Nearly Daily Grind

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had headaches even as a kid. I wasn’t 55. They haven’t gone away with menopause, but instead, intensified. My physicians, bless them, have taken me seriously since college days when we tried Elavil at bedtime. (We weren’t sure i had migraine back then.) It didn’t help, so for years I used an OTC med that would give me relief; but it made me sleepy due to the antihistamine in the compound.After awhile, that med didn’t offer any relief.

In one unit where I worked as a nurse, one of my colleagues suffered from severe migraines and needed to use Vicodin to manage the pain, The medication didn’t cloud her practice in the least if it worked; she’d stay home when the pain was too much. Over the years, I’ve had three tries with Topamax, all of which were minor disasters. It was time to quit using it as a prophylactic when I had memory loss and constant “brain fog.” I even took a midterm in seminary when i was on it and couldn’t memorize anything if my life depended on it; thankfully, I could synthesize and pull the familiar concepts together enough to not fail the midterm, but a D was bad enough. Medication that was supposed to be the “silver bullet” was a bomb.

The last few years, control over migraine has been more steady with Elavil (amitryptiline) 40 mg at bedtime, and Imitrex (and vicodin and zanax, if needed) for migraines when they hit. I’ve had the chronic seasons, but only three ER visits to rule out a stroke or other neuro event. Some of my favorite foods have turned out to be triggers, but I’ve found some other “comfort” foods when I need something to keep my body going and the thought of food is nauseating. (Funny how many of us don’t lose weight during times like these.

Last year and into March this year, I’d had great control with the Elavil until I came down with intermittent fevers during flu season in February and March. These seemed to have exacerbated an inner ear condition that too was under good control until this spring with the fevers. The inner ear condition is either another variant of migraine, or a major trigger, that looks like Meinere’s disease. It’s been two and a half, almost three weeks of migraines that start at 10:00 in the morning and last all day. Some are relieved by the Imitrex, some aren’t. Vicodin does help, but I don’t want to need to increase my use of it if I don’t have to. Our bedroom is lovingly called “the cave. ” I like having a place to retire when I need to pull down the light and sound stimuli and just rest.

I start a new job next week in our community at a local library. No longer in nursing, I have found my previous experience in pain management and hospice and palliative care has provided me a solid place to investigate chronic and acute pain management as a bioethical issue that deserves further exploration. Managing life with chronic head pain can be exhausting, and is worsened by doctors, healthcare personnel and family and friends who don’t understand.

I’m confident that once this Meinere’s spell is under control, the migraines will back off and I’ll be more active than I have been over the last month. We achieved good control once, and I think it’s possible again. (“We" being me and my docs.) Years ago, a wise counselor asked me where I do my thinking; of course, I answered “here, in my head.” His advice: “Exactly! And when you have head pain, you don’t think clearly, and you need to give yourself grace to rest, take care of yourself and don’t take yourself too seriously during those times.” Our pain can also keep us tender to others who deal with chronic pain and illness and extend that same grace to others. If there’s any redemption for physical suffering that is so subjective and at times, defies definition, it’s the nurturing of empathy. But getting control and relief is important, in order to live the lives before us.

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