A dagger pierces my right eye. I sit up, having been violently awoken from my slumber. I turn to my bedside table to check the time on the iPhone. It is 1:30 am. As I read the time, I have to squint my right eye to prevent the phone’s light from boring through my eye socket.
Seriously. Why is this happening to me now? I wonder.
Three hours ago, I went to bed without a worry in the world. I had spent the last ten days on an incredible skiing holiday: four in Cortina d’Ampezzo and four in Kitzbuhel (with a couple of travel days in between). Despite never having skied before and being too cheap to lash out on anything more than a one hour lesson, I had somehow manage to survive the holiday relatively pain-free. Sure, I had some general bodily aches and pains that anyone would have after eight full days of physical activity. And my shoulder was a little tender after my embarrassing blow out, thirty seconds into over-confidently speeding down an off-piste slope. But otherwise, I had survived the trip without any major injuries.
The pain shoots through my right temple; poison expanding my blood vessels and throbbing at the surface, to the rhythm of my ever-increasing heartbeat.
I moan in childish anguish.
What could I have possibly done to deserve this?
At 6:30am, JD and I need to wake up, shower, get dressed, check-out and catch the 7:18 train from Kitzbuhel to Innsbruck so we can catch a 10:55 flight to London. That means I have five hours left to sleep. Five hours of sleep that I know I am not going to get. Despite my wriggling, JD is still snoring. That son-of-a-bitch. I am glad that I haven’t woken him, but I am supremely jealous of his peaceful rest. The throbbing engulfs the entire right side of my head and I feel sudden tension in the right side of my neck.
My mother-fucking neck.
The cause of my migraine hell since I was ten years old.
The chiropractor told me that I have an abnormally straight cervical spine, resulting in my neck bearing an unbalanced and over-weighted load. He said he could remedy this by smashing my spine with a hammer. I let him do this for three months. My spine didn’t want to bend. However, I did get a lot more headaches. Funny that. Glorified witch doctor.
I decide to have a shower to try to relax my muscles. I slowly push my body out of bed and take small steps to the bathroom as the pain has messed with my balance. I decide to shower in the dark as the mere thought of the fluorescent bathroom light is too painful to bear. As I turn on the shower, the initial burst of flowing water fills me with momentary joy. The power of running water never ceases to amaze me. It is the dissipater of stress. The harbinger of inspiration. The creator of ideas. The cure of ailments. I sit down in the shower-bath combo as I feel too weak to stand. I cradle my head in my hands and focus on the rhythm of the water, lightly beating on the back of my neck.
I try to distract myself from the pain with thoughts of the new and wonderful experiences from the past week. My jitterish nerves the first time I tried to stop on the smallest of ski slopes. The adrenaline coursing through my veins, as I hurtled down my first Red Slope. And the absurdity of waiting for JD at the bottom of a gentle Blue Slope while he sat on the snow, crippled by a fear of heights, and used his hands to slowly inch himself down while children whiz past him on their skis. Poor JD.
A sharp pulse shoots through my right temple.
I visualise the pinkish hue of the Italian Dolomites. The snow trimming the town on wooden fences, signs, rooftops and trees in a perfect white layer, like marzipan on a wedding cake. And the soft, light snow flakes hovering over the Kitzbuhel mountain, glimmering in the sun like diamonds in the sky. The once breathtaking sight now pierces my mind’s eye.
I pull myself up to stand underneath the shower head. I have no sense of how long I have been in the shower. Did I fall asleep? How much water have I used? I’m not in any state to contemplate my current environmental footprint. The shower is failing to ease the pain of a body conflicted. My neck and shoulder crave steamy, hot water to ease their tension. However, my head needs coolness to calm the rage in my veins. Hot water dehydrates me, angering my blood. Cold water constricts and tenses my muscles.
This bodily catch-22 proves all too much and I decide to get out of the shower. Within the seven steps it takes me to walk to the bedroom, I start to feel nauseous and I want to throw up. I seek refuge in bed. I toss and turn and moan. I burn up and throw the covers off. I start to freeze and shiver back under the sheets. Then I burn up again. And freeze. Rinse, spin and repeat.
I try to suppress the pounding by driving my head into my pillow. My thoughts turn back to the slopes in an attempt to hypnotize myself to sleep. I am gliding down the mountains of Cortina with ease. I swoop left, I swoop right, with the soothing control of a metronome. Left, right, left, right.
I feel the frosty, subtemperate wind hit my face, whipping sharp, stabbing pain back to my right eye.
I cry out.
This time JD awakens, unamused. It is 4:30am so I can hardly blame him. I whimper that I have been in pain for three hours and he suggests that I have a shower. Been there, done that. He asks me what he thinks I did to cause it.
What caused it? What caused it?
The moon. The stars. The freezing cold. Karma. God. A wizard.
