Project Nesso, Chapter 1: Backstory, Tests, Scans, and Drugs

“The basic quality that any great story must have is a story that illustrates the human condition.”  William Shatner (http://www.brainyquote.com)

Somewhere around 2003 it finally dawned on me that getting a headache every day wasn’t normal.  I asked my regular physician about it, and he suggested some common triggers to look for.  Over the next 10 years, most of those triggers would be removed from my environment one way or another – I stopped eating some specific foods, I changed jobs (and therefore my work environment), and so on.  The headaches only worsened.

Then during a 2013 vacation, I realized that my headaches had been progressively starting earlier and earlier in the day, until I found myself waking up with them.  For headaches, “chronic” is defined as having one 15 or more days per month.  I was now getting them every day, all day long.  I decided to get serious about finding out what was going on.

In September of that year, I started with my general physician again, who prescribed a few different drugs to try – Propranolol, Sumatriptan, and Topiramate.  Even after a couple of months, they didn’t seem to have any effect.

About the same time, I found out something new about my family history.  When I was a teen, my grandmother starting having seizures, and the doctors found that she was bleeding from the brain.  She was diagnosed with a stroke.  After her hospital stay, she returned home only to have another seizure.  The doctors looked again and found it was a tumor – not her brain, per se – that was bleeding.  Surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy were unfortunately not enough to knock it out completely, and she eventually died.  What I found out in January of 2014 was that in the years leading up to her first seizure, my grandmother suffered from daily headaches.  My grandmother – never one to complain and always serving everyone else before herself – never saw a doctor about the headaches.  She simply endured them.

I became very worried about my own headaches.

My doctor then referred me to a neurologist, who first referred me to an ophthalmologist for an eye exam.  When that didn’t turn up anything out of the ordinary, the neurologist ordered an MRI.   The MRI also turned up nothing – no tumors, growths, hemorrhaging, or signs of a stroke.  That was a huge weight off my chest.  We had just ruled out the “big” bad things.

The neurologist also took me off the initial drugs, and tried a couple of additional ones – Diclofenec and Amitriptylin.  Like before, those had no effect.  He then referred me to an ear-nose-and-throat, or ENT, doctor.  If my brain was fine, perhaps my sinuses or something else in my head was to blame.  My ENT ordered a CT scan and an X-ray.  Again – nothing.

My ENT ordered a series of sleep studies.  Perhaps I suffered from sleep apnea, or some other condition that was preventing me from getting a good night’s sleep.  Yet again – nothing.

By November of 2014, my ENT had decided that there wasn’t anything he could do for me.  At this point, having spent over a year being poked, prodded, scanned and drugged, I called a time-out.  I needed a new approach to this problem.

If I couldn’t find the cause of my headaches, could I identify things that made them better or worse?  Could I gain even a measure of control over them?  2015 would be the year that I would try to do just that.

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