Two heads are better than one

An article on migraine gives Richard Hoyes a lesson in pain-free learning

During term-time I suffer from migraine. For reasons teachers will recognise, it strikes less often in the holidays. And it can be hell. I remember when I first started teaching. There I was with the aura of a migraine coming on, knowing that in two hours' time I would want to be flat out in a darkened room with a wet flannel over my head, pleading with my head of department to be allowed to go home. And he said: "Who do you think will cover your classes?" He implied I was malingering, or didn't fancy teaching 4C.

Migraine - to some people it's another word for shirking responsibility.

But things have changed for some of us. For migraineurs who enter sympathetic drugs trials, migraine has become almost sexy. It's all because of a new breed of wonder drugs that act on neuro-transmitters in the brain. You agree to try out a potion. You enter a hush-hush world where new formulae are so secret they're known only by code. It's a multi-million dollar world of takeovers and the imminent discovery of another Viagra - and you are part of it.

Your neurologist offers you the latest thing. I'm on a spray that I squirt up my nostrils as soon as I feel a bit queasy. Of course you have to take loads of tests first, have ECGs and give blood and other samples. Your ECG print-out goes to Peterborough, your blood goes to Zurich and your urine is passed through a mysterious little hatchway in the toilet. And you sign a form to say you realise there is some risk. You are trialling a drug that isn't fully licensed yet. If you grow two heads in 10 years' time, you'll take it on the chins.

You see, reader, I have written all this not to tell you about migraine at all but to pass on an observation about the learning process. After all this is The TES, not the Lancet.

I write a column in my local paper. The other week I did one about migraine. Most of it is what you've just read, including the line about taking it on the chins.

Today a former student stopped me in the street. "Liked your piece," he says. Which one? "I can't remember," he says, "but you had this line about taking it on the chins. Yeah, I remember, it was about growing two heads. It was about drugs. Legal ones. Trialling new drugs. For . . . can't remember what. Asthma, I think. No, migraine - that's it. About bad heads and growing two heads and taking it on the chins if the medication had side-effects. Yeah, migraine. "

He gets there in the end, by working from the outside in. I'm glad about that. So, people do remember your jokes, and sometimes it helps them remember what you were really going on about.

Now, what has all this been about? Getting it out of your head or putting it in?

Migraine or learning?

Richard Hoyes teaches in Farnham, Surrey

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