By Paul Hannah, Guest Columnist
On a Sunday morning 33 years ago, I was reading a newspaper in bed and was suddenly struck with a headache. I hadn't really had many headaches before, so I expected that this would pass with some non-prescription medication and an hour or so in bed.
I was very wrong.
I still have that headache today. If it would have stayed at a 1/10 pain level, I probably would not have done much about it. However, it didn't stay that low and that was where the problem lies.
When the headache moves to 4/10 or 5/10 I get concerned, because if I don't stop it at that point, it will rapidly scale up to a full migraine.
I have read other accounts of migraines, but very few accord with mine. My neck gets stiff, the trapezius muscles lock up, and my eyes start to hurt. I become rapidly photophobic and the pain gathers and localizes in the frontal lobe of my brain.
Once it reaches 6/10, I get a syringe from my migraine drawer and inject Maxolon into my arm muscle and immediately lie down. As a result of the photophobia, I have built myself a four poster bed so that I can draw the curtains and be in total darkness. After the Maxolon kicks in, I drink some liquids, often very strong coffee, and take as many of the various painkillers as I dare.
About fifty percent of the time, that is enough and spending the next five or ten hours in bed gets me well enough to function again. The other fifty percent of the time, it gets worse. Much worse.
It feels like someone is reaching into my skull and squeezing the frontal lobe of my brain with each beat of my heart. At this point, it becomes imperative, as bizarre as it seems, for me to concentrate. This is because the pain momentarily stops when I sub-consciously hold my breath, and then when I do finally breathe, it gets worse.
These migraines happen so frequently and unpredictably that I have given up traveling. I joke and say that I have seen the inside of too many foreign hospitals - but it is no joke, I love traveling. I miss it terribly.
I have a sympathetic doctor who will write scripts for pethidine (Demerol) every six weeks. It took literally years of doctor shopping to find him. If I have any pethidine left, I give myself an injection. The wave of relief that passes through me with that drug is hard to describe. I heard an opium addict describe her relief like this: "The pain is still there, you can still feel its presence, but it doesn't hurt anymore." It is like that for me.
Every migraine sufferer I have discussed this with has resonated with three annoying things that people come up with. Some women (and it always has been women in my experience) place two fingers to their temples and say, "I have a migraine". Anyone that has ever experienced a 10/10 could no more speak and function as 'normally' as that, than fly. They simply have no idea how bad it is. Fingers are regarded as among the most sensitive to pain areas of the body and anyone hitting a thumb with a hammer can attest.
Eighteen months ago I had an accident in my workshop and cut off my left index finger, half of my thumb and mashed up the other fingers in that hand. The pain level was 5/10. I took the painkillers the paramedics offered, but I didn't need them. The painkillers I took in hospital were for my head, not my hand.
The second annoying thing is when we are asked, "Have you looked into the cause?" I am barely able to contain my sarcasm when confronted with this. I desperately want to say something like "Well goodness me! That IS a good idea, why didn't I think of this thirty years ago?" But I don't, I just look away and say something equally inane.
Just as annoying are those that have an aunt who was cured by giving up coffee (tried it for 9 months, no change), going through menopause (strangely enough, not all that helpful to me) or taken some homeopathic/natural or equally nonsense cure (One said a foot massage was sure to fix it).
I am fortunate in that I live in Australia, a place where universal free healthcare is considered a citizen's right and a government's responsibility. So I have had several MRIs, X-rays and even an EEG, nothing has ever shown up as anything but normal.
When Francis Collins finished the Human Genome Project I thought it was marvelous from a human achievement point of view, but nothing more. I had no idea that it was going to change my life. But change it, it did and in all the right ways.
When I heard about this from another genuine migraine sufferer I took a blood test and for the first time in 33 years I had a non-normal result. It seems there is a genetic mutation called MTHFR, and if a person has one of them, it makes it difficult to process vitamin B. I have two of the sods.
I have spent my life being deficient in Vitamin B2, all the while my blood was full of the stuff. Both of those conditions can cause migraines. For the last eight weeks I have been taking a number of supplments and a cream - DHEA/CHYSIN, zinc, B-2, 5-MTHF and D-3. So far, I have had nothing worse than a 4/10 headache and I have every reason to suspect that this improvement will continue.
The Human Genome Project has given me something I thought I would never have again: hope. And hope to the hopeless is a marvelous thing. Truly marvelous.
I urge every migraine sufferer who can afford it to take the test. This isn't foot massage or acupuncture nonsense, it might actually work.
Paul Hannah lives in a small town just north of Brisbane, Australia on a few acres of bush populated with wallabies, koalas and a wide variety of native birds. He is retired and enjoys writing, history, astronomy and woodwork.
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The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represent the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.