It felt like my eyeballs, swollen to the size of cricket balls, were being pushed out of their sockets. Waves of intense pain caused my breathing to quicking. 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. An unfortunate truth about Migraine: there is dumb advice aplenty.
Small movements, rolling from my back onto my side, induced vomiting again. Endless retching. Even with an empty stomach. My Mother brought glasses of Lucozade for me to sip. Hoping I would absorb a little sugar before bringing it back up. Minutes later it splattered into the bucket at my bedside. I’d be in agony, bedridden, for up to 3 days. This familiar pattern is a truth about Migraine, though different for each sufferer.
The bedroom curtains had to be closed; any light was painful. I couldn’t bear any noise either. Even when a migraine had passed, in what’s called the migraine hangover, the hypersensitive persists. I’d wear big sunglasses around the house. Like a celebrity swishing through an airport. A life with Migraine headaches can still be glamorous.
You can understand then why it twists my melons to hear migraines described as just a bad headache. Likewise, when a bad headache is described as a migraine. No. It’s. Not. If it were you’d be on your back bro (or sis) groaning. Lack of understanding is a truth about Migraine.
As a legacy of the accident, migraine was more disabling than a paralysed arm. During my teen years and 20s migraine 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 food diaries to try to identify triggers. Unsurprisingly there’s now an app for that. Result? No obvious patterns were found. No link to diet was evident. Mercifully, the usual suspects – red wine, chocolate, coffee, cheese – weren’t to blame.
Hypoglycaemia, abnormally low blood sugar, can also be a trigger. We were obsessed with this for a long time. 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 a successful treatment
Another truth about Migraine – successful treatment is rare. We tried everything. Specialist consultants, traditional and non-traditional remedies. I would have visited a Shamen and traversed the Axis Mundi if I thought it would help.
Every day for 3 years I took a pill made from Feverfew. A preventative herbal remedy made from Daisies. It brought little or no benefit for me. 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. Not easy when an early symptom is puking. These didn’t work either.
Life had to fit around Migraine. As a student, my friend Lisa came up with a visual signalling system. At the onset of a Migraine I’d put a bottle of cordial in the window of my room. She’d then come check I was OK. Quite a commitment on her part as 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.
Years later, in Manchester, I shared a house with another friend, Helen. It was December. Once again I was in bed with a Migraine. As Helen came to check on me recorded Christmas carols blared through the window. Santa, with a strong Mancunian accent, called out ‘ho ho ho!’ and ‘Merry Christmas everyone!’ through a loud hailer.
‘WHAT-THE-FUCK-IS-THAT?!’ I said, my eyes closed.
Helen looked 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. I could hear her yelling over the din. ‘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!’ Santa was accommodating. ‘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 thud from upstairs. I heard her say my name, panicked. I was disorientated. ‘Pete! Are you alright?’ I’d passed out. Fallen out of the bed while retching. I was face down on the floor in the narrow gap between the bed and the wall. Wedged in. Helen called an ambulance.
While on holiday in Italy, touring beautiful Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna, I had a similar experience. Italian friends drove me to the (very impressive) Bologna hospital. The doctor 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 over.
Pro tip: if your doctor suggests you take liquid valium, take it. It may not cure your ailment but you’ll get high, which will take your mind off it.
It’s impossible to prove there’s a link between my the accident and Migraine. I was 16 years old at the time of the accident and Migraine typically begins in teen years. Cause or coincidence? In practical terms, it doesn’t matter. You have to get on with it. In legal terms it’s important. I had an ongoing case for compensation at the time. Lawyers can put a cash value on that kind of suffering.