Hit by a MAC Truck

Have you ever been hit a MAC truck? I was five the first time it happened to me. I was on my way to my best friend’s birthday party when I saw the blinding light followed by the worst pain of my life. I screamed for my mom and she did her best to console me but I cried for hours. The slightest noise reminded me of the truck’s blaring horn. My whole body, even my hair hurt. And then I vomited and the recovery process began. I hadn’t been in an actual car accident, no head on collision with an 18-wheeler. I had just experienced my first migraine. At age 32, I still refer to the experience of a migraine as getting hit by a tractor trailer. I even get a chill up my spine when I have to pass one on the highway.

At this point, I’ve been hit thousands of times. Growing up it would happen as often as once a month or sometimes I’d have a 6-month reprieve in between. But always the same pattern. An aura of flashing zig zag lights impedes my vision for 20 minutes. Once it dissipates the real pain begins. It took me years to master how to refrain from screaming and crying during an attack. After 4-6 hours, I’ll vomit out the demon and the wounds of the collision will begin to heal. It then takes two or three days to return to “normal.”

I’ve worked with a neurologist my entire life and have always tried the latest and greatest thing- Imitrex shots, DHE, Magnesium, Beta-Blockers, Depakote, Feverfew and Butterbur, Amitriptyline and even Botox treatments. I’ve kept food and pain diaries, changed my diet and reduced stress. But somehow no matter how many seatbelts I use, I can’t escape the inevitable car crash that is always around the corner. Then two and half years ago, I was hit like never before and I have never been the same since. I couldn’t get over one migraine before another aura would hit me and the process started all over again. I missed 2 straight months of work. The migraines were now chronic.

My hours at work reduced to 4-6 a day when I could manage it and maintaining a social life became a challenge. I went to dozens of specialists to find a cause with no concrete answers. After a while, I realized I needed to focus my energy on managing the pain and making the best out of the hours I felt well. All the medications I was now taking suppressed the auras, but my brain was constantly getting run over by a fleet of MAC Trucks on a regular basis. With that going on in my head, it was a constant battle to keep up appearances. I was exhausted from working late at night and on weekends to not get behind, but I was failing. For every social invite I declined, I felt I needed to go to another event so people didn’t think I had fallen off the face of the earth. But too often I would sit in the corner, miserable, because it was too loud or I didn’t have the energy to keep up a normal conversation.

I was getting nowhere. So with the support of my doctor, my boss, my boyfriend and my family I made the bold move to go on Short Term Disability in March of 2013. If I was going to get better, I couldn’t have any distractions. During this time off, I’ve eaten healthier, gotten a trainer at the gym to build up my strength, done dry needling with a physical therapist, taken a pain management class, used meditation and worked on setting a more consistent sleep schedule. These were all things I knew were in my power to control. While I’m proud of my accomplishments and will continue my efforts, these lifestyle changes haven’t made a significant impact on the daily headaches or the number of times I need to visit the ER to break a cycle. I also had a set-back when one of my medications caused significant hair loss and weaning off it has increased the severity and frequency of the migraines. Frustrated that time off work wasn’t the quick fix I had hoped, I was nearing my wits end.

Short Term Disability has now turned into Long Term, but it is my goal to get back to work in some capacity. With this in mind, my doctor is sending me next week to the Jefferson Headache Clinic in Philadelphia. Besides looking into an Occipital Nerve Stimulator, this Clinic is a last resort. I’ll go for a one day evaluation and then they will schedule me to come back for at least a week-long hospital stay when a bed is available. I’ll be receiving lidocaine and/or ketamine treatments to try to “reset” my brain. These are some heavy meds that will cause hallucinations but the hope is that I’ll leave with 50% fewer migraines (life changing!). Depending on how I respond, this could be a one-time only visit or it could be as often as once a year if it helps me to maintain some level of comfort.

I’m nervous and hopeful about this prospect, but also cautiously optimistic. I just know that I’m not ok with getting hit by a MAC Truck every day for the rest of my life.

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