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Under the influence of a migraine


Or, how to take care of me when I'm in a lot of pain and can't see anything.

Yeah, well known, I am one of those 300 million people worldwide who suffer migraines. Most people who have migraine headaches have just an incredibly awfully bad headache where the the intense throbbing, often on one side of the head, makes life somewhat unpleasant until it goes away.


As if a migraine could ever be "just" a headache. They are horrible awful things, sometimes as bad as "Oh, just kill me now, please" bad, said with complete sincerity. I have a couple friends who also have migraines. They aren't part of the 15% lucky few who have migraines with auras. Now, if you want a really rockin' fun time, that's the way go to.

Did you know that three fourths of migraine suffers are women? Yeah, a fact I find somewhat ironic, as migraines in my family run up the patriarchal side of the family tree from my dad to his dad. Suckasaurus for the Hodsden line.

Yeah, well, this morning, I woke up to another migraine. I've been doing fairly well this year, a far cry from my worst migraine year that included one batch of four days in a row of migraines and just under twenty for the year. That year sucked.

Today, as I was with family, I was surrounded by people who knew what to do, how to take care of me, what I needed to make it through this batch of crap, I wasn't overly worried. There have been some crazy bad migraine timings, though (say, when I was driving my car up the 101, and realized I couldn't see the tires of the car in front of me, that was fun), so I figured, hey, if I'm ever around you and tell you, "I'm having a migraine," you'll know what to do.

1. Safety.

The first thing I need is to be safe. If I'm going blind, which I do with my auras, I want to sleep through as much of it as I can. Losing one's sight is a traumatic experience and defiinitely not one I would recommend to anyone. I will also want to sleep through the worst of the pain that's about to happen. To do this, I need to be able to relax enough to sleep, and the fundamental need at this point is safety. I may be at a friend's house on his couch, in the back of my car pulled over at a rest stop, snuggled in my mom's bed, or curled up under my desk at the office, but I need to believe I'm safe.

2. Pain killers

If I'm still coherent and not asleep yet, I'm going to want pain killers. Rare is the time when I don't have my bottle of acetaminophen, ibupofin, aspirin and combinations of such (excedrin migraine, which has caffeine in it) handy. If I'm lucky, I may have some stronger, left over painkillers from a friend (thanks, Tyler and Adam!). As much as I hate taking drugs, trying to bear through migraine pain is just rather dumb.

3. Darkness

Like most people with migraines, I become somewhat to very photophobic. Normal light from a lamp can become too much very easily. A dark room, or even a darkened room and a pillow or cover over my head is going to work. In desperation, I'll probably have my sunglasses on if I need to be moving, even indoors. Every little bit helps!

4. A bowl

Yeah, if I've eaten in the last two hours, it's not staying down. Much of my body goes numb, and my stomach is going to roll. The numbness is usually pretty awful, starting in my fingertips and moving up my arm in a 20cm segment until it moves from my shoulder to my face and my face goes numb. Usually during that process, my stomach starts, and there isn't much to do but let anything that's down come back up. Yeah, did I mention this is a fun process? I thought I mentioned that detail.

5. Quiet

I remember one time during a migraine when my dad was working on the upstairs bathroom of the house. He was on the other side of the house. He was on a different floor. He was hammering away and each blow sent a reverberating concussion through my head. I eventually called to him and asked him to stop. I remember his looking disappointed, but his expression was also full of understanding. He stopped, and I slept. Reason for that story? I really want quiet, and no noisemakers.

6. Sleep / time

The last things I'm going to need is to handle the worst of the migraine are sleep and time. Sleep to avoid the worst of the pain, and time to recover from the pain. I'll probably be out of commission for anything remotely exciting for the next 24 hours at a minimum. Exercising is out. Anything requiring a physical effort is out. The lingering pain is one that isn't like any other pain I've had, but it's well defined and it sucks.

7. Soup

Yeah, if I've been in pain for hours, and nauseous for most of that time, too, when I'm finally able to eat (eventually!), I'm going to be ravenous. Unfortunately, the only food I'm going to be able to tolerate is going to be something easy to swallow, but still tasty. Soup fits the bill, even in 100˚ heat (just make it a chilled soup, if it's that hot out).

Some day, I'm going to draw up a picture of what my auras look like. Having studied them in depth, oh, JUST THIS MORNING, I can saw, wow, those pictures will be lovely. Until then, hey, if you want to help me, or anyone really, who is having a migraine, yeah, these seven items will give you a good head start. Gentle head rubbing wouldn't hurt either.



Hi, this is Dave Schultz. We were scurves together back in the day.

I was noodling around Facebook and saw you. Are you still still in the bay area? I'm up in Hercules, a bit north of Berkeley.

I used to get cluster headaches, which are basically migraines with a slightly different symptom pattern but the same level of pain (though for me, thankfully, no auras). The thing that worked for me was Imitrex (this was ~1998; there are now a variety of similar drugs). It was a godsend. I went into the doc's office almost unable to stand, and was completely symptom-free five minutes later (that was the injection version - the pill version takes ~20 minutes). I used to dread the coming of a cluster (every couple of years, I'd get one headache a day, lasting ~2 hours, for about a month), but with Imitrex, it became just an annoyance, nothing more. FYI, Imitrex was designed for migraines, and not for cluster headaches, so it should work for you.

The other thing that worked for me was a quick bout of steroids. They don't stop the headache you're having now, but if you're getting a succession of headaches over the course of a short time, they disrupt that process. Don't know if this would work for your symptom pattern. I'm sure you've probably tried these, but if you haven't, please do.

I hope you're well, and that your headaches will someday go away on their own, as mine, thankfully, seem to have done.

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