Migraines and How I was Saved by the Bell

Just shy of a year ago, I wrote a story about my ordeal with migraines which served to spread awareness on migraines and hopefully find someone out there who had found a solution to all this pain. I can say I accomplished the first, the latter not so much.

From the time of that article (June 2015) till last week, the migraines had become worse. More than worse. Inexplicable pain had become a daily affair. The good days became fewer and fewer. On my pain scale of 0 — no pain, to 10 — mother of all pain, this past year I have averaged an 8. My best day was a 5. My worst day was an 11, that had me rolling on the floor wriggling in pain, not knowing what to do.

2016

I pegged the little hope I had left on the new year and believed 2016 would be my year, the year things finally change after 5 years of extreme pain. What I got instead was the complete opposite. In all my life living with migraines, the past four months have been absolutely unequivocally the worst.

January to April 2016 was filled with so much pain,I honestly lack the words to describe what I have been feeling. It was the sort of pain that transcends the physical and starts breaking you as a human being. The pain was so much that it took me to the depths of depression, all my thoughts became negative and I even had suicidal thoughts. I lost all hope and my willpower was gone, those were the last 2 things I had going for me. I said whatever happens, happens that’s how I lived life.

The people around me showered me with love and care. They did everything they could to make me smile but I was past that point. I gave them a wry smile and answered “I’m okay’’ simply because I didn't want to burden them with all the things going on inside me.

The Hospital Admission

On April 14th, I couldn’t take it anymore, so I asked my mother to take me for admission at Nairobi Hospital. The pain was fluctuating between a 9 and a 10. They immediately put me on a painkiller drip and a slew of tablets whose details I didn't care to ask about. My neurologist, while trying to take care of the pain, brought in a psychologist to try help me sleep. 14 days later, so many drips and hundreds of tablets later, I was still at the same level 9–10 and not getting more than 30 minutes of sleep.

My neurologist decided to bring in a pain specialist, Dr. Otieno, to the team. He threw in more meds but after 2 days they’d made no difference. That was when he had an epiphany and suggested that the best thing for my type of chronic migraine would be a Botox procedure. I was okay with it so we scheduled the procedure.

Botox

Sidebar: In 2014 December, I’d gone to India for the same Botox procedure because at the time we couldn’t find anyone locally who could carry it out. It gave me 2 months of pain free days. It is meant to be repeated but it just wasn’t financially viable, considering insurance did not cover it.

Migraine injection points

To explain this Botox procedure: You get 31 injections at different, very specific points around your head. The theory is that Botox works by blocking the release of certain chemicals and the movement of certain nerves and muscles.

Some notes:

  • the Botox treatment only works for those with chronic migraines — people who experience more than 15 days of migraines a month
  • it has a 50/50 percent chance on working so it’s not guaranteed
  • it only works for a period of time then you have to do it again or the migraines are back.
  • the whole procedure takes under an hour depending on how the patient responds to the pain of the injections

So the day of the procedure came. I was told there would be 31 injections in total. I braced myself and we started. The ones on the forehead are not really painful. The ones at the back of the head and neck, however, are a world of hurt. I will not lie — those injections were so painful, they could make a grown man cry. After about 30 minutes, we were done and I was back to the ward.

The Results of the Botox Procedure

I was given some sleeping pills and allowed to rest. I was mostly just resting in bed. However, when I woke up, something was different. The pain had gone down, to about a 5. This was a miracle. That night, I was given my regular meds and something additional for sleep. At about 10pm, I called it a night. I wasn’t really expecting much in the way of sleep. The next morning, when I woke up, looked at my watch, it was 7am. My goodness, I had slept for a whole 9 hours, 9 hours!! Since 2008, on a good day, I got 4 hours of sleep. This was 9 hours of glorious peaceful sleep.

Botox is not a cure per se, consider it medication that just lasts long. Yes I know I have to repeat the Botox every 3 months and that will cost quite a bit of money. But as long as I can keep buying an extra 3 to 4 months of zero or very little pain, I will make sure I’m always on time. Ignoring that means chronic migraines, and no, we don’t want that.

Two weeks ago, pain had reduced me to a weak, spineless zombie of a man with no future to look forward to.. I was the depressed guy with one very little ember of hope and no willpower. Now I’m the normal guy. I sleep 8 hours a day. I wake up smiling instead of rushing for my pain meds. I can do all the little things that people do but take for granted. I can open my curtains. I can listen to music. I can play games. I no longer have to take 21 tablets a day to stay sane. I can go out on a date with my girlfriend. I can interact with my friends. I can hang out with friends. I can sit on the balcony without being scared of the glowing sun.

As I’m writing this I’m smiling. Looking at life from a whole new angle. Now I’m the guy who’s full of life and more than enough hope to go around. Hope that I can have a future, hope that I can plan things and make them happen, hope that soon I can start going back to work. Hope that I can do anything I want. And all this took was figuring out a way to reduce/take away the pain. Oh, now I can also say I’ve had some work done :-) As I sit right now, I am on day two of no pain at all.I’m taking it easy as I still get used to this new feeling. But my goodness, I am loving every moment of it.

So if you suffer from chronic migraines, I urge you to give Botox a try. It may or may not work, but when you’ve been living in pain for so long, it doesn’t hurt to try.

NB: I would like to state that migraines still have no cure