Innocent and naive – JD is fortunate enough to have never been through this.
Still, if I have to point fingers, I’d like to blame the Austrians.
Their stodgy food. Their crappy flat slopes. Their abrupt, rude, unhelpful service. The taxi drivers, the ski rental staff, the concierge, and the wait staff. Each and everyone had dirty little chips on their shoulders. Are you too good for me? You wouldn’t be without my tourist dollars. And the smoking. The god-damned smoking in every god-damned bar, which gave me a god-damned headache for the first two god-damned days in god-damned Kitzbuhel. Is this 1960? Have they not heard of cancer?
Well, I thanks you, Austria, as I am now out of Nurofen.
JD offers to massage my neck and I oblige. I lie on my side and murmur nonsense as the tension subsides and I dream of the glory days in Cortina. Where tourists are welcomed like family. Where efforts to speak the language are applauded. Where food is delivered down from the heavens. Where the powder white ski slopes ride for miles.
The Austrians could learn a thing or two from the Italians.
I awake to the resumed throbbing of my neck. I toss and turn and stretch and bend, desperate for a moment’s peace. And then, a ringing in my ear. Is that a mystical bell clanging in my head?
It is my alarm.
It is 6:30am.
And I am a broken shell of a man.
But I am not a man.
I am a child.
A red-faced, puffy-eyed, whimpering child.
Tears stream down my face and I sob, uncontrollably. I want to stop, but I can’t. I just want the pain to stop. I just want to sleep. I am humiliated.
I have another quick shower and then hover around the room in a dopey haze. JD takes care of the rest. The bags, the check-out, leading me across the road to the train platform. He is my hero.
Tears continue to fall down my cheeks as we wait for the train. Will this train ever arrive? Will this pain ever stop? A fleeting thought sees me ending it all by jumping on the tracks. A moment of weakness. I relent. I’m sure the Austrians would figure a way to screw that up for me anyway.
The train arrives on time and there is an abundance of empty seats. I relax in a seat, with my feet up on the seat facing opposite me. Ironically, it is here in the confines of the train’s second class cabin, with my legs up and the stiff back supporting my neck, that I finally get some sleep. An hour and fifteen to Innsbruck. It’s not much, but it will do.
The airport isn’t busy, so we get through baggage drop, security checks and passport control with ease and we wait by the gate with over an hour to spare. I try to buy some kind of medication, but it appears to be a “dry” airport. I look outside. It’s snowing pretty heavily. Could you imagine if we get delayed? I joke, before lying on the airport seats to steal another half hour’s sleep. Later, a voice awakens me.
*** DUE TO WEATHER CONDITIONS, EASYJET FLIGHT FROM INNSBRUCK TO LONDON GATWICK CANNOT LAND***
*** WE WILL KEEP YOU UPDATED IN THIRTY MINUTES ***
Thirty minutes later, it is confirmed: our plane has been redirected to Munich. All passengers are to collect their luggage and report to the airport entrance to catch a bus to Munich. That’s right, Munich. As in the city in a completely different country.
I can’t even get upset. It’s no one’s fault, after all. If anyone is to blame, it is probably me. After all, the universe is clearly playing some kind of sick joke on me and everyone else is being taken for the ride. We sit at the entrance and wait. JD rubbles through his bag and finds three lonely Nurofen tablets. I could kill myself for my own stupidity. Luckily, I am too delirious. Delirious from a combination of lack of sleep, the dull thump in my skull, and JD’s golden discovery. I take all three at once. I nearly fall asleep standing up.
The bus arrives. We are told the trip will take approximately two hours. The trip takes just over three hours. I don’t care. I sleep the whole way.
We arrive at Munich airport. Check-in will be in forty five minutes. We are given no logical explanation for the further delay. I don’t care. I am hungry and EasyJet gives us a 4.80 Euro food voucher. I get a McRib burger. It is filthy and delicious. And. And…
The pounding has stopped.
I buy more Nurofen because I don’t trust my body, but my migraine never returns. One hour later, EasyJet let’s us check-in. In another hour and we are able to board the plane. Add another half an hour and the plane is getting de – iced for take off. We fly for one hour and twenty-five minutes. It takes us thirty minutes to run through border control and collect and luggage. We jump on a train for thirty minutes. Then a bus for fifteen.
It is eight thirty in the evening (or nine thirty on Austrian time).
WE ARE HOME.
Our ski holiday was close to the best trip that we could have hoped for. We saw some amazing, beautiful sights. We learned to ski with relative ease. No one suffered any major injuries. I got to spend time with my dear cousin for the first time in one year. We ate amazing food. We drank amazing wine. But, just in case I wasn’t sure, I think the universe was sending me a message:
You have had your fun.
This is The End of your holiday.
And it truly was a killer.