So about 10 years ago I wake up in this intense pain. Just indescribable. My head is going to explode. I go to the nearest hospital and they do a spinal tap, MRI, CAT Scan, blood tests, and some X-Rays. They’re all clean. They ask about my family history. My mother gets Migraines. “Ah, that’s probably it.” They want to admit me to make sure it’s not anything else but my HMO won’t pay for it. I’m sent home with some Vicodin and that’s the end of it for another 4 or 5 months.
Then it happens again and I’m sent to a neurologist who makes the formal diagnosis. It is Migraine. I’m given more Vicodin to take for the pain.
They keep coming. First, every 4 months, then 2, then weekly, then daily. Eventually it’s just one big constant headache.
Migraine is more than just head pain though. Along with a sharp stabbing pain next to my eye, I get sensitivity to light and sound, dizziness, confusion, muscle spasms, fatigue, nausea. Sometimes I’ll get minor aphasia, the inability to put together sentences. In about half my Migraines I get Aura before the pain. Aura is a visual sensation – I see it even with my eyes closed. (Press your finger against your eye, it looks like that.) It doesn’t hurt; it’s actually very pretty. The dizziness is awful and I have to stop driving.
The pain was unbearable. As I said, my mother has Migraine. When my younger brother was born the doctor was late and my father had to deliver him. She wasn’t able to get any pain medication. Comparing the pain to Migraine, she says the childbirth was a lot easier, and a lot less painful.
Every couple of weeks it would get so bad I couldn’t stand it and I’d go down to the Emergency Room for some Demerol. I think during that 18 month period I went about 15 times. They’d have me tell them my pain on a scale of 1 – 10. During that time my pain was never less than a seven or eight. When it got to 9 I’d go down to the ER.
10 on the scale was “the worst pain you’ve ever experienced”. I’ve only ever had 4 or 5 “10s” in my life. The Vicodin did nothing; the Demerol only took the edge off. The only thing I could do was cry out to God to either take the pain away or just kill me. I really didn’t care which one. I just wanted the pain to stop.
Although I was in the worst pain of my life, something amazing happened. As I sat there and prayed I physically felt the presence of God – a hand on my back. And then the pain would lessen. Not completely, but to a point that I could handle it. I’d be okay until the next day. I’ll tell you this: I believe in God, if for nothing else, because of those 4 or 5 headaches.
So I just kept trying different things. Every three months I saw my neurologist and they’d try a different set of drugs. Eventually I switched to a nuero smart enough to get me off Vicodin and that helped tremendously. It took a while, but I got it down to about one headache (attack) per week. A great improvement.
Getting rid of that last weekly attack took some work. I received tons of advice. Hypnosis, chiropractors, acupuncture, an All Orange Juice Diet! My church meant well but wasn’t much help. Didn’t I know that if I just ASKED for healing, I would be healed?
I don’t remember whose idea it was but about 2 years ago someone suggested yet another idea: bicycling. I had an old mountain bike so for a week I rode in the mornings before work. The first day I rode one mile and was so out of shape I threw up from exertion. But that very first weekend I noticed a decrease in pain in my weekly weekend attack.
A friend of mine owns a bike shop. I paid him a visit and went home with a new 2004 Trek 1000C. I continued to ride every morning eventually getting up to 5 miles a day. I knew it was helping and I tried to ride as much as I could.
In mid 2005 my neurologist took me off one of my primary medications. The effects were awful. I had to take a week off work and I wound up in the Emergency Room. Of course, I couldn’t ride. The headaches came back but I attributed it to the switch of medications, not the lack of riding.
In late 2005 I moved from California to Georgia. I didn’t ride at all in December 2005 while packing up the house and finishing up at my office. Christmas Eve I wound up at the Emergency Room again. Slowly I was starting to see that there was a stronger relation between cycling and Migraine attacks then I had previously thought.
I started to log when I got attacks and when I rode. I thought “I should make a web site for this”. But then Ian Smith beat me to it and made Joe’s Goals. It was just what I would have made! (No, really!) I switched to using Joe’s Goals for my logging.
Every three months I see a neurologist. They always ask, “What causes your Migraines; what makes them worse; what makes them better?” It’s different for everyone. I’ve mentioned to them before that bicycling makes them better. The response was, “Exercise makes you healthier? Well, duh!” But last time I printed out the Joe’s Goals 90 Day Report.
The results surprised both of us; me and my neuro:
Let me explain the graph. The green is positive, the red is negative. Joe gives me one point for waking up on time (also known to help stop my Migraines), he gives me another point for cycling. I get negative points for having a Migraine, another for having to take medication for a Migraine, and another for having to take stronger medication (Vicodin) for a Migraine.
Joe’s Goal’s report clearly shows that every Migraine attack corresponds exactly to a time when I stopped cycling. Furthermore, there are only two times when I had a Migraine on the same day that I went cycling. Each dip in the report, for a Migraine, corresponds to a time when I stopped cycling for one reason or another.
My neuro also rides a road bike, so I thought he’d be interested in this. He looked at the graph a bit and then said, “Why would you ever stop cycling?” I jokingly replied: “I’m very very lazy.” Truthfully I think I’m just not making cycling enough of a priority.
My doctor makes a good point, and I think it took Joe’s Goals to reveal it. Why would I ever stop cycling? I try not to. Since moving to Georgia I’ve found myself riding in 100 degrees and 30 degrees, humidity, storms, and next to all kinds of road kill. And I love it. I finish every single ride thinking, “Man that was a blast!”
I have no plans to stop. I’m convinced the more consistent I am with riding the less frequent the attacks will be. This has been my best month so far, I’ve ridden 6 days a week with only 3 exceptions. I’ve only had one Migraine this month; for the first time in 10 years I went 20 days without an attack. As I mentioned before, last year was the first year in 10 years that I haven’t been to the Emergency Room. I never imagined the solution to my problem would be something so simple and enjoyable. But I thank God every day that it is.
It’s been 10 years and a very hard journey, but it’s giving me faith and an undeniable belief that I wouldn’t have known otherwise.