“Here’s a prescription. Call me in three months.”
“Thanks. Is that…..it? I just can’t believe this pain. Isn’t there anything else…?”
“Well, you might try hormones, or psychiatric help. You know, a woman your age……….”
I dragged myself out of the reception office, and opened the glass door – into blinding sunlight. Immediately, the
nausea started up again, and I began searching the parking lot for a quiet, solitary spot. Of course, there was none.
So, I just took another deep, ‘cleansing’ breath (whatever that is), adjusted my huge sunglasses, squinted, and continued
dragging my head toward the car.
It was south Texas, in mid-July. You can’t really explain the heat, particularly if your relatives live back home, in
Philadelphia. It’s just…..beyond anything you can imagine. Have you seen those big ovens that Pizza Hut uses for their
baking? Well, imagine putting your whole body into one – and then walking through a Walmart-size parking lot. Then, you
might get good picture of it. Of course, if you’re having a migraine right now, you’re not able to picture anything – except
perhaps hanging yourself with the paper, from your pill bottle, that is 15 feet long, and describes all of the horrible
side effects which your doctor swears, up and down, that will NEVER happen to you.
Driving home, trying not to get more dizzy than I already was, I wondered if I should call my psychiatrist. He, after all,
did offer hypnotherapy for ‘controlling pain’ (whatever that meant). The only glitch, was, however, that he charged $400 a session, and he didn’t accept my insurance. I hadn’t gone to the guy for six months, ever since his office had charged me
$250 for cancelling an appointment – five hours ahead of time. I told him that I was on the bathroom floor, throwing up,
from another migraine. He had just replied, “So? You can still get in your car, and drive over here.”
I couldn’t think of another doctor to call. The last one I had seen had simply patted me on the head (literally), and
said, “Your problem is that you have a too-low a threshold for pain. Perhaps, we should do another MRI?” After
straining myself not to kick him in a very sensitive area, to see how low HIS theshold for pain was, I shrugged and
said, “Yeah. I guess….”
I assume, if you’ve been suffering from migraines for any length of time, that you’ve gone through an MRI? And, I’m
not talking about those little, cute, open ones that athletes use to have their shins xrayed. No, I’m referring to those
Egyptian-mummy-size coffins – that are blaring ‘ZIPS!’, ‘CLICK-CLICK-CLICK-CLICK-CLICKS!’, and ‘BRRRPS!’.
By the time you’ve gotten out of one – and they pulled out the IV needle, and smack a bandaid on your arm, you’ve developed
the worst headache of your life – even if you’ve never had a migraine. Not to mention the hangover from the Valium they’ve
given you – for your silly claustrophobia.
Oh? Haven’t you had the IV-treatment yet? That’s a lot of fun. One thing the doctor forgets to tell you is that
there’s a great chance for developing a hideous rash from the ink they’re going to shoot into your veins. The ink, or
‘dye’ is made of some sort of chemical that a certain population are very allergic to – and you don’t know if you’ve got it,
until you’ve tried it. When, or if, you do get it, don’t run to the ER. You’ll just have to wait upteen hours, scratching, and
itching painfully all over your body, while babies are screaming, and parents are yelling, and the nurse is telling you that
since you’re not deathly ill, you’ll just have to wait your turn. Just go to the pharmacy, and buy the ‘maximum’ kind of
anti-ich cream they’ve got, or call your doctor (just to rat him out for his unthoughtfulness).
After several (or more) of those lovely MRI exams, your (most recent) neurologist will simply shake his, or her head,
and suggest, for the thousandth time, that you might try seeking the help of a good psychiatrist. Totally convinced that
you must be harboring the largest brain tumor in the history of mankind, you just stare, open-mouthed, at your
physician – and then, get up and leave (after paying your bill).
“Well, you might try having Botox treatments.”
Suddenly, you turn around, car keys in hand, and look blink at the doctor. He’s standing there, lunch-stained coat
hanging on his intellectual shoulders, and still holding your (volume-thick) file.
Could it be true? Could there actually be a CURE for this daily torture?
“Oh, yes! Yes! Where can I sign up?”
“Well, of course you’ll have to make another appointment. Not every neurologist does them, you know. Of course,
I do. Just see my receptionist. She’ll fix you up. Goodbye.”
Praying that his receptionist might be able to give me a suicide pill also, I lunge for her appointment book.
Naturally, three months later, I’m banging my head against the wall [Who cares? I’m in so much pain, already,
what’s a couple more concussions going to do?]. Boy, was I the naive idiot. Yes, naturally, I showed up, very early,
for my Botox treatments, that following week. Have you ever had them? The pain of the (8-10) very long needles in your
scalp makes you tear up, and jerk your body as if in a minor seizure. The little vial, which, six years ago cost about
$1000, supposedly had some sort of miracle stuff in it, which the neurologist said would ‘relax’ the tense muscles
in my head. Very slowly, he placed each needle over an already tender spot in my scalp, and JABBED.
“Please, try to refrain from moving. You don’t want me to hit the wrong spot in your head, do you?” [Laugh.]
