About four years ago I had my first, and most severe, migraine. It was without a doubt the most terrifying experience of my life and shook me up for months afterwards. After recently attending the Scottish Health Councils event where I heard Michael Seres speak about his blogging and how sharing these experiences helped others I thought I would write this blog. I am, however, acutely aware that my health issues are not as severe as the ones which Michael Seres has to deal with. I should also point out at this point that some of this post has had to be confirmed by my wife as I was not able to give a proper recount of some of this content at the time it was happening.
I went for lunch with a work friend to the cafe of a nearby Sainsburys. I didn’t have anything usual to eat or drink. It was just a pleasant lunch away from our usual lunchtime haunt, i.e.. the office. When we got back to the office suddenly I had a strange distortion in my vision. I would later find out this is what is called an aura.
It was in the top left hand of my eyesight no matter which eye I looked out of. It was a little strange and annoying but nothing more. It wasn’t sore and it was very small so didn’t effect my vision in any way. I tried to ignore it expecting it to go away. After about an hour it did.
I had a meeting later that afternoon in town and my then boss asked if they could accompany me. They were new in their role and were keen to see the sort of work I carried out. He had his car with him so said he’d drive us both in. Almost as soon as I sat down in the car I started feeling very unsettled and strange. As we started to drive off in the car I suddenly lost the feeling in both my arms. This startled me and I made comment of it to my boss. He joked it off saying that its a good job that it wasn’t one of my arms as that would be a heart attack. Although I didn’t find this funny it passed quickly so I shrugged it off.
Twenty minutes later as we were getting in town I suddenly became extremely nauseous. I though I was going to throw up and asked my boss to pull the car over. I got out of the car and after a couple of minutes felt much better.
Five minutes more of driving we arrived at the meeting with a local rep to talk about our services. I chatted with the rep, my boss sat in just listening to the back and forth. However, as the conversation went on I found it harder and harder to concentrate on what the rep was saying or indeed even follow our conversation. This obviously didn’t show to the rep or my boss as when time came to finish my boss remarked how well it had gone. At this point I began to feel like I was coming down with something. For the first time since this began my head started to ache. I asked my boss if I could go home as I only lived round the corner. He agreed as we were both sure I was a little under the weather.
I got home and my headache got worse. I sat on the couch for a bit but just wasn’t comfortable so decided to go to bed to try and sleep it off. I hate getting a cold but sometimes a good couple of hours kip can take the edge off. When I woke up about an hour later I felt horrible . I felt like I had been hit across the left side of my head with an iron bar. I also felt extremely nauseous and really wanted to throw up just to feel better. Something was very wrong. I decided to phone my then girlfriend now wife. I’m not sure what I wanted her to do, I just wanted to speak to someone. However, when I picked up my mobile phone I didn’t know how to use it. I’d had this phone for two years but suddenly I couldn’t use it. After a few minutes I muddled my way through and got my girlfriend on the phone. I explained what had/was happening but I was now having trouble speaking. It wasn’t that I was having trouble using my mouth it was like I kept forgetting words.
My girlfriend came round right away and decided quickly that a call to NHS 24 was required. This resulted in an emergency appointment at one of the local hospitals. Within twenty or thirty minutes of arriving at the hospital I was seen by a doctor while my wife waited outside.
After explaining to him what had happened and how I felt he said, “I’m going to ask you some simple questions and I just want you to answer them”.
“What is your name?” he began
“Graham Budd” I replied
“What year were you born?” he asked
“1978″ I replied
“What year is it?” he asked
“2009″ I replied
The questions went on like this for a few minutes and I answered everyone. Then he brought in my girlfriend turned to her and said “I’ve just asked Graham a number of simple questions and he hasn’t been able to answer any of them. I’m not sure what’s happening but we’re going to have to do some more tests”. I understood every word the doctor had said to me and had given the answer to each and everyone of them, as far as I was concerned.
I was then taken to a ward for more tests. At this point all gets very hazy. Over the hours that followed I went from being perfectly lucid and coherent, to answering simple questions with a completely random jumble of words, to being completely unable to speak. I would move back and forth between these differing periods constantly with them each only lasting a few minutes tops.
During the periods where I was answering with random words I was, as far as I was aware, giving perfectly articulate answers. At one point I was asked if I’d had a headache like this before. I said “Once, a while ago when I was eating ice cream”, or so I thought. My reply to anyone listening though was apparently “it’s like San Francisco, nachos….fuck!…..ice cream….coffee”.
During the periods when I was unable to speak I would be asked a simple question or to name an object. At this point I would suddenly forget all words. You know how you feel when you can’t put your finger on someone’s name or the name of a place? It was like that but for all words.
After a succession of doctors had come and gone I was sent for an emergency CAT scan at 1am, thirteen hours after my symptoms had started. At this point, although my head was no longer as sore and my speech was returning to normal, I had decided that I had an aneurism or something in my brain and at any moment that was going to be me. I lay in a hospital bed waiting to get the results of my scan deciphered by a neurologist they had awoken especially whilst I contemplated my fate. It’s a very strange thing. My thoughts were that the most important thing was that my girlfriend should not be upset. We chatted, we kissed and we waited. After what felt like days a matron appeared. In one sentence she announced that I had been given the all clear and it was time for my girlfriend to leave. I would love to say that I ran around the hospital like James Stewart in Its A Wonderful Life but the truth is I kissed my girlfriend goodnight and blacked out cold.
The next morning I awoke, still fully dressed, to find myself a bit of a celeb in student neurologist circles. Indeed they came round to talk about me very near to me but not directly to me. I sat in bed fully dressed, waving at them whilst grinning like a man who’d just been told he wasn’t about to die. After a couple of hours two fully qualified neurologists then came round to see me and, after chatting through my results, diagnosed me as having had a migraine. I was free to go.
I’d never had a migraine before that day and although I do get similar episodes now, touch wood, they are never anywhere as severe as my first time. Usually if one starts I just head to lay own in a darkened room for a couple of hours and then I feel much better. In terms of what triggers them off for me it appears to be a combination of factors. The main ones are; stress, coffee and citrus but its a fairly unpredictable combination of them which will set off a migraine. My symptoms have also changed too. Instead of a headache on the left side of my head I now get a headache on the right side of my head.
I’m not sure how helpful this post will be to anyone but I know after my experience I went on the net to look for advice or even someone who’d been in a similar situation and couldn’t find much. So if this does help anyone I’m glad.