Living in fear of triggers…

My name is Kelli. I know now that I suffered migraines as a child. When I was young I didn’t know what to call them. I would just say “My head hurts” and I’d hide under a pile of blankets and force myself to go to sleep. My migraines went unnamed until I was in college. My childhood was spent fighting constant kidney infections and raging fevers. I’m sure my mother thought my frequent complaints of my head hurting were part of that whole saga. I was ALWAYS sick. Being “sick” kept me from Trick or Treating practically every year that I can remember. Something about October was no good for me. I was just a sick kid and I hated it. As my sister would taunt me “Your head ALWAYS hurts cry baby”. Sisterly love at its finest.

When I was in college I had my first full blown sledge hammer to the head begging for relief or death migraine. It happened while I was studying in my apartment. My roommate and her boyfriend came in, which wasn’t unusual, and joined me at the table. What I noticed right away was that the boyfriend was chewing very strong smelling spearmint gum. I reacted physically to it almost immediately. I backed up like I had been smacked in the face. A couple of minutes later I was violently ill and my head felt like it was in a vice. I seriously thought I was having a stroke. I called my mother in a panic. She had no idea what was wrong with me. She started the old familiar check list, “does your back hurt? Do you have a fever?”…all signs of kidney infection. No I had neither of those but my head hurt so bad I was sobbing and praying which was terrifying to my mother. My roommate and her boyfriend came to see if I was okay, which was nice but he was still chewing that horrible gum, so I proceeded to another round of vomiting. My mother told my roommate that I needed to go to the ER. The fact that I went was illustration of how bad I hurt b/c I avoided doctors at all costs. All the way to the ER the boyfriend chewed that gum. I will never forget thinking I was going to die but if I lived through this I hoped never to smell spearmint gum EVER again. It never occurred to me to tell him to spit it out. I was busy trying to keep my head from exploding.

The first nurse who saw me was just positive I either had a bad hangover (um..no…it was Tuesday, not Saturday and I rarely drank) or a bad reaction to some recreational drugs. She kept rolling her eyes and telling me to “calm down”. I wanted to kick her. I waited nearly an hour for the doctor to come. The lights in that room were vicious. They were so bright and painful. When the doctor finally came in, I was curled into a tiny ball with my arms covering my head and weeping. The nurse must have told him that I was the “hangover” case b/c he came whistling in saying “Too much fun huh?”. I came a little unglued. I shouted that I was not a drug user or a drinker and that I was fine and studying one minute and fairly certain I was having a stroke the next and he could call the college and ask for my transcripts to see how good my grades were if he didn’t believe me AND if he let me die in this room b/c he thought I had a hangover then my family would be contacting our lawyer for a wrongful death case. I laugh now but at the time I felt like I was going insane and there was no one willing to help. I thought that invoking my good grades and the threat of a wrongful death suit might help! Thank the good lord the doctor had experience with migraines b/c as soon as he looked at me and discarded the information the nurse had given him, he got right to work. He turned the lights down and gave me an ice pack to put over my eyes and started asking questions. He deduced rather quickly that I was having a migraine and it was the spearmint gum that triggered it. The most interesting thing about that was that as a child I lived in fear of a doctor that I always had to see when I had kidney infections. He always wanted blood and he chewed horrible green gum that made me feel sick. Wow. A connect the dots moment if there ever was one. Anyhow–I was given a shot of Demerol, prescribed Zomig and given a name and told to follow up with that migraine specialist. AND the Doctor made a point of calling in the nurse and saying “This is not a hangover. This is a migraine. Don’t pre judge just bc she is a college student.” THANK YOU DR. MAZELLA!!!

Ever since that date I have lived in fear of spearmint gum. It seems the whole world is chewing it some days. My reaction to that smell is swift and violent. It was an unfortunate thing that my step kids grandfather is a devotee of spearmint gum. Not long after I got married I was introduced to this painful issue. Normally the kids weren’t allowed gum but they could chew it on the weekends. That was their mother’s rule. Fine no big deal but it was “Grandpa’s gum” they wanted. The kids would come home chewing huge mouthfuls of spearmint gum. The smell would assault me before they even came in the door. I would run to my bedroom to get away. This upset my husband, understandably, but I had no choice. I truly didn’t. That evil smell was now in my house and I had to escape it or spend the weekend ill. I was not trying to be anti social. I had to explain to my husband that they couldn’t chew it in the house. I didn’t clarify enough unfortunately b/c then the problem was that the kids would chew it in the car all the way to the house and then my car would reek of it the next day. My husband really didn’t quite get the level of my reaction to this gum. He would have the kids “spit it out” before they got in the car, but their breath would still stink of it. I finally had to call the grandparents and say “Please, I’m sorry but you simply cannot allow spearmint gum into the bodies of the children. EVER. If they are coming near my house they can’t have it in their mouths in any way at all.” So then grandpa would just give them packs to take to their mother’s house. Which always led to them “forgetting” and chewing it on the sly. It really was a problem. They were not getting it. Finally one day there was a come to Jesus moment. My step son came in the house and plopped himself into my lap. He was chewing that evil gum. I got a full blast to my face. The reaction was immediate. It was like a sledge hammer to the forehead. All I could do is start crying. The kids were of course alarmed and concerned as it was never their aim to upset me. I get the feeling that all the adults in the situation blew off my ban on spearmint gum as just my being bossy. So the kids didn’t take it too seriously. Well that had to STOP. With tears streaming I told them that when they chew this gum it hurts me just as much as it would hurt if they balled up their fists and punched me in the face. It hurts me so much that i have to go to bed for the rest of the day. And that is what I did. I didn’t emerge for the rest of the weekend. Both kids felt bad and made me “get well” cards. My husband also was able to see that this wasn’t a petty annoyance but a serious and painful issue. I don’t cry very often and not in front of people EVER. My pain was not “just a headache”. It was a full body, full system torture experience. My husband actually profusely apologized for not realizing the extent of the problem. Thankfully now that the kids are older they are much more aware of how their actions can effect others and we haven’t had an issue. (Except one a few months ago…but hey, the kid is 10 and he just wasn’t thinking. And his sister sure did remind him many times that he “made me get sick”). Now when we are out, if either of the kids gets a whiff of spearmint they will bodily pull me away and around the offending smell.

All in all I am doing better than I have in the past. I really try to avoid taking Zomig. It makes me feel hung over the next day. I tried Topamax once and it works quickly but I am not a fan of needles. If I can catch a migraine before it’s full blown and get into a dark space with a can of red bull and an excedrin migraine I can usually head it off before it takes over. On a rare circumstance I am forced into the ER where invariably I am viewed with at least some suspicion. The doctors will say “Soooooo…this is a headache…?”. Ugh. No. It’s a Migraine. I need treatment and I need some compassion. I should not have to beg for drugs. No one should.

I wish for all Migraine sufferers to have compassion and understanding as we try to deal with this horrible disease. We are not being “too sensitive” we are not being “dramatic” (both of which I have been accused of). Were my kidneys being over sensitive and dramatic? NO. Neither are the dilated veins in my head. Don’t get it twisted people. 😉

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