when “migraine” pales as a description
by Amy L. Hayden
Think about the worst headache you’ve ever had. Now think about that headache lasting for a week. And then for a month, sometimes better and sometimes worse but always omnipresent, a dull presence behind your eyeballs akin to mental tinnitus or a buzzing fly who won’t vacate the space around your ear.
I’ve had a migraine since August 4th. Thirty-six days of pain, one of which three weeks ago was spent in the ER at Bellevue getting a double dose of morphine and a shot of toradol, only to dull the pain from a 9 to a 7 on a scale of 1–10. They set me up with a neurology appointment – it’s tomorrow – after doing a CT scan to rule out a stroke (I’d been having focal seizures, which precipitated the ER visit), then told me more would be revealed. But I’m pretty sure I already know what’s wrong.
When I had brain surgery in 2005, I knew that the process of cutting open my skull and poking around in my neural matter (however gently) would change me forever, in ways that my meningioma itself hadn’t already. There were the months of cerebral fluid slushing around in the tumorless void and causing weird sensations, the battery of neuropsychiatric tests that verified the impact on my IQ and memory, the clicking noise my scalp would make if I washed my hair a certain way (as my skull and brain and scalp healed into the flat spot they’d eventually make on my head). But what I didn’t expect was for all of that fiddling around to cause another brain issue, which about 18 months ago became clear: I now have an arachnoid cyst.
The initial diagnosis of the cyst explained all sorts of things: the occasional migraines and loss of balance and intermittent vision problems and other smaller less remarkable issues. But I was told it didn’t require immediate intervention, just a “watch and wait” approach that would eventually come to a point at which it would be clear that action needed to be taken. And unless the insides of my brain have changed significantly since then – which I’ll find out after an MRI sometime this month – the 36-day-long migraine and the returning focal seizures (and even several absence seizures) and a host of other irritations are likely the exact point I was told to watch for, the things that would mean it’s time to do something.
I’m going to push hard for a pharmaceutical solution for the time being – preventative medication and a more effective pain treatment might be one path – but it’s entirely possible that surgery will be recommended. If I’m lucky, it’ll be a noninvasive procedure with recovery time of less than a week. (Compare this to the six months I was supposed to take to recover from my previous craniotomy.) I’ll know more tomorrow, or at least I’ll have a plan to be set in motion beginning tomorrow, depending on what the neurologist says. At the very least, I hope that by this time tomorrow, I no longer feel as though someone is driving a pick-axe into my skull. Because a 37-day migraine doesn’t sound any more pleasant than a 36-day one.