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A mob bucket bubbling over and spilling over the edge onto the carpet.

Once, I Left a Mop Bucket Running…

and flooded a shared back hallway between a restaurant and a movie theater during business hours.

What’s your once, I…story?

Migraine and stressors

Many of us know migraine can be debilitating, and stressors such as work and school can trigger migraine symptoms. Conversely, migraine symptoms can also affect our ability to work. This relationship of negative influence can make it difficult to get through an average work or school day.

What follows is a story of one very chaotic migraine experience I had while working, wherein I had a huge ‘oops’ moment that only made things worse.

All in a day’s work

In the evenings on most days, I work a bartending job at a small, independent, arthouse theater in my town. Every night after the film screenings end and the bar clears out, I clean the bathrooms, lobby, and behind the bar. This includes a number of tasks including cleaning a popcorn machine, washing dishes, vacuuming, sweeping, and mopping.

I am usually exhausted after a ten-hour shift or longer, and I often have a migraine by the end (or beginning) of it all. On a normal weekday, I am also getting up early the next morning to return to work at another job. At the end of some days, I am not able to work optimally, because migraine combined with stress and exhaustion can often make getting things done in a timely manner (or getting rest) nearly or completely impossible. Consequently, I have many, many days where I am not able to finish a workday or have to call out sick because of chronic pain.

Lights, camera, inaction

One such particular night, I had an excruciating migraine while bartending. It was a migraine that I’d had for a few days prior, but one that had been ‘coming’ and ‘going’ in its intensity level. On this night, the pain was very high intensity, and it was severely affecting my performance. As I was serving customers, I kept feeling the need to close one eye and squinting, because the pain settled into one side of my face.

Gradually over my shift, my voice became quieter and quieter, as I got more tired and it became difficult to speak, and so I was having to repeat myself over and over to customers and to my co-worker. I felt the need to keep holding my hand pressed to my head to relieve some of the pressure, as well as give me a sense of balance. I felt really dizzy and felt a heightened sensitivity to light, but I needed to be on my feet making drinks and serving customers. I felt nauseous and the typical theater smells (burning popcorn mostly) were not helping.

One thing after another

As the pain in my head gradually got more intense, I wasn’t sure If I could stay at work, so I sent out an email to my co-workers (again) asking if anyone could come in and relieve me. It was so last minute that no one could come in. That meant I had to stay, even if I started to feel worse.  Feeling trapped, I got even more overwhelmed, and I already had a million thoughts running through my head:

Can I afford to miss the rest of my shift? Can I afford to lose this job if I leave right now? Am I going to make it through another hour here? And suddenly a sharp, halting, and very important thought ran through my head:

Did I turn that mop water off earlier?

Chaos and crying

The answer was a big, wet no. Great! I thought. Just what I needed. I shuffled quickly to the closet where we keep cleaning supplies and the mop sink to find a huge, flowing puddle of water. It had leake–…err… flowed… out into the hallway that we shared with the restaurant next door.

Trying for efficiency as I tend to do, I had run the water early to prepare for the mopping later on. Which was not out of the ordinary, I keep systems at work so tight that I could do a lot of tasks with my eyes closed. What was out of the ordinary was forgetting. I was really surprised at myself that I had forgotten about something that I do almost every night. Like discovering the lights were left on in your car, or that the stove was left on, my heart sank. ‘How could I let this happen?’

Damage control

I wanted to scream and cry, but I didn’t have time just yet. I had to gather as many towels as I could, as quickly as I could to begin damage control. Except that the towels were not refilled from the previous week’s wash. Plan B: I had to find a bunch of paper towels and use already dirtied towels. It all felt chaotic and icky. The water had reached the middle of the hallway and I couldn’t help but think about how embarrassing this was. It was the insult to my injury since I was also still in a lot of pain.

I tried to get up as much water as I could, then I put out the wet floor cone, and returned back to the bar. Every few minutes I had to return to the closest to wring out the gross towels into the mop sink and try to soak up more of the water. This continued all night. I was eventually able to get the floor dry enough to where it would be completely dry overnight…I hoped.

Missed it because of migraine

I am usually really on top of my many tasks at work, but this night I felt anything but under control. Migraine has made me forgetful, has made me totally tune out to what is going on around me, but when I am at work I am usually even more hyper-aware of my symptoms and working despite them to get through the shift, so this situation felt all around w-i-l-d. To make matters worse, when the night was done, some folks from the next door establishment were standing outside taking a break. One of them nonchalantly asked between a cigarette pull:

‘What’s with the water?”

