Periodically, TheBurg highlights the work of student writers from Penn State Harrisburg. In this issue, we feature an essay with a lighter look at a serious condition.
The moment you realize that you’ve left your designated “hangover sunglasses” on the counter nestled next to the napkin holder, you’ll be shaking your fist at the sky, cursing out Mother Nature for her all-too-inconsistent weather changes. But, without the protective shield of those mirror-finished, polarized lenses, the only solution now is to pinch the bridge of your nose, squint against the sun’s unforgiving rays, and somehow will away the pounding behind your left eye through the power of your fingertips. Deep breath in, deep breath out. Ignore the wave of nausea rolling through your stomach and the fact that your professor has decided to toss her microphone over her shoulder, and shout the rest of her lecture. Four Excedrin later, you’re laying on the couch with a pillow over your face, counting the hours until you need to be up and back at school again.
Christian Nordqvist of Medical News Today defines a migraine as a severe, painful headache that is often preceded or accompanied by sensory warning signs such as flashes of light, blind spots, tingling in the arms and legs, nausea, vomiting and increased sensitivity to light and sound. While most people find themselves in the dark when trying to understand the easily misunderstood headache, the migraine is an extraordinarily common disease that affects 36 million men, women and children in the United States, according to the Migraine Research Foundation. The clincher? There is no real cure for migraines. In fact, most medical professionals are left scratching their heads while research into the causes and treatment of the migraine is severely underfunded. So, where does that leave the suffering population inflicted by the illness? With a drawer full of expensive painkillers and a notebook full of potential triggers that might have caused the migraine—and a prayer for death to knock on their front door with a promise of peace.
Knowing that migraines genetically ran through my family on my mother’s side, I once asked her how she remembered dealing with them without all of the medical therapies we have today. She said she would treat it by “lying in complete darkness with a big bag of ice over my head.” I considered that a simple enough routine, especially since I usually go for the gallon-sized Ziploc baggies when I’m afflicted.
Interestingly enough, trial-and-error treatment has dated back to 3000 B.C., more commonly known as the Mesopotamian Era. While maybe you can say that you do not personally know any migraine sufferers, the National Migraine Association, or MAGNUM Inc., has constructed a list of a few people who you can find in your history book who were afflicted with the disease, including Thomas Jefferson, Julius Caesar, Cervantes, Sigmund Freud, Ulysses S. Grant, Lewis Carroll and Vincent Van Gogh.
Now certainly Ol’ Caesar didn’t reach into his toga for his trusty stash of Advil; his treatment methods, along with those of his historical companions, were a tad more creative. Some of the prescriptions included applying a hot iron to the site of pain, inserting a clove of garlic through an incision in the temple, purges and bloodletting, and, my personal favorite, drilling a hole in the skull to free “evil spirits,” according to MAGNUM. Even though migraines can still be labeled as a mystery in the 21st century, medical professionals have developed their own theories about the physiological causes of the disease. One of these theories includes the prolonged period of vessel dilation, resulting in the characteristic, throbbing pain, while another discusses the birth of a migraine in the brain, causing major semi-hemispherical cranial vasodilatation, while a sequence of events initiates the release of serotonin.
Of course, not all is grim. Living with migraines can open up a new network of supportive friends and family members who truly understand what you’re going through. Learning to brush off such comments such as, “Well, you’ll be all right; it’s just a headache. What’s the big deal?” and, “You really should drink more water,” can give you the utmost confidence that there’s absolutely nothing crazy about what you’re going through. In my five years of living with migraines, I’ve caught the not-so-hidden eye-rolls, heard the audible whispers of the “It’s just an excuse to get out of work” conversation, and shouldered the blatant sighs of those employers who failed to fully comprehend the painful nature of the situation. But learning to forgive those who simply cannot understand is the first step to releasing an immense weight of guilt and discovering a less-sheltered world hidden above the shadows of doubt.
While most consider a migraine to be just an affliction of head pain, the Migraine Research Foundation lists other symptoms, which can often include visual disturbances, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, extreme sensitivity to sound, light, touch and smell, and tingling or numbness in the extremities or face. I’ve often pondered what it would be like to have a sixth sense, something that would enable access to a sense the world above a normal level. And, while my migraines don’t allow me to see a glimpse of the veil through Haley Joel’s eyes like in the movie “The Sixth Sense,” not that I’d really want to see anything with that sort of heightened awareness, I already have my own five senses on hyperactive-overdrive. Consider a hangover with all the glories of worshipping at the porcelain throne. Now consider a hangover without all of the past memories of the night before to help anchor you to the realm of the living. Now further consider that hangover to not only last a full 24 hours, but to a maximum of 72 hellish hours. I once felt compelled by my own frustration not only to investigate a collection of various hangover remedies, but to try them in an attempt to shake off a migraine. I then concluded my thoughts with the following:
- Grease is really not your friend. As Dean Winchester says in the popular sci-fi show “Supernatural,” “You know there’s a really good hangover remedy, it’s a greasy pork sandwich served up in a dirty ashtray.”
- Guzzling water may quench your thirst, but it’s not some miracle purification remedy.
- The hair of the dog that bit you is now going to maul you into submission.
For those who aim to cure themselves through a more natural or organic method, a little research on Pinterest or Google can give you a wide variety of steps or cures. Personally, the old shower-with-the-bathroom-door-closed routine never worked for me, so for those searching for a more scientific solution that won’t fog up their vanity mirror, technology has stepped in to lend its assistance. The Cefaly Technology headband, possibly the newest of attempts, is the first cranial analgesic electrotherapeutic device to acquire ISO medical certification proven effective on migraine pain with no side effects. Meaning? It’s an electronic device that is placed around the head that stimulates the nerve center where the pain resides. “Star Trek”called, they want their headgear back. Envision not a cap, but a thin, simple, celestial crown adorning the princess of the latest sci-fi movie. Remove the jewels, substitute the luxury of white gold for gray medical plastic, and what you see is what you get. Although strides have been made, including an approval by the FDA for the United States, it is still a widely underutilized method. Getting your hands on one may require more than a toss of a lucky penny into a wishing well. And the fact is, you may very well be diving back into that well to scrounge for your penny so you can fully pay for it. As for me, I’ll wait for the reviews to come in before picking up my head adornments at the nearest Costco.
I consider being a migraine-sufferer to be more of a strength of character than a weakness. While it may not be possible to simply breathe through the pain, you certainly have acquired the diligence to live through it. Aside from the clichéd notion that what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger, survival is the ultimate trophy of pride on your shelf of life-struggles.
Lindsey McKeever is a senior English major at Penn State Harrisburg.