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Living with Migraine: A First-Person Account

By Rose Lewis

It starts with a headache across my forehead. Gradually it stretches to my temples, squeezing both sides as if my head were in a vice. Then all of the pain shifts to the right side of my face and head. The pain is so intense and concentrated on that side that I find myself drawing an imaginary line up the center of my face, from the tip of my chin, through my nose to my forehead and back around my head. I think if only I could remove the right side of my face and head the pain would be gone.

Then of course there is the nausea. All I want to do is find a quiet, dark room.

I first experienced migraines as a child. Not mine, but my father's. I learned at a young age the telltale signs my father was suffering with a migraine. If I got off the bus from school and saw my father's car in the driveway in the middle of the day, a bottle of ginger ale or soda water on the counter next to an open Time magazine (I have no idea how he could possibly read, feeling as he did), I knew my father was upstairs in bed, blinds closed, holding his head in his hands trying to sleep off the pain.

His only remedy was the drug Emprin. I don't ever remember him taking anything stronger; I do remember his migraines lasting as long as five days. As a kid it was hard to predict when my father would get a migraine but as an adult now I suspect it was after a long and stressful case (he is a lawyer), or simply while fasting on a Jewish holiday.

I know myself that I rarely get hit with a migraine during a stressful stretch. Ironically it usually hits AFTER the project is completed when I start to relax. Some reward, right? My migraines come in three stages:

Approach: I am nearly immobilized by horrible head pain and nausea. About the only thing to do is grab an Imitrex and an anti-nausea drug, and like my father and fellow sufferers, shut the blinds and try to sleep holding my head in my hands praying the pain will subside.

Sustaining: the drugs are working, my head feels better and the nausea has lessened. I no longer feel like sleeping in the dark for hours, but the pain is still obvious and I prefer people around me to be very, very quiet. I still have this strange feeling of being wrapped in the grips of a migraine but I am slowly beginning to emerge.

Resolution: By the third day I can usually say I feel better and really mean it. I haven't burst the bubble completely but I know a total breakthrough could happen soon.

I have seen art produced by migraine sufferers and I can tell you the ones with their head in a vice or sharp nails in their head are an accurate depiction of how a migraine feels. If you get them, I sympathize. If you don't but know someone who does, learn how to help.

While migraine sufferers usually want to be left alone, we at least like to know there is someone there willing to refill the glass of soda water or to offer a hand to hold through the pain.

Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.

Posted December 2009

Contact Information

Arnold-Warfield Pain Center
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
One Brookline Place, Suite 105
Brookline, MA 02445