been lucky in how smoothly it was going: the old gentleman came in with his son, his apprentice, and two other young men who might be related to him or not. They would pick up a couple of stools, tools, boxes of new wires, and the indispensible torch from one of their phones, and then they would do their thing and we ours.
I’d been watching them covertly over the last few days: it seemed to be a question of tracing how the wires move from the mains to the place where the switches and things are, via the inspections points they open up one by one. They – and I – discovered that there was no rationale to how these wires moved through the house.
The lights on the landing had been blowing for the last year, which is why we began this whole massive exercise, so we wanted that attended to first. It turned out that the wires for those spots move from the landing sideways into my office space, my bathroom and beyond. That was unexpected; it meant I had to re-arrange my work plan and give up my room to them earlier than I’d thought.
It meant I had time to have that “annual” check-up I’d been putting off for the last few years. There’d been a few pale red flags: somewhat like those lights blowing out in the stairs. Minor voltage fluctuations, you could say.
So I went and got those tests done yesterday when the electricians had my room. Today, although they had finished with my room, I went to the clinic for a few other tests I couldn’t have done yesterday. The clinic is…like clinics and hospitals are: the early morning indoor air was a mix of yesterday’s stale sweat just beginning to be flushed out with the air freshener in the air conditioning, and the pervasive tang of spirit; sleepy lab technicians who forgot to put bloody cotton wads in the trash until they were reminded, and job doctors who agreed to be a part of such clinics only for the pro rata examinations they have to make as a part of the health packages the clinics offer people.
I didn’t know the Ob-Gyn but I knew that I never wanted to see her again. I had the most painful pap smear ever. I returned home with the beginnings of a beautiful migraine.
This was when the hammering began. I returned to find that the electrician has begun to expand the distribution box where the mini circuit breakers live. He said it’s because each of the MCBs have been carrying too much load and there need to be more of them in order to safely carry the electricity going through the wires. So they needed to break the wall surrounding the current box, remove it, put in the new, bigger one and connect all the wires to the new, more numerous MCBs.
I wasn’t around when the house was built, so I have no real idea of what went into it. My mother knows, but knowing how solid the walls are is no preparation for what the breaking of them will sound like.
So I hid in my room. In celebration of the impending migraine, I drew the curtains, and I congratulated myself for not having had coffee in the morning. I’d been fasting for a blood sugar test.
The distribution box is just outside my room. It took them all morning and afternoon to break a sufficient portion of the wall. There was rusty red brick dust everywhere. I felt every blow as it was made not just to my head, but somewhere inside it.
For the most part, I’m prepared for these frequent migraines: I know to avoid coffee and eat as little as I can, though my body insists it wants deep fried, oily, spicy, sour, delicious things to eat in the kind of mindless quantities that involve sitting in front of a TV. Every one of those things is disastrous during a migraine.
Light bothers me. I don’t get auras, but even the dimmest light is too strong for my eyes. Strong smells make me nauseous. My mother who, like her mother, used to get migraines until menopause, urged me to use Tiger Balm – a thing Indians swear by, which smells strongly of eucalyptus and cloves.
I refused it, not just because of the overwhelming smell, but because my migraine, unlike most ones, is not located at either temple. It’s distributed over the entire head, and at its peak, I feel simultaneously like my head’s going to blow up, and as if my brain has come loose in my head and, untethered, is ricocheting off the walls of my skull.
I thought of food in excess: greasy pakodas, tubs of extra-sweet ice cream melting pinkly; things on the verge of spoiling. I kept thinking of what severe indigestion felt like.
I heaved over the toilet at frequent intervals. Like the house being re-wired, something in my head shifts during these migraines. Something gets old and frays every month; the one or two days it takes for the body to dig into its innards and put things back together unmakes me. Nothing works during the process.
This migraine was the worst I’d had in years. The boys finished their work: not just the breaking, but the putting back together. They were done for the day. My migraine wasn’t. There was nothing left in my stomach to bring up but I kept going. My head felt overheated but ice gave very temporary relief. Even with evening falling, the room dark and my eyes closed, I could see colours behind my lids and they were too bright.
Somehow I fell into a short, uneasy nap. When I woke up, I could see the street lights through the curtains. I could sip some water without consequences. I could feel my head again, where it’s supposed to be. My eyeballs didn’t hurt when I moved them.
This is probably the best part of the migraine. The stage when it is beginning to leave: I float for a bit and it’s a gentle state of disconnection, dream-like and undemanding. I enjoyed this bit and thought, it’s about time there’s some pay-off.