“Uh. Yeah.” (My hands were knuckle-white from gripping, and ungripping the side of the exam table. The
sweat was rolling down my back, at Indiannopolis 500-speed.)
“Now, what do I do? Does it take effect, immediately?”
“No. Of course not. You generally have to wait 3 months, to see the [chemical] will take effect.”
“And, in the meantime?” (I accepted the paper towel, to wipe some more of the blood off my scalp.)
“Don’t you have refills of the [pain medicine]? Well, use that. And, call me in three months. Goodbye.”
“But….but, that’s it?”
“Well, your scalp will be a little sore, for several hours. Call my office, if you suffer any unusual side
effects from the Botox. Goodbye.” (The doctor shuffles out, looking slightly bored.)
As I said, three months later, I was banging the phone down, after screaming at the neurologist for several
minutes, and then, banging my head against the wall.
Two weeks later, I received a letter, from the same neurologist. It was a very courteous note. It said that, due to
the extremity of my headaches, he could no longer keep me on as a patient. He suggested that I go to the
Mayo Clinic, a couple of thousand miles away, and talk to somebody there. [I wondered, rather curiously, if one
could just fly up to Rochester, Minnesota, rent a car, drive along snow and ice encrusted roads, find a parking place, and waltz into the Mayo Clinic, asking somebody to cure his, or her migraines.)
So, what did I do? Well, I looked at the phone book – and found ANOTHER doctor (though, not in Minnesota).
This one suggested, in a curious whisper, if I had ever tried acupuncture.
“Why are we whispering? Is acupuncture prohibited in this state?”
“No. [He looked at me with that superior sneer of the physician at the middle-aged, housewife type.]
Acupuncture is, shall we say, outside of standard medical practices. Some headache sufferers, however, have
found some relief from it.”
“Wonderful! What doctor would you suggest?” (I grabbed a pen and little Walmart notebook out of my purse.)
“Oh, you’ll have to do your own research. I’m not in touch with anyone who does that sort of thing.”
(Why not? Don’t you know how to do anything, besides throw tiny pills my way?)
“Oh. Okay.” (Dejectedly, I replaced my pen and Walmart notebook.)
“Yes. Just go online, and do some research. Do you need any refills?” (Out came the handy perscription tablet,
ready to do its mission for the billionaire pharmaceutical companies.)
“But…..doctor, I don’t, hm….I don’t really use a computer.” (Flushing from embarrassment, and feeling the
migraine pain double in size, I looked at the marble tiled floor.)
“That’s too bad. Well, just look one up in the phone book. Now, do you need any more refills, for today?”
(The cheerful smile on his face made me wonder if the drug rep was going to be taking him out to lunch, again, today.
For all of the dollars I was throwing toward that fellow’s company, I figured that he should be taking ME out to
Three weeks later, I was lying on (another) exam table, listening to soft music. I was in my underwear, and spread
out, like a toad waiting to be dissected in sophmore biology class. Tiny, very sharp needles, about 30 in all, stuck into
the soft skin of my fingers, toes, forehead, thighs, stomach, soles of my tender feet, upper [plump] arms, under eye areas,
and wherever else a human being could be plucked. I felt like one of those tomato-pincushions that Mom used to
attach to her wrist, in the 1960’s, like a stickly corsage. I was glad that Mom wasn’t here. She would have just
stared at me, with those Betty Davis-eyes, sliding the reading glasses down her nose, and holding a PallMall in her long
fingertips, saying, “Have you gone quite mad?”
Thirty minutes later, accepting a tissue from the acupuncture receptionist lady, to dab at more of the blood on my
forehead, I wondered the exact same thing.
“When do you want to come back, for your next treatment?”
(In the year 8685? Maybe, by then, the Vulcans would have come to earth, bringing with them some sort of wonderfully
painless treatment for migraines. Perhaps, at that time, I could ask Spock to press on the back of my
acupunctured-bloody neck with his four ‘Peace-Be-With-You’ fingers, and blot out all of the pain – for good. Or,
maybe the Kingons would have been contacted, by that time. I certainly wouldn’t have minded having Worf standing
behind me, with his huge arms folded, whenever I had to talk to one of those neurologists.)
“Uh. Hm. Could I just give your office a call, later? My schedule, at the moment, is a little complicated.”
“Certainly. Just take one of our cards. Remember, you may be feeling a little woozy from the acupuncture
treatment. That’s perfectly normal. Do you have any questions?”
(Yeah. Where can I take some acupuncture-doctor courses? Your boss is raking in a bundle, today.)
As it turned out, I ended up going back for MORE pincushion treatments, 4 (or was it 5?) times. No. They didn’t
do a thing – for the migraines. However, I must report that the bottoms of my feet have actually lost some of their
tendency to be overly sensitive. Well? Hey, that’s something. Plus, my insurance actually paid for a percentage of
them. And, that, as you know, is a true miracle.
What else have I tried, over fourteen years of migraine-learning-experiences? Everything, from (more) hypnotherapy, to
psychotherapy, to music-therapy, to taking (more) muscle-relaxants, to hormone shots (pills, patches, etc.), to seizure-drugs (including ones that were still considered ‘new’ on the market – and gave me hallucinations, vertigo, vomiting, tininitus (ringing of the ears), insomnia, nightmares, shakiness, and God-only-knows-what-else), to biofeedback.
