Having a migraine far from home

Memorable Migraines: Somewhere in Switzerland

During my senior year of college, I met a guy whom I dated off and on for a couple of years. He was a best friend of a best friend, and we really hit it off. Though he lived far away, we stayed in touch via email and by the time summer rolled around, we were emailing each other every day. We’d not had the opportunity to see each other in person that much, but we knew each other well and both thought it’d be awesome for me to travel Europe with him for two weeks while he lived abroad.

This is where you might expect the story to turn sour, but it doesn’t. We had a wonderful trip and got along great—no nightmares here.

Unless you count the awful, terrible migraine I had one night when we were crashed out on an acquaintance’s bathroom floor in Switzerland.

Don’t even ask me for details now, ’cause I couldn’t remember for the life of me how we ended up at this cosmopolitan apartment with about five other people (all of whom we sort of knew). There’s no travel like 20-something travel, when an “anything goes” attitude steers most decisions and sleeping on floors seems like an acceptable (and cheap) way to go. (My 34-year-old self is writing this now, knowing full well you couldn’t pay me to sleep on a stranger’s floor these days!)

I have little recollection of what we were doing during the day and for dinner, but I can remember with picture-perfect clarity the migraine that hit me that night. I hadn’t had an Imitrex prescription for all that long and still wasn’t at all comfortable talking about my migraines. I’d dismiss them as “really bad headaches” at my most honest, and I’d not mention them at all in most cases, even when I was suffering. I’d tried to fall asleep with this one, not wanting to be the traveler that caused a fuss, not wanting to spoil anyone’s fun. But then things got really bad and I knew I needed to do something.

A few of us were sprawled out on blankets in the bathroom (which was really clean, by the way—no need to cringe). I remember putting my head to the cold tile of the wall, whimpering. My sort-of-boyfriend heard me crying and whispered, “What can I do? What’s wrong?” I tried to speak coherently, but the migraine caused my sentences to sound like gibberish. I managed to convey the message that there were triangle-shaped pills in a plastic bag in my backpack. Once he located the Imitrex and a cup of water, he delivered them to me.

I’m not sure why I remember this episode so well. I think the context is what’s most remarkable to me. Sure, the pain was bad and I was suffering terribly. But I think the lack of familiarity and comfort was the worst part of all. Yes, I was with someone who cared about me a lot, but there were also people along with us I barely knew. I was in a strange country surrounded by strangers, unable to communicate and utterly unable to simply be by myself. There was no comfy, private bed to crawl into, no couch to retreat to, no quiet space where I could read and recover. I felt trapped, and the more I felt trapped, the more intense the migraine got.

Thankfully, things got better quickly and I don’t have any strong migraine-related memory of the following days. But I’ll never forget how uncomfortable, out of place, and insecure I felt during those hours of pain, how very far away from home I was.

Have you ever gotten a serious migraine while far from home? How do you cope with migraine when there’s no place for you to retreat?

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