Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Anatomy of a migraine

Last night, about 8pm, I'd just finished dinner, filled the dishwasher and walked into the living room. My daughters were washing the evening's pots and they just sounded abnormally loud. I flicked on the lamp and turned on the TV. As the screen filled with the Sky menu, my eyes started flickering. Within seconds, bright colours started dancing in front of right eye and my ears started to ache. For what I reckon is about the eighth time in my life, I was heading into a migraine.

The lights that signify my 'aura' the stage before my head really begins to throb are beautiful and strange. I can only describe it as the equivalent to having a blob of Vaseline over my right eyeball. Directly in front of me is opaque, but the right edge is a slightly jagged curve of thin lines of beautiful bright colours - red, blue and yellow. It lasts anything up to an hour and I can still see a shadow of it this morning.

With experience of past episodes I knew what works for me to make dealing with a migraine bearable. While the pain never really hits until the 'colours' die down, I knew that within minutes I'd be hardly able to string a sentence together, and shortly afterwards would not be able to unscramble my brain to read, write or even cope with bright lights or sounds. We had just one migraine relief tablet in the house. I took it, knowing it wouldn't make the pain go away, but would take the edge off it.

I headed for bed, and turned the radio on quietly understanding I wouldn't sleep while I worked through the worst of  the pain phase. That kicked in after half an hour or so. It's difficult to describe to anyone who doesn't suffer from migraines but it builds up almost like a wave - in my case, generally over my right eye. I remember hearing Everton score a goal and, while the radio remained on and untouched, the next thing I heard was the summing-up at the end of the game. For something over an hour, my brain had not been able to cope with anything more than the pain.

In the past, I've tried to work through a migraine and once, in one of the most stupid decisions of my life, decided to drive home from Swindon to Oxford when I experienced the first flickers that presage an episode. Needless to say, half way up the A420 I wasn't really seeing anything much. God knows how I got home without killing myself or anyone else.

By about 11pm last night, the worst of the pain was passing. I was able to tolerate both light and to make sense (or what passes for sense for me normally) when talking to Jacquie. I got a drink and fell exhausted into bed. I didn't sleep well, and the dull ache in my head coupled with a stiff and achy neck saw me through the night.

This morning, the migraine's still playing around the edges of my senses. Light still hurts a bit; everything smells a bit funny (I can only describe it as: smells a bit 'more'); reading's tough and my head and neck still ache. My balance is a bit off, as if I've recently been on a ship, and I wouldn't say my cognitive skills are completely back in line as yet.  It has taken rather longer than usual to write this, and I'm sure spell-check will have a field day when I run through what I've written.

Migraines are horribly debilitating. I'm very glad mine are very few and generally quite short. They're very different to the headache you get from driving all day or staring at a computer screen for too long. I can now deal with mine reasonably well, but know I'll be sluggish for the rest of today.

I have every sympathy for others who have to deal with this condition - when the migraine's real, it totally takes over.

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