Oh how I sank down so small inside.

“Oh, I accidentally left the water running..haha” I said nervously and full of embarrassment.

I already felt terrible and this service industry comrade’s words made me feel pretty bad. By the time I got home, I felt defeated. All I felt I could do was take medicine and lay down. I didn’t have the energy to even eat dinner, which definitely was not going to help the situation. I had spent all day in pain and soaking up water.


The next day when I went into work, the floor was dry, and I was glad to see that it was all over. Whew. This was definitely one of the most uncomfortable positions I had been in at work, and I felt like I was sort of trapped in it, doomed to feel pain until it was time to clock out. Since then, I have been super attentive to when the water is running for the mop.

Have you ever felt trapped at work or school during a migraine? Ever done something you wouldn’t have normally done had it not been for your migraine symptoms?  What’s your Once, I…story? Let’s discuss in the comments!

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • Delawarekathy
    4 months ago

    As a secretary I told my office manager I needed to go home due to a throbbing migraine. She said “For a headache! Are you kidding me?”
    I left work anyway. I was so ill, on the way home I had to pull my car over and open the door to throw up.

  • DonnaFA moderator
    4 months ago

    Ugh, what an intolerant response, @delawarekathy! Was she sympathetic when you returned to work? -Warmly, Donna ( team)

  • Delawarekathy
    4 months ago

    Absolutely not. I didn’t work there for long after that. Most people who have never had a migraine don’t understand that it’s not just a little headache.

  • Casner
    5 months ago

    Forgetting to put my contacts in, when I need them to drive, I kept looking at my coworkers all squinty eyed because they were fuzzy. I somehow drove to work without incident. I was just on autopilot and missed a few crucial steps in my routine.

  • Katieflowers
    5 months ago

    I had a migraine come on suddenly at work around 2pm. It seemed ok at first and I thought I’d be able to stick it out until the end of the day. I took some Excedrin Migraine and tried to do some work. Around 3pm, the pain got worse and as I was putting files into a filing cabinet, I suddenly couldn’t remember the alphabet. I tried singing the alphabet song in my head and couldn’t beyond “O”. I thought about just looking at the names of the files already in the cabinet as a “guide” but my vision suddenly blurred. Blurry vision is common with my attacks, but not knowing the alphabet at that moment really freaked me out!

  • minnieizahoot
    5 months ago

    It was Spring ’98 and I was 27, married and working part time in an ER, going to nursing school, 2 children and this particular day thankfully my co pilot had driven herself. Arrive about 10 minutes before class, 55 mile commute each way and I wasn’t feel well in general. You don’t miss a single day of nursing school, about time to break for lunch, and sharp pains in my head. I figured, eh, eat something fairly healthy (they had a culinary class that did the cooking in the cafeteria) and forge ahead. Classes end at 330, around 130 I get a full on, no warning, no auras, migraine. When class dismissed for the day, I headed straight home, called my Doctor’s office and talked to the nurse, she advised me to come there for an appt as soon as I could get there. that added on 45 miles.

    Arrive at the Dr’s office, check in, nurse comes up, takes me back to an exam room, and is kind of acting nervous. Doctor came in, asked me how I got there, if someone drove me, and I told him no. He said I needed to be seen in the ER because he was concerned b/c my speech was slurred and some of the things I said didn’t make sense. He advised the nurse to call for an ambulance, and I was like, oh wait, no no no…I’ve driven 100 miles like this, please save me the cost of an ambulance. I had to sign the ever so lovely AMA form, and arrived at the ER about 15 minutes later. He’d called to advise the ER Physician what was going on, and gave him my medical history. Several nurses join the Doctor and begin doing IV, blood draw, and sent me for a ct. They continued stroke protocol until results of the ct came back, which did not show any signs of stroke, or other abnormalities.

    Wrote scripts for nausea meds and a nasal inhaler pain med, and instructed me I had to have someone drive me home, the hospital is 35 miles from home, Husband was working, kids at my Parents, finally I told them I needed to leave, and I felt confident I was able to drive clearly and safely. With apprehension, they gave me my walking orders, which included a note stating I was to return to class 2 days later, and had an appt with primary care. I missed one day of classes and it didn’t ding my attendance. Migraines have cost me opportunities, money, a job, missed events and missed times with my kids when they were growing up. I honestly had no idea they were concerned that this could be a life changing vascular incident. Very grateful that day for so many things.

