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Having a Migraine Far from Home

During my senior year of college, I met a guy whom I dated off and on for a couple of years. He was the 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.

Migraine in Switzerland

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!)

Clear migraine recall

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.

Out of place

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?

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

Comments

  • migrainestl
    6 years ago

    I was living in England & my parents had come to visit. I got sick on the flight from London to Salzburg. I had to stay in the hotel & take a nap to recover while my parents who had never travelled overseas went walking around the town by themselves. I felt so guilty, but thankfully they saw it as their own little adventure & still talk about it to this day. The nap helped & I joined them for dinner, but I can vividly remember lying in bed in severe pain in a foreign country w/ my travel novice parents out on the town on their own.

  • Kim
    6 years ago

    My worst migraine ever happened on a trip to my in-laws. The day before we were to fly home, there was a family picnic at my brother-in-laws house and although I tried to stay in the shade, it was very hot and humid and I started to develop a migraine. As we left for home – my mother-in-law’s house – I begged my husband to hurry.

    We made it just in time. I spent the next hour vomiting and rushing to the toilet, broke out in chills and sweats, had to take my pill again because I threw-up the first one almost as soon as I took it. I was so miserable. My hair was soaking wet as well as my nightie. My husband, mother-in-law and another brother-in-law started talking about taking me to the ER. I wasn’t able to speak very well but kept saying, “No hospital. No hospital.”

    I don’t remember much. My husband told me what happened later. He stayed up all night and kept putting cold cloths on my forehead. He’s such a good guy. He was my knight in shining…khaki. I was finally able to fall asleep for a couple of hours.

    When my husband came into the bedroom – he had stayed up all night – to wake me and ask if I could make our early morning flight, I burst into tears. Exhaustion. I don’t usually cry, but it was like he just asked me if I could climb Mt Everest. He called the airlines to see if we could get a later flight, but the cost was prohibitive for us at the time, so I got myself together and we made it to the airport. Once on the plane, I fell fast asleep and didn’t wake again until it was time to change planes. That’s the first time I’ve ever been able to sleep on a plane – I usually am wide awake the entire time. I suppose a take-away from that migraine is that I can now sleep on planes free from the fear that it will crash if I, personally, don’t stay vigilant! HA HA

    I hope that I never have a migraine like that again, but I also know that if I do, I have the best partner to take care of me. I also know just how miserable it can be to be sick away from the comfort of your own bed and will be especially mindful of that if ever I happen to be in a position to be the one to care for any individual in similar circumstances.

    It’s so nice to read the stories you post here. I feel like there is someone who knows exactly what I go through with these monstrous migraines on a daily basis, from the workplace to the home front. Thanks, Migraine Girl!

  • Shan43
    6 years ago

    Thank you for sharing your story. You are so blessed to have a husband that takes care of you when you get a bad migraine. My husband is very understanding too. It’s so important to have a good support system. 🙂 Sounds like you had to go through the whole plane episode like I did. I I had a headache coming and going on the plane. Had nausea and felt aweful upon landing. Ugg!

  • Shan43
    6 years ago

    Thank you for sharing about headaches far from home. Glad to know I’m not alone in this! Last year (June 2013) my dad took us three kids and spouses on an Alaskan cruise. I live in Texas and we flew out on a straight through flight from DFW to Anchorage..about a 6-7 hour flight. Looking back I feel it was a stress, altitude/motion sickness, along with a pre-menstrual migraine. I got the migraine about half way through the trip. My neck was hurting along with it and I was so sick!! Took my Amerge and that helped to bring it under control but once we landed I could hardly eat dinner..everyone else was enjoying food but me. I loved our cruise although I suffered with chronic headaches the whole week..realized later I was having motion sickness issues along with who knows what..hormones, foods, etc. I think the triggers just stacked up and I had to take Amerge every single day. It helped me to function better but there’s nothing worse than getting a migraine and waiting for your medication to kick in! I’m the only one in my family that dealt with the headaches that trip. It was horrible and makes me not want to go on such a stressful “planes, trains, and automobiles” trip ever again! We were on planes, shuttle buses, a train ride in Skagway, cruise ship, etc. I think it was too much for my rattled and sensitive nervous system!

  • Mary Kate
    6 years ago

    I have had migraine headaches since I was a very young child. I know that I was not the only person in my childhood home who had nasty headaches — my mother!
    It seemed as if I had inherited the nasty migraines
    and Mother was not the only member of her family to have
    those nasty headaches! One of my great aunts had them
    as well, and I remember her telling me that I could not
    do the type of playing I might have done because Aunt
    Myrtle had headaches as bad and Mother and me. Aunt Myrtle was only a great aunt by marriage, but she would tell my
    sister and me that we could not play as we usually did.

