In the Beginning

I’m going to back up a little and explain how I got here.  You don’t just wake up in a hospital with extreme shortness of breath.  My journey started about three years before I landed in the hospital.  I don’t know if my particular path is unique or not, but it is not unusual for a PH patient to experience years of misdiagnoses and apparently unrelated health issues before the docs finally figure out what’s really going on.

Perhaps I should emphasize this point: no doctor has ever drawn a line between my early problems and pulmonary hypertension, but it seems to me extremely likely that they are related.

I had been getting bad tension headaches for a couple years but very rarely, maybe only two or three times a year, and they always yielded to three Tylenol and an early night.  During the summer of 2005, I was working a lot (I’m a freelance book editor) and serving as president of a local community group.  It was a very stressful time, and frankly I wasn’t surprised that I was getting those headaches more frequently—and that they were increasing in intensity.  I started seeing a general practitioner (GP) about them.

In May 2006 I had my first granddaddy of a migraine.  I had always had sympathy for people who get migraines regularly, but that was when I first truly understood what it’s like.  I started getting them more regularly.  They were of the “textbook” variety and included the full range of misery: visual disturbances, sensitivity to light and scent, and—well, let’s just say I kept a bucket handy.  Migraines arrived with more and more frequency and greater intensity, pain that brought me to tears, pleading for stronger meds, something, anything that would make them go away.  I began to understand why people coping with chronic pain consider suicide (thank goodness I wasn’t quite that hopeless yet myself).

In August, I had a migraine every day for sixteen days in a row.  I had already put my volunteer activities on a back burner, and I reluctantly stopped working as well.  Dishes and laundry piled up.  I simply couldn’t function.  Even on days without a migraine, I always felt exhausted.

Throughout all this, my GP and I tried a variety of meds.  Nothing really helped.  I kept asking her, “Why does an otherwise reasonably healthy thirty-eight-year-old woman suddenly start getting migraines?  Why?”  She wasn’t so concerned about the why (mostly, I think, because the possibilities were endless); she focused on trying to make them stop, which was fine with me!  But having no success, she finally threw her hands up and referred me to a neurologist.

The neurologist discovered my blood pressure was through the roof, which surprised the daylights out of me—it had always been so good that nurses would compliment me on it!  She started me on blood pressure medication, with additional orders to stop all pain medication. “Not even a baby aspirin!” she instructed.  (Turns out I was having rebound headaches in addition to the migraines.)  I had my last “textbook” migraine on Superbowl Sunday, 2007 (wish I had known that then; I would have thrown a “going away” party).  From there, the headaches tapered off slowly over the summer.

Migraines: fixed!  Time to move on with my life, right?  Nope.

Published in: on 12 September 2009 at 6:40 pm  Leave a Comment  
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