When no news isn’t exactly good news

When you’re on the path toward getting diagnosed with migraine disease, your healthcare professional will take several steps to rule out what you don’t have. The symptoms of migraine can mimic many other illnesses, some of them more immediately serious than migraine itself, so it’s in everyone’s best interest to go ahead and make sure there’s nothing else going on in the brain or body before moving toward a diagnosis of migraine.

I was diagnosed with migraine in 2001, eight years or so after having my first memorable attack. In 2006, my headache specialist (whom I drove to and from Atlanta to see) prescribed an MRI. At the time, I had health insurance, but due to now-too-typical bureaucratic rules at the insurance company, insurance did NOT cover the $2000+ procedure. (Thank goodness for parents, who bailed me out—I was living on a grad school stipend at the time and never could have afforded it.)

Recently I’ve had more dizziness, tiredness, and episodes of feeling faint. My primary care doctor and current headache specialist both recommended an updated MRI.

This time around, the MRI is an affordable (HA! Scoff.) $800. This is after the no-insurance discount was applied (I’ve been without insurance for nearly 7 years now).

A strange thing happened when I got the results: I was a little bit let down to know that my brain appeared 100% normal. No problems, no changes from the last MRI. No signs of any damage or warning signs. This is good news for sure: so why was I disappointed?

My best guess is that sometimes we chronically ill folks can spend months—if not years—working toward a definitive diagnosis. When new symptoms crop up, it can be scary. A diagnosis can help give some sort of conclusion to that particular chapter in your health life, can give some reason for the symptoms that have been interrupting your everyday routine. When you shell out big bucks for a big test like an MRI, of course it’s good news to hear that there’s nothing alarming happening in your brain (at least as far as the scan can see!), but it can be a little disappointing to know that you’re not much closer to finding out what’s happening with your body.

Have you ever experienced this strange let-down feeling when a test comes back negative? What do you think of this phenomenon?

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