I realize that this isn’t a Friday, but I have been neglecting you as I dealt with my personal series of unfortunate events. To get back to some sense of regularity, and assuage my feelings of guilt, I am going to attempt (key word) more frequent writing to get everyone up to speed. In an ideal world, my body will cooperate, but we shall see.
While I have been silent, at least as far as the blog is concerned, my family celebrated two birthdays, an anniversary, and the acquisition of a new cat. There were the health crises of two dear friends and the continuation of a protracted battle with our local school system. My other half also started more frequent and lengthy business travel, leaving me to keep the household running in some semblance of order. There were online chats and organizational meetings for an upcoming surprise or three. With the whirlwind of life events and an unusually full schedule, time seemed to race by. Now here we are, together again.
On April 2, I had the most intense pain I have probably ever felt, at least since my 2016 health crisis. In the early evening hours, after a physical therapy evaluation, my neck started to feel uncomfortable. I tried some ice first. Then, as discomfort shifted to pain and proceeded to crawl up the back of my skull, I added some medication. Within less than a half hour, I could barely see from my right eye due to black spots and rainbows (my migraine aura symptoms). It felt like the back of my head was in a continuous state of explosion and then the front right side got involved. The pain was so intense, I could barely think of anything else. Having used all my pain-relieving techniques and maxing out on my allotment of migraine rescue medication, I knew I needed help. I placed a call to my father who works nearby and another to the emergency line of my primary care physician. Within thirty minutes, I was sitting in a darkened exam room, tears streaming from my eyes as I prayed for an end to the pain.
I ultimately left the office with a prescription for a very strong anti-inflammatory and an anti-nausea medication. The goal was to avoid the Emergency Room (ER) and get me to an appointment with my neurologist the following day. Now, I realize that given the state I was in, wanting to avoid the ER sounds like I am overplaying my symptoms or just being foolish. For the first, I assure you that I am not. As for the second, I admit that it was a calculated risk and leaning towards foolish from a medical standpoint. However, if you are at all familiar with the U.S. healthcare system, I am sure that you are aware that even insured, as I am, hospital visits are horrendously expensive here.
I did make it to that neurology appointment on Tuesday morning. The pain was around an ‘8’ at that point. I described my symptoms in as much detail as I could manage, along with the unusual progression of pain. “I know what is wrong with you,” my neurologist said. In less than 10 minutes, I was diagnosed with occipital neuralgia, which you can learn more about here. Now, some of the treatments for occipital neuralgia are gabapentin, anti-inflammatories, muscle relaxers and physical therapy, all which I already utilize. So, I was offered a nerve block to help relieve my severe pain. To the uninitiated, an occipital nerve block requires a needle to the neck. (Technically, it is far more sophisticated than that, but do you really need to know more?)
I hate needles, really anything that is pointy and aimed towards my person. It goes beyond hate and firmly plants itself into the phobia category. The technical name for my specific phobia is aichmophobia, which is “a morbid fear of sharp or pointed objects (such as scissors or a needle)”. You would think that, given my foray into almost competition-style poking and prodding, I would be desensitized to a large extent. Alas, you would be wrong. So, if I ever mention that I want to be jabbed with a needle, this should be a key indicator that I have reached the very limit of my pain tolerance. I, without hesitation, accepted the nerve block.
I don’t think it is possible, at this point, to adequately describe the level of relief I experienced. It was almost immediate. There was pain that I didn’t even know existed, just from carrying it so long. My jaw unclenched for the first time in probably 15 years. It was as close to a miracle as I could ever imagine. I cried from relief and a burgeoning sense of hope for the future. The nerve block cut back on the number of headache and migraine days I had. I went from an average of two migraines a week, to one. Headache days were practically nonexistent. My neck also stopped making that incessant sound of angry crunching. (Yes, it is as gross sounding as you imagine!)
At the time of writing, I am about three weeks out. The block started losing its’ effectiveness around the two-week mark, as relief became patchy and my chronic head pain returned. In some ways, I think the return of my pain has fueled my struggles with mental health. To go from complete relief to constant pain again is a shock to the system. I will need some time to get used to that. Yesterday, I called my neurologist to update him on my pain levels and schedule another block. I will likely not receive one for another couple of months. For the time in-between, I am focusing on physical therapy, ice and heat therapy, and an increase in my gabapentin. While I am sad that I do not have perfectly long-lasting relief, I am incredibly grateful for the time I did have. It was priceless. But you know that come July, I will happily head into my neurologist’s office for another needle to the neck.