Summer Heat and Migraine Woes

With record-breaking highs recorded in Austin this month (well over 105 degrees F), my migraine attacks have been unrelenting. Heat always exacerbates my condition, but this month has seen a long line of afternoons in which I have been able to do little but curl on the couch with the lights off and the A.C. on.

Unfortunately, while heat is a common enough trigger for migraineurs, there isn’t much we can do to control it. I do my best to stay indoors whenever the temperature exceeds 100 degrees, but it doesn’t seem to help. It’s almost as if my head is aware of how hot it is outside, even if I’m basking in a temperature-controlled room of 70 – 75 degrees.

And, it looks like I’m not alone. Emergency room physicians report that the number of migraineurs seeking treatment in the ER increases when it’s hot, though they’re not quite sure why. And, in Boston, researchers have discovered a 7.5 percent increase in the chance of an attack with every nine-degree increase in temperature.

Some experts have suggested the real culprit is dehydration, but I think I drink plenty of water. Bright sunlight can also be a trigger, so I do my best to wear sunglasses and a hat every time I leave the house. Again, nothing seems to help. So, for now, I’ll resign myself to hanging out inside – a bottle of pain pills to my right and an ice pack to my left – as I eagerly await the cooler days of late October.

How about you? Do you experience more migraine attacks or higher levels of pain when it’s hot? How do you cope?

Difficulties of Coping Featured on Popular NY Times Blog

It isn’t often that migraines get the attention of one of the biggest newspapers in the country. A few days ago, however, the NY Times posted an article on its popular health blog (“Well”) about the wide-spread prevalence of migraine disease and the difficulties migraineurs face.

A combination of statistics and patient stories makes the article a pretty good read. While we migraineurs likely won’t find out anything we didn’t already know, I did feel slightly validated while reading it. Maybe now more people will understand that a migraine isn’t just a bad headache.

Read “Migraine Miseries Push Patients to Ways of Coping” here.

Thanks to Kathleen Hogg over at The Chronic Pain Journal for letting me know about the article!

Migraine Diaries: Friend or Foe?

I began taking magnesium and CoQ10 supplements a few months ago. I think they’re helping, but since I no longer keep a migraine diary it’s kind of hard to tell for sure.

Do we ever really remember our pain accurately? I think about childbirth and the pains of pregnancy. Do any of us really remember how nauseous and exhausted we were those first four months? Can anyone truly remember the extreme pain of labor and childbirth. I think not.

We remember that it was hell. We remember that we were tired, that we hurt, that nothing could make us comfortable. But, we can’t truly describe the intensity of the pain. If we could, nothing could ever talk us in to having a second child.

I think migraines are like that, too.

I can remember times when I couldn’t get out of bed for days because of my migraine. I can remember laying on the floor, gasping in pain, crying. But, I can’t really remember what a “9” migraine feels like. Not truly. And, how do I know one 9 is the same as another?

I don’t. I suppose that’s the subjective nature of pain; it not only varies between one person and another, it also varies between a person’s own experiences. And, without keeping a diary, I’m not sure how much I can rely on my memories.

But, I can’t keep a diary anymore. The daily reminder that I’m sick, that I have a “condition,” is too much to take. It renders me incapable of forgetting about the pain for even a moment. Some part of me is always monitoring my pain levels and my symptoms so I can record the day’s events accurately. There’s no forgetting. There’s no ignoring.

What works for you? Do you keep a diary? If so, what kind? (Online? Paper?) How long have you been writing in it, or when and why did you stop if you used to keep one?

Migraine and Grief

My mother died last week, and I am discovering that grief serves as a type of anesthesia to chronic pain. It is there somewhere, just behind my temple – lurking. I can feel it there, and yet, I can’t. It is ephemeral, outlasted by the intense pain of loss, overwhelmed by the grief of one left behind.

