Thursday, October 26, 2006


Yesterday I looked at the sky, searching for the telltale signs of a chinook: the arch of cloud to the west that covers the sky. I didn't see it, but today the secretary of our department told me that I didn't look far enough. She saw it over the Rocky Mountains, but it was far away. This morning the clouds were undeniable. Today, we definitely had chinook conditions.

I should have known.

I did know, in fact. My head told me so.

No, it's not that I heard voices telling there were warm westerly winds coming over the Rockies. It's the incredible
headaches I get which precede the chinook. It's not just me. Lots of people here get them.

When I first moved to Alberta, I wondered what the hell was wrong with me. I remember it well. It was in January sometime... the first semester I'd ever taught. My class was from 4:00 p.m. By noon, I was holding on to the wall as I walked down the hallway of Craigie Hall, the building that houses the foreign language departments. Holding on to the wall was the only way I could stand up. My head felt like it was going to explode and I was seeing black blotches everywhere.

I don't remember how I got through teaching that day, or how I made it home, which was about a 20 minute walk at the time. I remember waking up the next day wondering what had happened.

A few weeks later, the whole thing repeated itself. I couldn't figure it out... Probably the stress of my first year of grad school, I told myself. But it didn't make sense. I'd never felt anything like it before.

I told a few people about it and someone said, "Chinook headache."

"What?" I asked. I thought the person was out of his mind.
Weather can cause a headache? You're nuts, I thought.

I was told, "Not just a headache. A chinook headache. It's a kind of migraine."

That was even more unbelievable. I don't get migraines. Ever.

But I do get chinook headaches. And they wipe me out like nobody's business.

Different people get them in different ways. For me, the headache usually comes before the chinook itself. By the time the chinook arrives in Calgary, my headache has subsided, as mine did by today.

Since I don't consider myself a migraine sufferer, I don't have meds for it. Tylenol is useless. Once I took about 15 Tylenol over the course of the day when I had a chinook headache. Nothing.

A friend who suffers with them told me that he swears by aspirin... something about the physical effect it has on blood vessels... Opens them up, I think? Anyway, he was right. They help. Somewhat. They get me to a point where I can stand up and function, without nausea or blacking out, which is good. But you have to catch it early. Otherwise, they don't do anything.

I hate that. I refuse to lose time at work or allow a headache to get the better of me. On days like that, I force myself forward... doing whatever was scheduled in my daytimer, regardless of how I feel.

Lemme tell ya... yestday's "walk/run" was not exactly enjoyable. Pounding feet. Pounding head. Not fun.

It's no wonder that I was home and in bed by about 8:30 p.m. last night. Sleep also helps... mostly because you wake up the next day and the weather has gone from "pre-chinook conditions" to full on "chinook", which for me, spells relief.

Today the chinook is here. Thank the gods and winds and whatever else is out there that it has finally arrived!!


sissoula said...

The same thing happens here when heavy, hot, dust-filled winds blow north from the Sahara. They give everybody headaches, make everybody sick, and put everybody in a really foul mood.

It's good that you've found some ways to cope with your chinook. It's too bad it's so bad... because from the name alone, a "chinook" should be a really cool phenomenon.

Turtle Guy said...

I boast to my friends in the east (eastern Canada, that is) that it is the Chinook winds that make our winters so... beautiful by comparison.

Speaking of migranes, my Dad used to get them. His cure? He would untie his shoelaces, sit on the couch and close his eyes. Again, rest is a wonderful thing!

Bast said...

Thank Goddess I don't get Chinook Head! I do however, get foggy-brain and am completely bitchy and grumpy. I wondered what was wrong yesterday...the cat was fairly wacky too. Perhaps a little kitty migraine?

Turtle Guy said...

Bast - Perhaps you could untie kitty's shoelaces. Migraines are brutal, and I don't know if they have Tylenol Extra Strength Feline...

Anonymous said...

My friend, who gets terrible migraines quite frequently, drinks strong coffee in order to help relieve them. Her doctor prescribed her "Caffergot", another caffeine product.

I've never heard of Chinook Headache before, though I've certainly experienced chinook. Strange old world.

Misty said...

I've always suffered from migraines, since Grade 6 when I had a fractored skull/concussion. I never took anything for the pain as a child, only choosing in the last couple years to take anything. I never really thought about whether or not the migraines were a direct result of the injury, or whether they only occurred around chinook time.

As an adult, I only get migraines when under severe stress or on the onset of a chinook. I too had to close my eyes for a lot of Tuesday evening to cope with the pain (aversion to light) and found myself in bed at 8:30pm also - I did interrupt my "bedtime" to put my children to bed at 9pm, but otherwise I was pretty useless that night.

I woke refreshed yesterday and thoroughly enjoyed the lovely weather.

backofpack said...

What a strange thing! I've never heard of a chinook headache. I get the occasional migraine, complete with vision problems. I've never figured out a cause, maybe I'll have to look at the weather.

robtherunner said...

A chinook headache eh? At least that's what your going to tell your chiropractor, right?

Ok, I'll stop now. I couldn't help myself.

Robb said...

Remember how damp and cold it gets in NS? Well, RunningWife can predict with certain accuracy that we're due for a certain blast of cold/damp with her wrist. She broke it years ago and it's probably arthritis or something but she's always dead on. She can even predict 6 more weeks of winter!

zouzou said...

yah, I get them too. yukky all round. particularly the photophobia (light, not photographs, in case anyone was wondering). Although, since having had Samuel I have been free of them. go figure. Good reason to have a baby? If you asked me during one of them I would say YES!

Kirsty said...

Thank you so much for blogging this!! Funny, I'd googled, can chinooks make you sick?? a link to your blog popped up.. I just moved to Alberta two weeks ago from Vancouver Island BC. I haven't been feeling well at all, terrible headache, tingly hands and shortness of breath.. Certainly different here with temp fluctuations! At least now I know I'm not going completely nuts!!


Kristin said...

I also just moved to Alberta (from Halifax, NS) and am suffering from these headaches and pains. Yesterday I almost threw up at work because I had a migraine out of no where. I'll have to try aspirin to see if it works. Thanks for the Blog!

Anonymous said...

I have suffered with these since I moved to Calgary 10 years ago. Advil and Tylenol do not work! Aspirin does - a little HOWEVER go to your doctor and ask for Zomig. I only ever need them for Chinook headaches and by god they work - brilliantly!

Judy said...

I have lived in Alberta all of my life. I do not get headaches with every Chinook, but once in a while, they come up with a ferocity! Aspirin, caffeine, a dark room and rest are my only solutions!