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The headache that never went away: Part 2 - My medicine cabinet looks like a pharmacy

Posted Jun 02 2008 6:04pm

Yesterday, I was all, "Hey, by the way, did I mention I've been in chronic pain for three months? I didn't? Whoopsies!" For those of you sneaking in your blog reading at work, I shall summarize: my head has hurt constantly since February 18th. I was going to list everything I've done or considered here, but it got insanely long. (I have a headache notebook now just so I can keep track of all the doctor contact information and record all the drugs I've introduced into my bloodstream.) So today I'll just cover treatments I've tried and tests I've taken. Tomorrow I'll go over other possible causes/treatments I've considered and am still considering. I'm leaving out some of the specifics because I have privacy concerns and I don't want anything to come back to bite me in the ass, even if I can't completely visualize how it might do so right now.

Over-the-counter painkillers
Like most people, I didn't immediately reach for the intravenous drugs, I reached for my medicine cabinet. During the first week I tried ibuprofen, acetaminophen, naproxen, and aspirin (not all at once). These are also know as Advil, Tylenol, Aleve, and um, aspirin. I also tried different combinations and potencies of these, like Excedrin Tension Headache and Tylenol Migraine Pain Relief. They didn't do shit.

Okay, so maybe it's allergies? I tried several cold/sinus/flu medications and even went up to the pharmacy counter to get the stuff you can make crystal meth out of. I snorted God-knows-what up my nostrils with a nasal spray. My doctor gave me a ton of Allegra-D. All the pseudoephedrine, doxylamine succinate, dextromethorphan hydobromide, oxymetazoline, and fexofenadine did nothing but make me wonder how they come up with these wacky names for drugs.

Migraine abortives
Somewhere before or after all that, I went to the doctor and got a shot of Toradol (ketorlac tromethamine), which is supposed to stop migraines. They may as well have injected me with saline. I also tried a pill called Imitrex (sumatriptan) which is supposed to abort a migraine as it's coming on. Again, nothing. My head still hurt. I have been on a beta blocker for at least 5 years as a headache preventative. We tried upping my dosage on that, and again, nada.

Sinus infection
Well, the pain seemed to be in my sinuses, so could it be a sinus infection? I did a round of antibiotics and again, I was still in pain. I went in for a CT scan of my sinuses and that too was clear. Getting the CT was like riding a really weird ride at the amusement park. I got to lay down on a bench that slid in and out of a spiraling circle. Too bad there weren't any cotton candy vendors in the lobby.

Perhaps it's caffeine? God knows I drink a lot of sodas, so I started drinking caffeine-free pop and switched my coffee to decaf (which I know still has some caffeine, but it's not that much). This seemed to help a little, but I also wanted to take a nap on my keyboard during the day. Soooo...I got a cup of coffee and then I bought a caffeinated soda and I was back on the stuff again. But later the pain was getting to me, so I cut back again. For awhile. And then I started up again. Right now I've gone off of it again, but damn, it's hard. When you go off caffeine for two weeks and then you drink a cup of coffee, OH MY GOD, I imagine that's what doing crack must feel like.

Next up was an MRI to rule out anything serious. Honestly, I never thought it was a brain tumor (and the radiologist agreed). Brain tumors usually present with seizures and speech problems, none of which I was having. MRI's are very, very expensive. (Think over $3000.) The MRI was recommended at the beginning of April. Due to insurance stuff, it was going to be much cheaper to have the MRI in May. So, I decided to wait it out. I wasn't counting down to my half-marathon or my book release party at the beginning of May, I was counting down to my MRI. Until a week and a half later when I was lying on my couch in pain, amazed at how quickly my life had completely unravelled, and decided the health of my bank account was less important than my own health. (Have you bought your book yet? Support my migraine fund!)

When I scheduled the MRI, they asked me if I weighed over 350 pounds and I was so grateful that I was able to say "No." Otherwise I wouldn't have fit in the machine, which is very LOUD and strangely musically rhythmic. I'm surprised STOMP hasn't used an MRI machine in their stage performance. The machine is probably too expensive for theatre people to afford. Also, my veins are very tiny and tend to roll around, so I spent 20 minutes in the machine and 20 minutes getting stuck 4 times when the nurse tried to inject me with contrast material.

After the MRI, there was one small abnormality, so I saw a neurosurgeon who told me I just had a cluster of veins in one spot that is uncommon in general, but normal for me. No action was required and it wasn't causing my headache. We probably would never have known about it unless I'd had the MRI for other reasons. He also did several tests that involved me touching my nose with one hand and walking across the room, which made me wonder if he was testing my brain or checking for a DUI.

My mom's friend is a massage therapist and she kindly offered to give me a massage. The massage felt nice and I was very grateful, but the headache persisted. She also tried working a few release points that are supposed to relieve headache. This is not what you think of when you think of massage. This stuff hurts. But it hurts in sort of a good way. Sadly, it didn't work.

Intravenous drugs
At this point, I finally started seeing a neurologist who specializes in headaches. His office is darkly lit and quiet and it took me at least 20 minutes to fill out all the forms detailing all the crap I've tried to get rid of this damn headache. He prescribed an intravenous drug treatment to try to abort the headache. Two weeks later, after the insurance and scheduling got sorted out (not like this was urgent or anything. I've only been in pain for THREE MONTHS.) a nurse came to my apartment, stuck an IV in my arm, shot me full of a drug known to stop headaches and taught me how to do two more nights of treatment. Again, this did absolutely nothing except turn me into a person who stores heparin in the bottom of her fridge, right on top of the eggs. Blood thinner omelet, anyone?

And that, my friends, brings us up to present day. God only knows if my headache will ever go away. As I write this, it's not too bad. But I just did a whole bunch of nothing over Memorial Day weekend. I don't know how I'll feel when life resumes and I actually have to do stuff.

Tomorrow: a list of other causes I've considered and treatments I may try because I'm getting desperate. We'll cover eye strain, teeth clenching, stress and more!

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