Sunday, October 15, 2006

Something You Probably Don't Know About Me

When I was fourteen, I got braces. I also got my first boyfriend, and saw my first horror movie.

I also started getting headaches.

They began as tension headaches, but no doses of ibuprofen or hot showers seemed to relieve them. All I could do was sleep them off. First once a week, then twice, then more. My doctor gave me some heavy painkillers, and said I needed to see a specialist, because Demoral wouldn't cure them, just help until I could be seen. I had a CAT scan and discovered that I was allergic to the dye they put in my veins to illuminate my blood vessels. My boyfriend made "it is not a tumor" jokes in an Ah-nold voice, but I didn't find them funny. I was missing a lot of school. I had always been a good student, so it wasn't too big a deal, but I felt like people thought I was faking it to get out of class. You could take someone's temperature to see if they had a fever, but all I could do was say I was in pain, and if it so happened it was right before algebra class, well, who really knew?

I was diagnosed with migraines after my mother called the neurologist's office for weeks to get the results back (why are all neurologists jackasses?). I was given a prescription for Midrin. I asked if I could take it with the Demoral, and he said yes. Unfortunately, that's not really true. I survived but the Midrin never really helped much. This was the beginning of a long series of drugs that either didn't work on the pain at all or worked only by putting me to sleep until the headache went away.

By the time I was a junior, the headache never went away. For a year and a half, my head hurt all the time. The pain level varied from almost-able-to-forget-it to someone-has-my-head-in-a-vice. I was seeing doctors at a special headache clinic in Chicago. I would tell them that my headaches started off with my neck feeling stiff, and sometimes if my mother massaged my shoulders right when the pain started, I was able to forestall the really bad pain. Unfortunately, all they heard was the part that came next, with the vomiting and the throbbing pain, and kept giving me new drugs. The only one that ever worked was a highly-addictive muscle relaxant, but that didn't seem to trigger anyone's radar.

I always had a list in my wallet of the drugs I was taking, in case I was in a car accident or something (no one who knows me now is at all suprised that this was entirely my idea). Inderal. Cafregot. Norgesic-Forte. Soma. Wellbutrin. Vivactil. This last I give credit to for getting me into college, becuase while I was on it I had really spectacular nightmares that I ended up turning into creepy short stories that I sent as my portfolio to NYU, which accepted me into its Dramatic Writing Program. I was on a restricted diet. No chocolate, no peanut-butter. No orange juice, pizza, sausage, onions or spicy food, no legumes or papayas. No caffeine. As they ticked down the list of forbidden items, they were essentially listing everything I actually ate. For two years of my teenage-hood, I didn't eat pizza or chocolate or have a peanut-butter sandwich, which I had eaten pretty much every day of my life since I had teeth.

At the beginning of senior year, I spent eight days in the hospital in Chicago, over Homecoming week, where they attempted to "break the headache cycle", and get me properly medicated. It was there that I met people like the soft-spoken pastor who, in the throes of a cluster headache, ripped a door off its hinges in front of his wife and children. Or the man who underwent an experimental surgery that cut nerves in his face, leaving one half paralyzed, in order to make his migraines go away. It didn't, but he said it would have been worth it if it had. Or the girl my age, who lived in a darkened room. Her headache was vice-like all the time, and nothing touched it. They sent me in to talk to her, thinking it would cheer us both up, but it really hurt her too much to talk, so I spent my less-pain time listening in on seminars given to patients taking MAO-Inhibitors, which cause strokes if you are taking them and eat aged cheese or MSG.

Nothing worked. By the end of senior year, I had attended school for a total of thirty days. I was a National Merit Scholar, but I was not going graduate. The district attempted to educate me at home, but every time I looked at my pile of homework my headache worsened. I did my best, but one teacher decided to make things difficult for me and when she said that I wouldn't pass her class (creative writing!--remember where I got accepted to college?), I gave up on all the rest of the classes, and watched my classmates walk across the stage for their diplomas from the bleachers on the side of the gym. Just as well, I suppose, because it was hot in there even without the stupid gowns.

But then, a miracle.

To be continued...


Anonymous said...

I have crippling headaches, too, and while I've found a neurologist who isn't a jerk, I'm searching for a pain management doc, and, well, they all are so far...

Mel said...

I'm so sorry you had to suffer through all that.

But the suspense! Ooh! I can't wait to hear the rest of the story!

Carlos said...

As-you-know-Bad-Mama, I get pretty bad headaches, but your headache stories always make me feel kind of wussy.

(Although I can relate to the pastor.)

Mete said...

Wow. I'm hooked.

Never had more than a minor headache or two a year (tylenol-fixed), but I've watched each of my cousins suffer migranes since childhood. Just awful.

(I try to give our son's neurologist the benefit of the doubt. With all that bad news giving and brain-y work going on, he didn't have time to develop a personality. Right? Right?)

Meredith said...

Wow! Don't leave us hanging!

By the way, I can tell by your typing that the color of your shirt really compliments your eyes. :-)

Natalie said...

Harrumph. Not *all* neurologists are bow-tie-wearing, crabby-assed old codgers with no personality. Some are nebbishy, science geeks with no social graces. And some are just chock-full of wonderful personality. Like me. :-) Even Carlos likes me. Right, Carlos??? Seriously, there are lots of jerky neurologists, but there are smart and nice ones too.

I would also like to offer my house should you come to DC or Baltimore for a 2nd opinion. We have lots of age-appropriate toys, two oddball cats, and a nice 3.5 year-old girl for Peanut to play with.