In moments of clarity, when my hands no longer shake and my legs  stand firm, I worry that I am not taking care of myself as I should, that I will pay for this later. I know that next week or the week after when I am finally home, and the truth of my loss has sunk in but there is nothing left to do except move on – no boxes left to pack, no phone calls left to make, no papers to file – my migraine will come rushing to the foreground with all the intensity of a coal-laden locomotive.

But, what can I do? It is not feasible to do anything but survive at this time.

New Additions to the Blog Roll

As some of my longer-term readers may have noted, I took a lengthy break from blogging a couple of years ago. Dealing with chronic pain can be exceptionally disheartening, especially when you’re talking about it, writing about it, and keeping a journal cataloging it on a regular basis. So, I quit.

I stopped talking, stopped blogging, and definitely stopped keeping my migraine journal. Trouble was my can’t-I-just-pretend-this-excruciating-daily-pain-doesn’t-exist mindset was a dressed up version of denial. Once I came to terms with this fact, I started blogging again.

Naturally, many of my fellow migraineurs also stopped blogging during that time. And, since then, new (and wonderful) blogs have popped up. So, today’s post is a shout-out to the new (and old) blogs I managed to find this week after joining the ChronicBabe Forum.

Newly added to the blogroll:

Redefining “Good:” Learning to live with chronic pain and illness gracefully

Somebody Heal Me

Graceful Agony: Living your best life in spite of having chronic pain


Overflowing Brain

That’s all for now, but I’m always on the lookout for insightful, informative, and inspirational blogs. Does anyone have a favorite blog that isn’t listed? Please share!

Stumbling on to Visualization

The other night, while I was in bed with a migraine, I began to “see” the nerves in my head pound to the beat of my heart. I’d never experienced a mental vision like that before, but I decided that if I could mentally “see” my pain, maybe I could mentally stop it.

I began to imagine the nerves calming. I pictured them lying close and silent against my skull. Perhaps it was only my steady breathing that did it, but the visualization seemed to work. The pain dulled, and I was able to get to sleep.

I haven’t been able to do this since. (The last time I tried, I actually made my migraine worse.) But, I’d love to know if anyone else has had any luck with visualization or another self-regulatory exercise. At this point, I’m willing to try anything – especially if it works. Please feel free to comment below and let me know what imaging techniques you’ve tried.

Insurance Debacles

When you’re the sick, the last thing you want to do is fight with your insurance company. You’re tired, fatigued. You don’t have the energy to spend thirty minutes to an hour on the phone haggling with someone who doesn’t have the authority to do anything for you anyway. The truly disgusting part is – they count on that.

While at work on Thursday, a notice popped up in my email: You have a timely message waiting for you from Humana.

I assumed it was another routine “we’ve processed a claim for you” email but decided to check it out anyway. The last two weeks had been exceptionally difficult ones for me and I’d seen my neurologist several times before she referred me to both a pain management clinic here in town and a headache specialist in Houston. (My parting impression: she’s run out of ideas and apparently I’m someone else’s problem now.)

Turns out, the message from my dear insurance company was informing me that my last visit to my doctor wasn’t fully covered by my $50 specialist co-pay. While at the office, for lack of anything else to try, she suggested an injection in the back of my head. I agreed since we had already attempted multiple IVs, IM-shots, investigatory blood work and even a cervical X-ray of my neck to no avail. The shot (an occipital nerve block) worked for my newest pain, which had begun at the back of my head in the last month or so, for about 24 hours but did little to touch my original migraine. And now, my insurance company was informing me that the 5 second injection – that one little shot – was a surgical procedure and therefore my $5K deductible applied on top of the $50 office visit co-pay.

Now, I work in health care. I understand the puny reimbursement rates doctors receive from insurance companies if they bill with an injection + drugs type of billing code. But, I never dreamed this type of injection could possibly be considered a surgical procedure.

The bottom line? I’ve spent over $2K on co-pays, Rxs, and an MRI in four months attempting to “break” this migraine cycle. None of this applies to my deductible or my max out of pocket. And, after thirty minutes on the phone, I just didn’t have the strength to argue any more. Makes me wonder though – what’s the point of having insurance?