I am one of the 18 percent of American women who get recurrent debilitating migraine headaches, also called vascular headache. The term migraine is derived from the Greek word hemikraina meaning half the head. They are characterized by throbbing and pulsating pain caused by the activation of nerve fibers that reside within the wall of brain blood vessels traveling within the meninges (membranes surrounding the brain). Blood vessels narrow, temporarily, which decreases the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain. This causes other blood vessels to open wider and increase blood flow.
The type of migraine headaches I was diagnosed with is called Migraine with aura. This is a condition where early symptoms begin, before the devastating pain (prodome stage). The ears begin to ring, dizziness sets in, zigzag lines appear before my eyes, body tingling, and an intense sensitivity to light. Then one side of my head begins to quickly get excruciating burning pain which is accompanied with nausea and vomiting.
My family physician had prescribed the medication Treximet to take at the first sign of a headache. For a while it helped, and after a few months the medication was not as efficient and the pain did not completely subside. When I was having a stressful day at work, I was not able to take the medication because it made me extremely drowsy and it was unsafe to drive home, so I would either have to leave work to take the medicine or if I waited until a later time, my headache would turn into a full blown attack and I would end up being rushed to the emergency room.
Since I had just got a job promotion as a supervisor for the accounting department, I was not in any position to take time off work so I decided I would just deal with the headaches as they came the best I could and as my last resort, leave work, take time off to take my medicine and hope I would not get a phone call at home needing my assistance.
One morning while sitting at my desk, I felt dizzy and things looked foggy and jumbled. I knew a bad migraine headache was quickly on its way. I began to hurry up with my work so I could leave before lunch. I felt like I was slowly moving outside of my body and just going through motions in a fog. When I called my supervisor to let her know I was going to leave, my words did not sound like I wanted them to come out. The director came into my office and I realized that my left arm and left leg had become numb and was paralyzed. My supervisor looked at me in horror and told me I didn’t look well and noticed the left side of my face was drooping. When I tried to get up I fell to the ground.
An ambulance was called and I was rushed to the hospital and was told that I was having a stroke. I was diagnosed with atriovenus malformation or AVM. That is when a tangle of blood vessel bypasses and diverts blood directly from arteries (carry blood away from the heart to deliver oxygenated blood to the body) to veins (thin walled blood vessels that drain deoxygenated blood from capillary beds of the body and delivers it back to the right atrium for pumping back into the lungs to be re-oxygenated), which can cause damage to the blood vessel walls. The AVM ruptured and caused bleeding into the brain.
I was told this is the reason I had suffered migraine headaches for such a long time. If I had been properly diagnosed with further intense testing, a stroke may have been prevented. Doctors had to remove a piece of my brain during surgery and wasn’t sure if I would survive.
Luckily I survived the 16 hours surgery and spent 40 days in intensive care and then I was moved to a 24 hour rehabilitation center for 11 months to relearn how to do the simplest things like eating, walking, and speaking. Everything I knew was gone.
My road to recovery came with many hurdles, but in the end I realized that we cannot always control what happens to us, but we can control how we handle the situation that cannot be prevented. One of the things I had learned while in recovery is the simple warning signs of a stroke
S = SPEECH, or any problem with language
T = TINGLING, or any numbness in the body
R = REMEMBER, or any problems with memory
O = OFF BALANCE, problems with coordination
K = KILLER HEADACHE
E = EYES, or any problem with vision
STROKE is a medical emergency
call 9-1-1 immediately
Since the recovery of my stroke, I do not allow stress to dominate my life and do not take any second of my precious life for granted. I still work, but also have begun to practice gentle yoga twice a week, take daily walks, and when I have a persisting medical problem, I don’t just take medication to cover up the symptoms, I find out what is the root cause of the problem. I realize that tomorrow is a gift, because I am a stroke survivor.