Written by Rachel Huley

Presented by Chronic Migraine Awareness

It was the first week of working from home that my latest migraine attack began. Mid-March covered the South in pollen and misinterpreted the Atlanta population’s allergies for Coronavirus symptoms. Regardless of the presidential promise and close proximity of the CDC, the tests weren’t available yet to prove otherwise. While the pandemic led the country to chaos and an overuse of words like “unprecedented,” several folks like myself fell into familiar situations. Those who would need their routine, preventive, and abortive care for debilitating chronic pain diseases might not be able to find the care that they would need. 

The pain jumped out of the red-tinted monitor that my office let me borrow and overcame me all at once. It could have been triggered by the stress of setting up an office for two in a 600-sq-foot apartment that lacks even a coffee table. Maybe it was caused by the woman in apartment #7 who feels the need to put a full bottle of scent-booster in every load of laundry, without considering that there is a bedroom right next to the laundry room and that I have no option but to suffer through smelling the pipes that run through our bedroom and into the kitchen sink, which I’ve preemptively plugged to keep the artificial fragrances from lurking any further. 

I knew this migraine was coming. And it would be A Big One. Not because of the app that alerts me of the shifts in barometric pressure. Not because of my menstrual cycle, because my doctor and I have medicated that out of the equation. It was the festering allodynia that gave me a hint at what was ahead. Every graze was amplified, and every touch slapped on my nerves and  lingered more than it was welcome. My cat wasn’t walking on me any harder than usual, and his kneading wasn’t aggressive. I felt his phantom-paws pressing hot on my skin for several minutes after he’d already ran to chase his next destruction. My neck wouldn’t quite hold the leaden weight of my head. It was like each strand of hair was tied to a cement building block and thrown carelessly into dangerous currents. This was the first warning sign.

Soon enough, the other tell-tale signs of a full-fledged migraine came to light. My screen could not get dark enough, no matter how many pairs of tinted glasses and FL-41 lenses I had stacked over my eyes. Whatever luminance escaped from behind the cloth-draped windows engulfed the room in muffled screams. I could hear the faintest footsteps of my neighbors. The apartment next door was growing honeysuckle. The woman on the top floor just boiled spaghetti, the complex across the street is having a bon-fire, the cat took a shit and no air purifier could help me now.

It was here. My temples throbbed. The crown of my head felt like pins and needles on static fire lost in the frozen cauldron of space. There was a pressure in the back of my skull and neck. The area above my right ear stabbed, twisted, and pulled with a variety of sharp, quick, repetitive knives and then slow, dull, drawn out slices. My eyes were cherry tomatoes set to broil. When they popped, the seeds would get all over the oven and burn themselves into my vision. I couldn’t differentiate a smudge on my glasses to the neurological forgery of flashing lights or floating snow. The weight of my lenses was a waterfall at the end of the ocean. The bridge of my nose was not strong enough for all this weight. When I think back to the tinnitus, I still hear it. The high pitched ringing doesn’t leave. But the buzz-sawing, jack-hammering, nailing and screwing is at rest. I think our landlord was bored, so he decided to do work on the exterior of the apartment. It was quite dissociating to hear the construction mimic the cacophony in my mind. Imagine if someone that you can’t see but you know is physically there spoke your internal monologue while you internalized it. That was my experience with the sounds of construction living both in and outside my head simultaneously. While a mildly entertaining experience for a brief second, the pain worsened with each hammer. I needed a doctor. 

Doctors are a difficult experience for a person with migraine. I went 16 years before finding a doctor I could trust. Dr. Henry is still the only doctor I’ve ever found who not only believes my pain, but is able to suggest ways to keep it from occurring and to stop it in its tracks. The other doctors I’ve seen have been less-than enthusiastic, out-of-pocket, or at a practice that doesn’t follow standard procedure. Waiting rooms are a nightmare as is, but throwing in Glade plug-ins and 90s soft-rock at a center for the treatment of headache patients just does not sound like the ideal way to operate. The current neurologist where I receive my Botox once almost​administered me a migraine cocktail with a medication that I am highly allergic to– and my chart with this doctor confirms the allergy. If I hadn’t asked to write down what was in the cocktail, it would have been injected into each butt cheek, and I would have probably broken everything in that office as the allergy has previously caused violent seizures.

*Stay tuned for Part 2 of Rachel’s story*

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