It’s All in My Head

Periodically, I post something to Twitter or Facebook about having a headache. For those of you new to my life, either through those social media sites or here, my having a headache doesn’t mean I can pop a couple of aspirin and feel better. It means I feel like I’m about to birth an alien through my face. Here’s the scoop:

I used to have a headache of some severity every. Single. Day. I got so used to them, I ceased to notice them until I had a bad one. Lindsey finally grabbed my shoulders and told me, “This is not normal! Do something about it.” It took three doctors, two years, and numerous tests – one of which was extremely unpleasant – to figure out my issue. I know what you’re thinking, “Rhonda, all tests are unpleasant. What makes this one special?” I’m glad you asked. Imagine, if you will, an alien anal probe. Now replace “anal” with “nasal.” A doctor shoved a footlong probe up each nostril just to look around. The ENT said he didn’t find anything remarkable, but I beg to differ, because while he was probing in there, I saw all kinds of lights and wavy lines. My butt levitated from the chair, seemingly of its own will. Come to think of it, our cable reception has been stellar since that day. Coincidence? But I digress. Sorry. You should be used to that by now. At the end of roughly two years, I had a good list of things I wasn’t suffering from — sinus headaches, migraines, allergies, or pesky tumors. My TMJ wasn’t causing the issue either.

Two years ago, I was referred to a neurologist specializing in headaches. After evaluating me, he determined that I am, indeed, suffering from migraines, but they don’t present as such. I don’t get warning signs like a normal migraine sufferer. I have no auras, no loss of vision, no weird smells (that can’t be attributed to a gassy dog). My head just feels like I have a bit of a sinus headache, without the congestion. Sometimes the hurt goes away on its own. Sometimes it gets worse. I have no way of knowing which way the pendulum will swing until I notice my head is suddenly in a vice, and I can see my pulse.

Another fun headache symptom is what I like to call “headache brain.” As people who saw me last Sunday can attest, headache brain resembles drunkenness. I stare. I have problems choosing words. I slur a bit. I apologize profusely for my headache brain and, despite the fact that I’m holding a bottled water, I’m sure people think I’m completely hammered. I’m kind of like Dudley Moore in Arthur, except with better hair, way less money, and a severe lack of Sir John Gielgud.

Thanks to my neurologist, I have an arsenal of rescue meds, backup rescue meds, and a backup to the backup. Through management meds, my headaches have been reduced dramatically. If I have them, they’re usually minor. They only occur once a month and for possibly a two-week period. I love my neurologist. He’s been a godsend. This month, however, the headache period has been really bad. I’ve been in some form of pain since Saturday. Sunday night, I resorted to the backup to the backup rescue med for the first time in a year. It’s an injectable, which is always a joy. By “joy,” I mean “humiliating process that is made worse by trying to perform it while in extreme pain.” Here’s the drill:

  1. Pull down pants to expose thigh.
  2. Remove evil-looking self injector from case.
    Seriously, guys, how evil does this look?
  3. Remove safety mechanism.
  4. Hold evil-looking self injector against thigh and wonder if you’re pressing hard enough, because you don’t feel any.. [FOOP!] Nevermind.
  5. Remember to ignore the puncture pain and hold the evil-looking self injector against your thigh for five seconds while the medication is injected.
  6. Power through headache brain to remember how to count to five.
  7. I think that was five seconds. Was it? Crap. I should hold it here longer.
  8. Remove evil-looking self injector from thigh.
  9. Stop the bleeding.
  10. Remember your pants are down, and pull them up.
  11. Experience the face flush and extreme tingly feeling I call the “carbonated head rush.”

Monday night marked the first time I’ve ever had to use the injectable two days in a row. I’d already stayed home from work that day, which was the first time I ever missed work due to a headache. It was also the worst headache I have had in my history of headaches. On a scale of 1-10, the pain was “GAH!” You know how circus elephants balance on a small ball? Imagine that ball was my head. And the elephant was balancing three more elephants on its trunk. And those elephants were jumping rope. I realized I was lying on my back, but in a fetal position. I was nearly crying. The evil-looking self injector was looking pretty good. Lindsey brought me everything I needed, but I still had to sit up without throwing up and inject myself. Then Lindsey brought me a heated Bed Buddy to lay on my eyes and an ice pack for my neck. In hindsight, I prefer having Lindsey to having Sir John Gielgud. Among other amazing things, she is the best in these situations. An hour later, I was pain free enough to be falling asleep on the couch. I can’t deny that stuff works. I can, however, deny that this is normal or any way to live. There’s an alternative.

My doctor suggested a new treatment. It involves putting a catheter up my nostrils to administer a sphenopalatine ganglion block in my nasal cavities. Since SPG controls head and facial pain, a blocker means the absence of both. It’s apparently highly effective. At this point in my headache journey, I’ll have had more crap shoved up my nose than Liza Minelli at Studio 54, so what would this hurt, other than my wallet? Of course, insurance does not yet cover this procedure. I’m very close to selling a kidney and not caring.

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