Friday, October 14, 2011

Cluster Headaches, or A Demon is Drilling Into My Eyeball, or How I Spent My Columbus Day Weekend

In this particular image, the dying natives on the bottom symbolize the left side of my head.  Also, genocide.

This post gets a little long, so I'll wait until you're ready.


So last Thursday night I woke up from was electrocuted out of a dead sleep to an incredibly intense pain on the left side of my head, coupled with the feeling that something was savagely twisting my eyeball from the inside.  I stumbled into the bathroom and took two ibuprofen (for only your harshest eyeball twists), and eventually managed to fall back to sleep.

Sometime later-- at what now can be assumed was around 6 am-- I awoke again, this time to the same type of pain, except, if possible, a hundred times worse.  I thrashed around in my bed in agony, unable to control my own body--


--for what felt like forever before I had the strength to get up and take more ibuprofen, which didn't really help.  Eventually I fell back to sleep, but then woke up shortly after to get ready for work.

I thought it was all a dream until I saw the open Costco bottle of ibuprofen on the counter.

Not realistic.

Now, David was gone from Thursday morning until Sunday, first on a religious retreat, and then away to a bachelor party.

Same thing.

So I was left to my own devices.

My left eye felt strained during the day, nothing too severe.  Certainly nothing to prevent me from having some friends over for dinner and to collectively go through "a few" bottles of wine.

What we now know is that alcohol can trigger my particular condition.

Not that one.

I can only describe what happened late Friday night/early Saturday morning as the worst pain of my entire life.  Not to get all serious on everyone, but I honestly thought at some point that I was going to die.  My above description of the pain is still accurate, but it was even worse this time.  I was sobbing hysterically, and then eventually, after getting sick in the bathroom from the pain, decided I had to get to the hospital as quickly as possible.  I made my way there in the manner of a dog determined to die in the woods instead of at home in the house.

Aw I loved Homeward Bound!

At the hospital, they ran a few tests.  We discovered that I couldn't look to the left without erupting in agony.  But, finding nothing actually wrong besides the obvious presence of pain, they assumed it was a just a migraine, that I was a big baby, gave me some percocet and sent me on my way.

Oh yeah.  They also asked me at least three times if I was the victim of domestic abuse, and if my eyelid "normally looked like that."  I had no idea what they were talking about until I looked in the mirror as I was leaving the hospital.

I may have kept you chained in that room but it was for your own good.

The entire left side of my face was swollen, and my eyelid was, as they phrased it, "drooping considerably."

I cabbed home, with the sharpness of the attacks lessened, but still dealing with, on a pain scale, what would be about equal to a high-level migraine.  Or about a 7

I slept the entire day.

And night.

Until 6 am.  When once again, my head erupted.



Katy Perry's voice!

The Angel of Death!

Shaking, I decided to let David know that I was having some health issues.

I spent the rest of the day sleeping on and off, unable to use my eyes without pain.  All lights were off and the curtains drawn; the atmosphere, as the poet noted, was of Juliet's tomb.

We'll talk of Michelangelo tomorrow.

I have never been so glad to see anyone in my life as when David walked in the door.  He decided to make a CVS run to get more drugs, and also, since we determined that it was only my left eye that seemed sensitive to any and all stimuli, an eye patch.

I know what you're thinking, but yes, that's me.

The early evening was surprisingly well, and I was hopeful that the worst was over.

Until it absolutely wasn't.

The pain began to escalate, spiking particularly around 3:30 am and once again, at 6 am.

David found me naked on the couch, wrapped in a blanket and rocking back and forth, with tears streaming from just the left eye.

Cruel night hurts us.

Soooo he brought me back to the hospital.

Perhaps not surprisingly, they recognized me.  And they did question the pirate patch.

This time, however, I was placed in an actual room, and a team of doctors rather quickly determined I was suffering from cluster headaches.

Which seems like a rather benign name for what I have been going through.

They hooked me up to an oxygen tank, along with an IV filled with saline and painkillers, and the pain went down and has not since reached that level of severity.

This is the actual picture Wikipedia uses for cluster headaches.

Anyway, cluster headaches are very rare and tend to strike men over 30.  So it was only a matter of time before we could add them to the long list of nebulous and weird things that are wrong with me.

They are nicknamed "suicide headaches" because sufferers were often put on suicide watch because of the severity of the pain.  Another nickname is "alarm clock headaches" because of their tendency to strike at the same time with clocklike accuracy and to wake sufferers from their sleep.  The attacks can last from 7 days to months, and can then either disappear completely or they can become a monthly, annual or seasonal event.  There's really no knowing what will happen to me until it happens again.

As for now, I saw a neurologist on Wednesday who confirmed the diagnosis and put me on a combination of meds, including steroids--

Still not that kind.

--a "calcium channel blocker," and pain medication.  I'm supposed to go for an MRI, and then I go back to the neurologist next Friday.  I also visited an optometrist, who confirmed that my eyes were healthy and that any of the visual anomalies I was experiencing were from the cluster headaches and not from anything wrong with my eye.

I feel almost fine right now.  Small twinges, but I haven't even had to take any of the heavy-duty pain medication today, and obviously I can be on the computer.  My apologies to any who were worried and my thanks to all who helped.  The worst part of the whole thing, aside from the obvious immediacy of the pain, was not knowing what was wrong.  At times I honestly would have believed that a) I had a brain tumor, b) my eyeball was being stabbed and twisted by a demon from the inside out, or c) my skull was rotting and the shards were piercing into my brain.  I've also never been so scared from the anticipation of pain.  It's safe to say the fear contributed to the awfulness of the whole episode.

I'll post any updates here, assuming they include at least three of the following:

  • Hospital visit
  • Demons
  • Pirate eye patch
  • Me doing an impression of a horribly disfigured movie figure
  • Calcium channel blockers

And in the meantime, we'll get back to better, more fun things.

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