  • afinkel
    6 years ago

    Thanks for sharing your story. To this day, I have painful memories of a day in the south of France. We were with my husband’s relatives spending a few days there and we had made plans for a day trip. I bowed out due to a migraine that started in the morning. I took my meds, back then, gravol and codeine (I didn’t know about migraine meds) and slept for a number of hours. I still didn’t feel well enough to join them when my husband returned and asked if I would join them for dinner so I declined. But a couple of hours later, I was getting hungry and despite the lingering dull pain of the migraine, I went walking looking for somewhere I could buy something to eat. No way was I in a mood or feeling well enough to socialize – I just needed to be by myself in my misery. Wouldn’t you know it but my husband and our relatives drove by as I was out walking as they hadn’t yet gone for dinner. Of course, they stopped the car and asked me to join them for dinner. No way did I want to but felt I had to – I was out and in their eyes, most likely seemed just fine. It’s amazing the depths we go to, to hide our pain. They all seemed quite puzzled that I could be well enough to be out looking for food and yet not well enough to have come with them for dinner when I was first asked. I very reluctantly got in the car, feeling very sheepish that I had been “caught” doing something that was the opposite of being sick. We went for dinner and I struggled through, doing my best to be social but so annoyed that I was there and still feeling dreadful. This was early days in my relationship with my husband and he too didn’t really know about the nuances of migraine and what happens after the onslaught of pain has subsided somewhat. I was so happy when the dinner was over and we made our way back to our hotel and I could climb into bed. To this day, I am convinced that my husband’s relatives believed that I hadn’t really been ill at all and just didn’t want to go on the day trip with them, otherwise how could I have been out walking? It’s like an elephant in the room whenever we see them, which is maybe every year or so.

  • Denise
    6 years ago

    Thank you for sharing your Migraine story. It’s funny how you can relate to someone without knowing them at all. But the Migraine connects people in a way that some just don’t understand.

    My story is pretty similar. I suffer horribly with migraines and carry my Maxalt and caffeine pills with me everywhere. Most of my close friends and relatives know about the headaches, but some don’t. It’s like you don’t want to share because not many people understand and tell you – “It’s just a headache, take an asprin.” I wish it was that easy.

    Just recently my husband and I went on a motorcycle trip to another state for a few days with a group of people that we associated with but were not friends. Things were going great for the first two days, but on day 3 I started to get the “aura” and I knew that it was going downhill fast. By the next morning, the migraine was in full swing, and I spent a beautiful day in a motel room, with the air conditioner on high, the room dark and a wonderful husband who stayed with me and took care of me. The next day, I had a hard time explaining what was wrong with me, and used a “stomach bug” as an excuse.

    It’s amazing who having that one person who understands sometimes makes it bearable when you are not at home.

  • kowlesk
    6 years ago

    I can remember migraines from my childhood where I couldn’t control where/when I threw up – classrooms, bathrooms, school bus, my parents’ car. I was made fun of for years because no other kids understood what was happening to me. I didn’t really either, because doctors were convinced that a 5 year old couldn’t possibly be having migraines.

    23 years later, I cope by being really open with my friends about my illness. I still get really bad attacks and get ill in public places (last weekend it was a horse farm on the side of the road :)) but letting people around me know helps so they can get me home quicker, be quiet, respectful, etc. I also keep a small kit in my purse of drugs,tissues,bag for emergencies. 🙂

  • Diana-Lee
    6 years ago

    Isn’t it weird how clearly certain attacks stand out in our minds? I remember having a Migraine attack at a slumber party & throwing up all over the girl’s bathroom on my way to the toilet. 🙁 I guess it was the humiliation factor, but it’s not like I haven’t dealt with that many times over the years! I threw up on my grandma AND my kindergarten teacher during Migraine attacks, for goodness sake.

    I’m glad he was such a nice guy to get you what you needed in that moment.

    These days I carry a lot of little tools to try to create my own cocoon when I can’t get away from people & sensory stimulation: Dark sunglasses, eye shades, ear plugs (ear buds work well in a pinch), aromatherapy products, etc. And if I don’t have something appropriate to throw up in you can bet I’ll need to so I try to do a better job of having a gallon sized ziplock bag and some tissues or paper towels on hand for that.

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