Part 12: Life with Migraine headaches

It felt like my eyeballs had swollen to the size of cricket balls, being pushed out of their sockets from the inside. My breathing quickened with each wave of intense pain. Lips, fingers and feet tingled. Hyperventilation. To control this the GP said I should think calming thoughts and take slooooow, deeeeeeep breaths. No shit Sherlock. Life with Migraine headaches is full of ‘helpful’ advice like that. 

Marty Feldman
Life with migraine headaches

Small movements, rolling from my back onto my side, induced the vomiting again (apologies, I thought I was done with vomiting in the previous post). The retching was endless. Even with an empty stomach. Nothing stayed down, including water. My Mother brought glasses of Lucozade for me to sip. Hoping my body would absorb a little sugar before I brought it back up. Splattering into the bucket next to my bed. I’d be in this agony, bedridden, for up to 3 days. Life with Migraine headaches followed a familiar cycle. 

The bedroom curtains were closed. The bright light was painful. I couldn’t bear any noise. Even when a migraine had passed, in what’s called the migraine hangover, I was still hypersensitive. I wore big sunglasses around the house. Like a celebrity swishing through an airport. A life with Migraine headaches can still be glamorous.

You can then, understand why it really twists my melons when migraines are described as just a bad headache. Likewise, when someone has a bad headache and they describe it as a migraine. No. It’s. Not. If it were you’d be on your back bro (or sis) groaning.

As a legacy of the accident, migraine was more disabling than a paralysed arm. During my teen years and 20s life with migraine headaches was much more disruptive to study and work. An attack came every few weeks.

For many people, including me, the cause of a migraine is a mystery. I kept a food diary to try to identify triggers, using a paper template and a pen. Unsurprisingly there’s now an app for that. The result: no obvious patterns. For me, a link with diet wasn’t evident. Mercifully the diary showed the usual suspects – red wine, chocolate, coffee, cheese – weren’t to blame.

Abnormally low blood sugar, Hypoglycaemia, can also be a trigger. We were obsessed with this concept for a while. My mother on red alert. Ready to shove a biscuit in my mouth the moment she thought I’d gone too long between meals. On the upside, I regularly had breakfast in bed. An undisturbed late sleep-in no longer allowed.

The search for successful treatment

Successful treatment for migraine is rare. We tried everything. Specialist consultants both traditional and non-traditional remedies. If I thought that would help, I would have visited a Shamen and traversed the Axis Mundi. But no. Life with migraine headaches continued.

 

feverfew
Life with migraine headaches – alternative treatments

 

Every day for 3 years I took a pill made from Feverfew. A preventative herbal remedy made from a member of the Daisy family. It brought little or no benefit. I’m not sure why I stuck with it for so long. Desperation I suppose.

Pharmaceutical drugs, like Migralift, are more targeted. Taken when symptoms first appear to stop a migraine fully developing. These didn’t work either. Even if I managed to swallow the pill before I the puking started.

With no successful treatment found, life had to fit around the migraines. As a student, my friend Lisa came up with a visual signalling system. If I had a migraine I’d put a bottle of cordial in the window of my ground floor room. She’d know to come to check I was OK. Quite a commitment on her part – she has a very delicate stomach. Known to barf at the mere mention of something gross. Coming into my room, vom bucket by my bed, was beyond the call of duty.

Annoying Santa

Years later, living in Manchester, when I shared a house with another friend, Helen. It was December. I was laid up in bed with a migraine. Helen came to check on me. Recorded Christmas carols blared through the window, accompanied by loud Santa banter, with a strong Mancunian accent. ‘ho ho ho!’ and ‘Merry Christmas everyone!

‘WHAT-THE-FUCK-IS-THAT?!’ I said, my eyes closed. Helen peeped out between the curtains. ‘Pete it’s Father Christmas. In a car. With megaphones on the roof’, she said. ‘Don’t worry I’m going to sort it’. Like an eagle descending on its prey, she flew down the stairs and out of the house, onto the street. Over the din, she yelled ‘I’m sorry Santa but I’ve got someone in that house there with a terrible migraine and he’s really not appreciating this racket!’ Poor Santa Claus was crestfallen. ‘Oh… right. Sorry love! I’ll move onto the next street!’ The noise and the big fella were gone.

Later that night Helen heard a loud, dull thud from upstairs. I heard her say my name. I was disorientated. ‘Pete! Are you alright?’ The retching was so intense I’d passed out. Fallen out of the bed, face down on the floor in the narrow gap between the bed and the wall. Wedged in. It was difficult to get up. Helen called an ambulance to take me to the hospital.

While touring beautiful Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna in Italy I had a similar experience. I was bedridden. We missed our flight home. Italian friends drove me to the (very impressive) hospital in Bologna. The doctor there brought out the big guns. Knocking me out with liquid Valium to break the cycle. It worked. There was the residual pain but the worst of it was gone. Pro tip: if your doctor ever suggests you should take liquid valium, take it. It may not cure your ailment but you’ll enjoy the ride.  

Proving there’s a link between my migraines and the accident is impossible. It’s typical that migraines begin in the mid-teen years. I was 16 years old. It was shortly after the accident. Cause or coincidence? In practical terms, it doesn’t really matter. You have to get on with it. In legal terms it’s important. I had an ongoing case for compensation. Lawyers can put a cash value on that kind of thing.

 

2 Comments

  1. Wow. I cannot even begin to imagine that kind of pain. I rarely get headaches, but when I do, I know that I’m lucky that the pain is not as severe as someone who suffers from migraines and I never try to say it even compares.

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