  • Andrew99
    5 months ago

    It was Christmas party 18’ and I had been at work on a Saturday that happened to be a particular busy day. I work for Assisted Living community. Being in middle management you know you get it from the top and the ones you ask feel they really don’t need to accommodate when YOU ask to get things done immediately. This particular day I had people coming in and the staff weren’t moving fast enough for what I needed (not like they would have if the ED was in there, it would have been done ASAP) and I was getting stopped for caregiver requests, family members stopped into my office to give me good (a lot of time bad) issues with their loved ones, even ones that didn’t even live there! So I was just finished checking over a room that finally was cleaned and “ready to move-in” when I got called up to the front to please go check my email. I find that the head office stationed 3 hours away decided to inform me they scheduled a tour for the room that was just sold and they people were moving into anytime. So through all this my brain is ready to explode out the top of my head, I am chewing Zofran like tic tacs, I had even taken a small dose of Dilaudid (which I like because it doesn’t make me feel funny or tired but will take the pain away USUALLY, keyword USUALLY!) so far you are reading this thinking and so what did you do…well it wasn’t what I did there it’s what happened after. My point was there was a ton of stuff that was happening that was out of my control and it was one stressor on top of another.
    So I am arrive last to the Christmas party and right away everyone has picked up on that I look like crap and I am just beaten down still in a business suit/skirt and heels so can’t be relaxed yet and I toss myself onto the couch with a comment from my multi-million dollar sister (who doesn’t work) and brother in law who simply say “what’s your problem” oh no they weren’t asking as if they cared they were asking why the additude (at this point I am thinking I should have gone home) Luckily my husband came and explained I had a mind blowing migraine. I now had everything in me the hospitals would give me so it’s the waiting game. We finally get to the game portion and as all of you know you can’t think during these God Forbid unholy hell of a headaches so I didn’t understand all of the rules. Needless to say I couldn’t keep up and my “prize” (comfy slippers that I already envisioned on my feet) I thought I won got taken away from me and I stood up and yelled at everyone in the room and stormed out and left.
    What I didn’t know was my husband asked where they had got these slippers from and had my kids go find them and when they got home they had the same slippers in hand which made me feel quite dumb after the fact as I stared at them. Still every time I put them on I think to myself, I had the stupidest reaction over a pair of slippers. What THEY don’t realize it wasn’t just a pair of slippers, it was just one thing that was finally pushed on ME and I had fought an entire day with my head pounding with a smile on my face and in a sense those slippers were pretty much the final representation of being pushed to far and I had enough. Oh and that tour that was coming that the head office scheduled without talking to me first, cancelled after I called the girl in the head office and told her what she did wrong. She asked if I would call and explained to the client. I did. I got the sale for a different room when she came in on a different day when another room opened up but the head office was banned from ever doing that again!
    Side Note; Days later rich sister called and decided to call and berate me and I very calmly told her that day, while I agree it was a stupid reaction to have, she has no idea what it’s like to literally want to blow your brains out because your head hurts so hard and your a vomiting in the toilet but you have to keep going because NO ONE can come in and help. She admitted she doesn’t know how that feels but still thought it was a ridiculous reaction…..just when I thought she might have a clue ‍♀️

  • d-m
    6 months ago

    Once, while working as a baker at a restaurant, I baked some beautiful apple pies! I somehow forgot the sugar. Who does that? Sugar is the key ingredient, as the look on the patrons faces would tell you.
    Another time I was home delivering some prescriptions for the pharmacy I worked at. There was a traffic jam and I hurt so bad, I hung my head toward the right and away from the light. Out of the periphery of my eye I saw the traffic moving, so I let my foot off the break. Um, my lane was not moving at all! My employers front bumper crushed into a small expensive sports car. The angry driver jumped out and proclaimed me drunk, as I looked and sounded so bad.
    Recently, I did not get a volunteer position I was highly qualified for, because during the telephone interview I became aphasic with halting speech. It was odd snd upsetting.
    But mostly, I’m proud of what I COULD do, despite the blinding pain.

  • amy.6georges
    5 months ago

    That is such a good point, I have never thought of it like that. I always think of the things I couldn’t do, and need to focus more on what I did do in spite of the migraines. I need to change my attitude a bit!

  • Joanna Bodner moderator
    6 months ago

    The way that migraine presents itself many times is very alarming…even between attacks. The constant feeling of brain fog, forgetfulness, being tongue tied, it’s all just too much. I do have to say that I love you attitude! You absolutely should be proud of what you CAN do despite the debilitating pain of migraine. I really appreciate you sharing these troubling experiences with us as it greatly helps to let others they are never alone in this struggle.

