October 16, 2009

Swelling Itching Brain


I almost got a migraine today.

I rarely get full-blown ones anymore. When I was younger I'd get them every few months, and they would be utterly debilitating, taking me out of commission for four days or so, plus an aftermath of several days of dull, aching nausea. People who don't get migraines tend to think they are just really bad headaches, no matter how many times you tell them they're not. They sometimes even use the term "migraine" to refer to their own ordinary tension headaches (which is all kinds of irritating.) A migraine is a total body experience. For me, in fact, the headache part is really the least of it, just a by-product of the horrible visual and cognitive effects. If you're not curled up in a fetal position shielding your eyes, interrupting your moaning only to vomit now and again, chances are you don't really have one, though in the initial run-up to the full-blown migraine you can wince through the initial effects, praying they abate, acting more or less like a normal person. Once you're down, though, you're down. I've never experienced anything worse.

Nowadays, thankfully, I can usually manage to stave them off with coffee and meditation-relaxation once I get the initial warning signs. For me these signs are a numb feeling in the fingertips of my left hand, gradually working its way up; a distinctive ringing in my ears; and -- the worst part -- this little flashing, jagged line that cuts through my field of vision. This jagged line begins as a tiny dot or "loop" that expands till what I see when I open my eyes is kind of like a cubist painting or psychotic stained glass window, with little pieces of the picture "cut out" and overlapping others. You can't focus on anything. I think that's mainly where the nausea comes from, though I'm not an expert.

The picture above, from this slide show of migraine art that appeared in the NYT a ways back, looks pretty much like the middle stages of that visual process. This one is pretty close to what I see when it develops further than that:


(Numbers 1, 2, 3, and 6 also look familiar.)

The weirdest thing, though, perhaps, is that I find it difficult to process and understand words. If I have to read something (and just doing that can hurt quite a bit) simple sentences will sometimes be nearly impossible to understand. If you meet me in this state, I will most likely make some pretty strange statements, using the wrong words for things without quite realizing that I'm doing it. Like: "sorry I have to lie down, I have a dumptruck," when for "dumptruck" I meant to say "migraine." Today I was on the phone with my bank and I asked the excellence provider if my upholstery had cleared. I meant check, not upholstery. Best not to talk to driftwood bottles when you have a developing migraine. And by driftwood bottles I mean banks.

Anyway, I managed to stave it off today. I don't see the little jagged flashing thing anymore, and I (mostly) have my language skills back (thank God.) Now there's just a dull ache, a kind of spacey feeling, a confused customer-service representative, and a wasted day. It sure could have been worse, though.

Posted by Dr. Frank at October 16, 2009 01:53 AM | TrackBack

I get migraines pretty frequently. About one every month, six weeks. (Actually is that frequent? I'm not sure.) I've never experienced the light-flashing, though I do have extreme sensitivity to light. Or the word thing, but the rest of it, yeah. All kinds of awful.

My method for dealing is putting my head under a pillow and clearing my thoughts. They come on for me during bouts of intense analytical thought, usually associated with schoolwork of some kind. I can control them better now than I used to. They tell me there's medication for it.

Posted by: Nate Pensky at October 16, 2009 02:22 AM

Being a migraine sufferer myself, it used to annoy the piss out of me when my ex-boss would come to work saying, "Oh I've had a migraine for a week now." It always took everything in me to not yell at her. "No. You don't. If you did, you wouldn't be here and you certainly wouldn't be functioning right now." I, on the other hand, would have to call off work - and like you, curl up in the fetal position, blinds closed, blanket pulled over my head, bedpan at my side, just praying for sleep to overtake me.

The painting with the barn is fantastic. That's the closest I've ever seen to a visual interpretation. If you can just imagine the lines shifting and pulsing with light that's pretty much it.

If I can catch the migraine at that weird visual stage, I can usually stave it off with 1 Tylenol, 1 asprin, and a mega-dose of caffeine. Being able to lay down and cover your eyes helps too. I swear it works way better than the crappy Imitrex my doc gave me. (Or you can probably just take an Excedrin Migraine... I think the ingredients are the same.)

Anyway, I'm rambling. Glad you're feeling better.

Posted by: Stacie at October 16, 2009 02:22 AM

YOur old buddy Zaphod feels your pain bro. I used to get them when I was a teenager but they went away in adulthood and I haven't had one in probably 17 years. I still remember them though. I remember one particularly bad one where my mom walked in on me banging my head against a brick wall and when she asked me what I was doing, I simply replied "Trying to either knock myself out or kill myself. At this point, either one will do."

Posted by: Zaphod at October 16, 2009 03:22 PM

Those paintings are bullseyes. My wife was trying to talk to me during a recent manageable bout. In a fit of masochistic politeness I indulged her. When I referred to 'mornings' as 'buildings' she let it go.

Posted by: Mike NYC at October 16, 2009 06:09 PM

I had one just like this F a month back - it was just an ocular migraine with no pain - but boy i was worried!
Reg migraines have been staved off since 2/08 - now I had a headache for 2 weeks straight... the docs have nothing *shrug* almost migrainy but not full hoggy thank gawdy
thanks for letting me share!
Hope you ar all better!

Posted by: poodle at October 17, 2009 08:29 AM

What is a ocular migraine? I was diagnosed with this some years ago. I have had two this week.Having one right now as I type.What causes them & what can I do to prevent them from coming back. Thanks

Posted by: Joyce at November 13, 2009 02:03 PM