A few months ago, I read a book by Michael Stein, MD, called The Lonely Patient: How We Experience Illness. While much of this book is framed in the author's experience with terminal illness (not his own, but that in his family), he does speak to chronic pain throughout. He divides the book into four parts, corresponding to the four reactions he sees to chronic illness: betrayal, terror, loss and loneliness. Betrayal is certainly one of the emotional reactions I seem to revisit frequently on my journey toward acceptance of this disease.
This weekend - Saturday night, especially - was another visit of betrayal.
Over the past two years, my chronic daily headache has gradually become daily migraines, and now a continual migraine since about the end of November. On one hand, this has taken away the unexpected and often frustrating aspect of episodic migraine, which is you just never know when it might strike. I always know when it will strike, which is always. I wake up with the pain, I eat, breathe, work, think, walk, do and sleep with the pain. It's there, a constant resident in my brain, whether I like it or not. I'm doing what I can to dislodge it, but in the meantime, I'm stuck.
My brain decided to play a new trick on me Saturday night.
DBF and I were curled up on the couch after dinner, watching tv, when I had this weird wave of dizziness pass over me, followed by pins and needles all over and a sort of hot flash. Then the tingling settled in on just the left side of my body (arm and leg). After a few minutes, when it didn't pass, I started to get rather scared. Something isn't right, my instincts are telling me.
You see, a migraine that lasts longer than 72 hours, without at least a 4-hour break in pain while awake is status migrainous, considered a medical emergency because it puts the migraineur at increased risk of migrainous stroke. Having had this particular migraine since last November, I pay extra attention to new symptoms. And like any educated migraineur, I know the symptoms of a stroke.
So, I told DBF what was going on, that I was scared. We decided to call 911. He told the dispatcher what was going on, described my symptoms and told them how long my migraine had been going on. The paramedics got here relatively quickly - though it seemed like an eternity, of course - and checked my vitals while they asked me some questions about my symptoms. They left the decision up to me whether they would bring me into the hospital or not, but they saw nothing life-threatening that concerned them. They did remind me that they are only firemen, of course, not doctors. I decided not to go with them.
I did call the doctor on-call at my fired specialist's office to see if he thought I should seek emergency attention. He spoke with me for probably ten minutes, asked some questions about my symptoms, about my IV treatment on Friday, including which drugs they had given me, when, and if I had had them before; as well as if I had had these symptoms before. He also checked to see if I had had an MRI before (I had one a month ago that came back normal). He believes these new symptoms to be another manifestation of this ongoing migraine and described it as "complicated migraine", which is a descriptive term (not a standard diagnosis). He did not see any need for me to seek immediate care, but did encourage me to call my doctor today.
As unpredictable as this illness often is, we still expect it to follow a certain pattern. My pain is usually here, I usually have these symptoms, I usually get a migraine after encountering these triggers. Whenever our disease breaks the pattern, it's frightening for one thing, but we are also left with a sense of betrayal. Migraine beast, it's hard enough to cope with you on a normal day, but why do you have to change your pattern?
The tingling has not gone away since Saturday night, but I also have not developed any new symptoms. The doc on call told me some specific things to watch for that would indicate a need for immediate medical attention. I called into the nurse's line this morning and left a message about these new symptoms; I got a call back asking for some more information, and letting me know the message would be passed along to my (fired) specialist tomorrow since she was already gone for the day. (Another sign that I know I made the right choice in firing this doctor - unfortunately she's all I've got until May 21 when I see the new guy.)
The good news is, I know I can rely on DBF in case of emergency. He took me seriously and didn't question the need to call 911. He kept me calm while we were waiting for the medics and when it was all said and done, gave me a big hug when I started to cry. And cheered me up by making me laugh. Because this whole thing freaked me out.
So, a reminder to all of you fellow migraineurs out there: if any new, unexpected or worrisome symptoms crop up - even if they are just new symptoms - please check with your doctor at the very least. When we are dealing with brain issues, it is much better to just have things checked out.
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