  • August
    6 months ago

    While I was administrator in high school, I had Migraine that began throbbing. Nausea set in quickly and I ran to closest bathroom. I vomited, and continued heaving until I wet my pants. A secretary came to check on me helped me to my car to saved me from embarrassment. The migraine stayed for days.

  • Hopeless
    6 months ago

    I work in a call center. I did not realize when I took the job just how horrific it would be to have people talking directly into your ears while fighting a migraine. When I try to fight through it, I start making stupid mistakes, like forgetting the reason for the call, or the calls start running together and I think I’m talking to someone from two calls ago. My cognition just…breaks. I can’t remember how to do tasks that I’ve done 100 times. Last week while fighting a migraine I put a caller on hold to research the answer to their problem…and then could not remember what they needed. Luckily, I am able to cover my mistakes by saying something like “so I couldn’t find the exact answer…why don’t you tell me the problem again and see if I missed anything?” I am one missed day away from being fired. This company does not care if you bring a doctor’s note or a hospital visit note. You miss a certain number of hours, you are gone.

  • Karolee
    6 months ago

    Once, I had transient aphasia in the form of garbled speech in a room full of senior managers. Another time, during a work lunch, I became so disoriented that I thought that I was eating with complete strangers. And although I have effectively worked through many, MANY a migraine (as I’m sure you have too), I can’t count the number of times there has been some type of temporary cognitive impairment that has greatly embarrassed me in front of colleagues. It’s a good thing we’re resilient. : )

  • Maineme
    6 months ago

    My story…We had recently moved two states away when my 12 year old son’s best friend from back home died suddenly. I drove him and his 10 year old sister to the memorial service being held at their former school, leaving my 5 year old with my husband. It was a 6 hour drive so we stayed the first night with friends…I had a ‘headache’ coming on and had used the last of the ‘good’ meds so only had otc meds with me. Which is like taking a tic-tac! The first night went okay and I was able to put one foot in front of the next, not eat, wear sunglasses and be the mom I needed to be. Following the service we left for the 6 hour drive back home. About 1 hour in I knew I wasn’t going to be able to make it so pulled into the local hospital with 2 sad kids in tow and explained my dilemma. I can’t remember what they gave me ( an injection and a drip) and I was feeling like ‘ok, I can do this’ and we struck out 2 hours later. I didn’t make it 30 miles when I knew it was bad. I found an exit with motels; the first two were booked full. The third was a little seedy looking but they had a room. I gave my son our key, my credit card and told him to order a pizza delivered to the room for he and his sister and to call his dad because I was going to pass out. (This was before everyone had cell phones & cell service in rural states.) I woke up 36 hours later with 2 wide-eyed children staring at me thinking I had died! Just added one more time that I felt like I had failed as a mom because of my migraines.

  • amy.6georges
    5 months ago

    The mom guilt is the worst.

  • Crystal.Harper
    6 months ago

    I completely understand how bad you may have felt in the moment, but I hope one day you’re able to look back on all of this and maybe get a little chuckle out of it! We all have moments of thinking, “I can’t believe I let that happen!” so don’t be too hard on yourself 🙂 Even the workers from the restaurant next to you might get a kick out of the story one day!

  • petmigraine
    6 months ago

    This was a pre-migraine error for me; just yesterday right after lunch..
    Thought I’d get a head-start on dinner so I defrosted a handful of chicken breast tenderloins and chopped them up to simmer for shredded taco meat 🙂 Doesn’t that sound good ?
    Starting to clean up my prep mess and lunch dishes, I filled up one sink with hot water, added two squirts of dish soap. Let that set a minute.
    Then I took the pot of chicken chunks, set it in the other sink and moved the faucet over to fill it with some hot water, too. In ‘auto’ mode, I then added two squirts of dish soap– the pot of chicken and hot water.
    Ended up throwing away the cleanest raw chicken pieces ever~
    Gracious hubby took me out to dinner instead..came home, took a nap and woke to a migraine 🙁

  • Crystal.Harper
    6 months ago

    I had something similar happen to me once- I was making cereal and went to pour myself a cup of orange juice on the side. Instead, I poured a cup of milk and put the OJ into my cereal LOL. It sounds like you have a really understanding and sweet husband!! Hope you both enjoyed a delicious dinner that night and maybe even shared a laugh 🙂

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