Biofeedback is, from my experience, a form of new-fangled torture. It’s another great toy for psychologists, since it
involves the computer, and a ready experimental subject. That subject, totally depressed from the agonies of
seeing ‘regular’ doctors, will do just about anything for some relief from his, or her pain. And, biofeedback is in that
list of ‘anything’. First of all, it’s NOT USUALLY paid for, by insurance companies, AND it’s VERY expensive. Oh, boy, is it.
If you do try it, be prepared to carry with you an application form for a second mortgage. You’re going to need it.
Secondly, be prepared to be told that the curative results of biofeedback TOTALLY depends on the patient’s attitude (so
the doctor, naturally, can’t be blamed when, or if, it doesn’t work), and that it may take months (and months) of
constant practice, for it to work, if at all.
How does biofeedback work? Well, after you’ve paid the bill (since they generally like to see the check and/or
cash up front), you’re escorted into a small room filled with computer paraphenalia. (I just learned how to use a
computer, in the last year, so don’t expect an explanation of all the stuff involved. If you’re truly curious, make an
appointment with your local biofeedback-offering-psychologist, and see for yourself. Just make sure that you take
your checkbook, or VISA card.) In the room, there are a couple of chairs (one for you, and one for the doctor). Surrounding
one of the chairs are enough wires to electrocute somebody. (And, for those of you who have suffered three, or more,
days of a migraine, you know just how tempting it would be to seek out the real sort of electric chair.) You’re asked to
sit in the one with all of the wires. The doctor then proceeds to attach several of the wires to your fingers, waist, and
arms (or other places which will tell the computer how your muscular tension, and blood pressure is doing). Then, he,
or she, will proceed to explain to you (in a couple of minutes) all of the science connected with understanding
biofeedback,and how it works (for pain control, blood pressure control, dieting, quitting smoking, etc.). After being
totally confused, but not encouraged to ask questions (after all, you ARE paying by the hour), you watch the psychologist
dim the lights, put on some new-age music, and sit down, rather comfortably, in his larger, more cushioned, leather
chair. He, or she, clicks on the computer, and takes out a pen and writing tablet.
“Are you going to be taking notes?”
“Of course. I want to see how well you do with the program. It’s all up to you, and the amount of practice you
are committed to doing, in order to help control your pain.”
“So, if it doesn’t work, then, I’m to blame?”
“Well, we don’t like to word it like that.” [Smile]
Basically, when you are using biofeedback, you sit (for a rather expensive hour), and watch the computer screen.
The doctor gives you several prompts, i,e. “Pretend you’re doing something which makes you very nervous, like
giving a public speech, or getting caught in an elevator.”). Then, he, or she, watches, as the computer shows a
graph depicting your muscular, and blood-pressure repsonses. The trick is, as you are told, to ‘make’ the computer-
graph lines go from the ‘red’ (anxious) zone, into the ‘green’ (relaxed) zone. You, naturally, are given several ways of
‘making’ the graph lines change, i.e., imagining lying on the beach at sunset, sitting by a cozy fire and eating marshmellows,
playing, as a child, at age five, etc. You get the drift. Of course, it’s extremely difficult to ‘make’ your own blood pressure,
and muscular tension do much of anything they don’t want to. When you complain about this to the doctor, he, or she,
just agrees with you, “Well, of course. Your success with biofeedback totally depends on how much you are willing to
practice it (and how much money you’re willing to invest in it).
What was my own experience? Well, it turned out to be kind of fun, trying to trick my blood pressure into sliding down
into the ‘green’ zone. Once in a great while, I could actually do it. The problem was, that I couldn’t take the
biofeedback equipment home with me, or learn how to do it myself (even if I was Bill Gates, and could buy, or make
it, on my own). So, in the midst of a humongous headache, all I could do was (you guessed it), make another
appointment with the psychologist. And, by the time, I dragged myself through the south-Texas-heated-parking lot, I
usually just fell asleep, attached to the chair, wires and all.
So, how does one survive a migraine? It’s an entirely personal thing, like deciding what religion you wish to follow.
Some things (of the above) work for certain folks; some don’t. Generally, I’ve learned to stay clear of anything with
alcohol, caffeine, and chocolate. (I know; life is tough. What can you do.) I’ve also learned to stay away from
neurologists; they’ve always seemed to make my headaches worse, somehow. Most importantly, I’ve (finally – after
14 years) learned NOT to take pain, or neurologic, medications. I apologize to all of the billionaire pharmaceutical company
presidents (as if they care). I’ve just learned, through very tough experience, that ALL pain medications are potentially very
addictive (no matter what they tell you), and potentially have some very nasty side-effects (including death).
I hope that, at least, you’ve come away from this little article, feeling less isolated and alone, with regards to your
chronic headache pain. I do recall asking a prominent neurologist, some time ago, “Why do some people have
The physician just smiled sadly, shook his head, and said, “We really don’t know.”