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Poked and Prodded

November 5, 2011

For many years, I have suffered from migraines of varying intensity and frequency. As a teenager, I carried different NSAIDs in my pockets. I shiver to think what modern-day schools would have thought of my bringing meds into the schools undetected, although I can almost guarantee I was the only one who ever took them, and only under medical need. As time went on, I continued to suffer with them, and to deal with them by taking OTC medications when they reared their ugly heads. By the time I was out of college, I had tried every NSAID on the market at every available dosage, and nothing worked. I’ve always joked that, for me, like for most migraine sufferers, taking OTC painkillers is like taking tic tacs. It does absolutely nothing to dull the pain. But unlike some members of my family, until a few years ago, I could get relief by turning off every light and sound source in my room and going to sleep. I’d usually awake the next day completely pain- and side-effect-free.

Then, in the fall of 2006, I realized that my headaches were falling into a new and frightening pattern. Not only where they much more severe, but they were coming on much more frequently and, more importantly, more quickly. Whereas before I had several hours between the first warning signs and the onset of blinding pain, I now had only an hour or less. It scared me to realize that I could be alone with the kids, driving, maybe, and be blindsided by a headache. The Boss could sometimes come and take care of the kids if I called and said I needed him, but he certainly couldn’t do it twice a week, and I never wanted to be on the interstate and light or sound sensitive to the point of nausea. To add to my frustration, this new pattern of headaches coincided with the time when my health was at its best; my weight was down, my blood pressure was ideal, and my diet was finally under control.

Though I’d been extensively tested by a general practitioner when I was eighteen, this was the first time I went to a neurologist for my headaches. He was very thorough, and after the requisite testing, I began a regimen of both a controller medication, which I started taking daily, and a combination of medications (an NSAID and a triptan) which I can take when I feel a headache coming on. This treatment regimen has worked well for five years.

But, now, the headaches have gotten worse again, returning to their old pattern of rearing their ugly heads once or twice a week and going from zero-to-blind in one hour, and I’ve consulted a new neurologist (my old one is close to an hour away).

Dr. T was very gracious, listening to my medical history patiently–it’s a long one. He was interested in hearing not only about my headache pattern but also about my sleep patterns. He was curious to hear that I suffer both from sleep paralysis and intense, vivid nightmares. Though I hadn’t thought about it much, he points out that these phenomena occur in different phases of sleep and, if indicative of sleep disorders, cannot be symptomatic of the same disorder. For now, he’s tackling the migraines themselves, though sleep is a large part of my headaches.

Last week, we increased the dosage of my controller medication, and yes, it came with some side effects. Since we upped my meds, I’m forgetful and stupid, walking into rooms aimlessly just to wonder why I did it. I pack everything I could possibly need when I leave the house, because I’ve so often left without that one critical item. I’m keeping lists compulsively because I’m tired of forgetting trivial things and having my schedule get jumbled up in my own brain. While it’s frustrating to live this way, I have the hope that this confusion is temporary; it’s again given me some insight and compassion for people who have organizational challenges all the time. I’m praying for endurance while it lasts, and for the tools and wisdom to compensate for my new limitations for as long as they are with me.

In addition to the new medication regimen, Dr T wanted to run some tests. The last MRI films we have of my brain are five years old, and we have no records at all of my last EEG, which was done in South America my senior year in high school (many many moons ago!). He also wants to run some blood tests. I told him some of my migraines are very obviously tied to my hard efforts, so he wants to check my iron and thyroid levels; also, the medication I take is notorious for causing kidney stones, so we’ll check my kidney function while we’re at it.

I decided to get all the testing done and over with as quickly as possible, and so it’s been an interesting week.

  • Monday: EEG. An easy test, fifteen minutes in a beautiful LazyBoy. I took a delicious nap in a dark room, until the lights started flashing at weird intervals and I was thus rudely awakened.
  • Thursday: finger-prick blood test. The Boss’s company has instituted a  new program this year, which will give us an incentive in our insurance premiums if we prove we meet healthy standards in BMI, cholesterol, and blood pressure numbers. So off I went to the MinuteClinic to get a finger prick and get my numbers. I had to be fasting, which is unusual for me; I usually have my first cup of coffee by 6 and breakfast by 7. Since the MinuteClinic doesn’t take appointments, I had to wait in line, and it was almost 10 by the time I was seen. The nurse practitioner told me my blood sugar was low and I should get a snack as soon as possible, but I really wasn’t hungry . . . and I ignored her advice. I met a friend for lunch at around 11:30, my first meal of the day, and the first thing I’d had to eat in about seventeen hours . . . which may explain why I ended up with a horrible migraine later that day. I was in bed around 7 and couldn’t even muster the energy to get up to give the Boss his shot. I felt terrible about that.
  • Friday: MRI. This was a truly luxurious experience. The place I went to had huge dressing rooms. I was told I could keep all my clothes on save my bra, a novelty for me since I was wearing jeans. The last time I had this test done I had to get down to my skivvies. I happened to be wearing white, so I chose not to face the tech wearing that and donned the provided navy scrubs instead. The test itself was much more uncomfortable than I remembered, and I didn’t get to take a nap. The tech advised me that for one series of pictures my head was moving, so I had to wake up and pay attention. Bo-ring! But I was thankful to have the test finished, and especially thankful that my neurologist has the images from five years ago to compare to this year’s. Maybe we can learn something.
  • Today, Saturday: blood draw for the neuro. The first appointment the lab had was for late morning, one Thursday next week. We already discovered how well I do when fasting for half a day, and Thursdays are not good days for me to be busy, so I decided to just wait in line at the lab. It was a good decision–I was in with the tech by 8:45, and though I’ve been told my veins “roll” away from the needle whenever I go in for bloodwork, I had a no-nonsense phlebotomist who got exactly what she needed on the first try. Having learned my lesson, I’d packed a granola bar, and had that immediately upon leaving the place. When discomfort started later, in spite of a good lunch, I realized what else I’d forgotten on Thursday–COFFEE! I brewed a quick cup of Pumpkin Spice in my Keurig and, just a few hours later, feel completely normal, pain-free.

I’m glad all the testing is behind me, and am looking forward to the Dopamax fog lifting in a few days, meeting again with the doctor in a couple of weeks, and setting out a new plan of attack for my headaches. While they’ve been a source of irritation and interruption in the last few months, I’m determined that I’m going to deal with this obstacle in the most rational, safest way possible. I am convinced beyond doubt that I am fearfully and wonderfully made (Ps. 139:14), and that this means God knit every blood vessel in my brain, and controls and oversees the ebb and flow of my health. While I am in His service, I will trust Him to take care of these details, using those resources He’s put at my disposal to try to manage and secure own health. I will not shirk on my commitments, back down from my dreams, or give in to apparent weakness. Instead, I will determine to agree with the apostle Paul, who proved in his own life that Christ’s grace is made perfect in our weaknesses. Like Paul, I “will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” (2 Cor. 12:9). To Him be the glory, today and always.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. November 6, 2011 1:19 pm

    what a busy week at the doctor’s offices! i hope you learn something valuable from these tests to help control the headaches and solve them once and for all!

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