Headaches – I’ve had migraines ever since I hit puberty – hormones are a necessary, but unpleasant part of life. I’ve had headaches because I clench my teeth from stress. I’ve had headaches because I spent 14 years staring at a computer screen all day and eventually most nights. I’ve had headaches because of my allergies clogged up my sinuses. Headaches were a regular thing – some minor, some not. I’m no stranger to a headache. Did I have more leading up to my Brain Surprise? I honestly can’t say. BUT, I’ve had some doozies since.
For those of you unfamiliar with a craniotomy – it involves shaving some hair off (did I mention that my neurosurgeon was kind? He – or rather, one of his steady handed residents – shaved only what he needed to and what my other hair would largely cover post surgery.) They remove part of your skull to get in there to do what they need to do. They reattach that piece of skull with magic. Ok, it’s not magic, but that sounds way more exciting than wires and screws or whatever they actually used – some things deserve to be a mystery. They stitch you back up. Turns out – this hurts. Oh, and the part where they’ve cut part of your brain out? That hurts too.
About a week after surgery, I had a migraine. Of course, at the time we didn’t know that’s what was causing my head to feel like it would explode. I’d just had brain surgery and was on some delicious opiates. We called the doctor and he told us to increase the Percocet – to manage the ‘post-surgery headache’ I was experiencing. It got worse. So off we went to the Emergency Room. If you’ve just had brain surgery and the pain medicine isn’t working, they insist on ruling out a brain bleed, brain swelling, stroke – requiring lots of expensive tests and hours in the VERY bright, VERY loud ER. When you’ve suffered from migraines most of your life, you feel really silly when the ER doctor and the neurosurgeons say – after hours in the ER and after a CT scan and after blood tests – ‘it’s a migraine.’ At that point, it becomes quite obvious. What we didn’t know was that opiates exacerbate a migraine. We were putting gasoline on a fire. The good thing about it being a migraine is the fact that a simple shot in the belly takes the pain away in under 5 minutes – like magic!
The next big one was during my 6 week chemorad (chemo+radiation). Going through radiation causes your brain to swell. When you consider for a moment what radiation is, this perhaps seems obvious. They asked me weekly ‘have you had any headaches?’ Every week I said, ‘no, not anything serious.’ This time we KNEW headaches from radiation were a possibility. So, why was it a surprise when I got a headache and it started to get serious? I have no idea. Another phone call to the doctor. He put me on steroids to control the swelling and the headache went away. Luckily I was able to taper off quickly as my brain shrunk back down to normal size.
I haven’t had anything more than a minor headache since.