A Shot in the Dark by Pam Kress Dunn

Last week I allowed a neurologist to stab me in the head, face, neck and shoulders 31 times. Okay, maybe “stab” is overly dramatic. What she actually did was give me 31 shots of poison. There, now. Doesn’t that sound better?
As a long-time host site for migraines, I think I can say that desperate times call for desperate measures. So when my doctor suggested I come in for a Botox treatment, I figured, what the hell. What’s the worst that can happen? I mean besides the inability to swallow or breathe, or the peeling red rash, or the drooping of an eyelid or two, or, you know, death? The nurse assured me this procedure has been fatal only twice (in the U.S. – not at the headache clinic). So my odds of survival are pretty good. 

As for the likelihood of this treatment lessening my migraines, time will tell. It takes two to three weeks for the toxin – excuse me, the FDA-approved medicine – to do what it needs to do, which is, if I’ve got this right, to paralyze certain nerves that create the familiar throbbing of a migraine. Right now I’m just trying not to scratch the itchy spots on my scalp. My husband suggested I think of them as bug bites, which we all know only get itchier if you give in and scratch them.

There were several amusing moments during this not-very-pleasant procedure. First of all, I noticed that the medicine and the 31 syringes were brought in by the nurse on – no kidding – a silver platter. It was small, but still, it was silver. Then there was the list of possible side effects. Along with disfiguration, respiratory arrest, and suicide (no, wait, that’s another drug I take every day), the list included “loss of wrinkles.” Oh no! Not that!

Ironically, of all the cosmetic procedures I have read about (and might consider if money were no object), Botox was the one thing I was dead set against. I’ve read too many horror stories about Hollywood stars no longer able to move the muscles in their foreheads, sending their acting careers into the dumpster. My face has other lines I’m more concerned about than the tiny one between my eyes. (Don’t tell me you can see it from there. My delusions keep me happy.) 

And yet, there I was, having needles sunk into my head, face, neck and shoulders. The right side of my head was the worst. The nurse had warned me I might hear “a crunching sound” as the needles went into my head. A crunching sound? But why? I forgot to ask. Besides, I’d had worse when I was hospitalized last year in the Head Pain unit at a hospital not far from the clinic. A plastic surgeon injected at least five very long needles into the back of my head. He called it a cervical block, as the needles were full of anesthetic. 

For some people, this takes away their headaches. All it did for me was make the back of my head feel like it was . . . missing. I was perversely glad it didn’t do a thing for my headaches, because if it had, I would be forced to endure the needles in my head every few months or so. The crunching sound they made sounded as loud as your little brother eating Frosted Flakes too close to your ear. I shudder to think of it now.

It’s not like I’m needle- shy. I have no problem having my blood drawn, and I would happily donate blood if I didn’t have so many pesky health problems that my doctors have advised against it. Why, I’ve even learned to give myself shots when my headaches are gearing up. If I shoot some Toradol or Norflex into my thigh when I feel the pain coming on, they can head off even the worst migraine. It’s all in the timing. My husband, bless his heart, has learned to give me shots in a much less painful (and much less visible) place, but when he’s gone, I have to do it myself. The last time that happened, I decided to give my bruised-up legs a break and attempt a shot in the arm. I did it, and felt so proud of myself. 

This is, of course, celebrating the successful battle instead of ending the war. Any of my “triggers,” as we migraineurs call the situations that bring on a headache, can start a new headache up again. For me, they include being in a moving car, looking out a sunny window, using the computer, reading a book, or watching a movie or TV, among others. Sometimes it seems like it’s just one long headache that occasionally goes to sleep, but always wakes up again, with a vengeance. 

One of the groups I’ve fanned on Facebook is the National Headache Society, which occasionally asks a question of its fans. The latest was this: “What occasions have you had to miss because of your headaches?” People listed weddings, trips, birthday celebrations, children’s dance recitals. I just pounded out “EVERYTHING” in my comment box and left it at that. 

I know, though, that we migraineurs should all look on the bright side. We don’t have cancer. We don’t have Parkinson’s. A new study even revealed that our brains aren’t shrinking because of the pain they are in. (And, yes, I know the brain itself can’t feel pain. Sometimes it just feels like it’s my frontal cortex that’s on fire.) And hey. We can learn impressive new skills, like giving ourselves shots. I’m still working on driving with my eyes closed. Once I master that, I’ll have it made. 

Pam Kress-Dunn
pam2617@yahoo.com

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