Jackhammers, Diesel Fumes, Tar and a Headache

Jackhammering. I awoke to jackhammering at 7 a.m. Not the metaphorical kind — no, my head feels more like someone is drilling for oil in my brain — but the dig-up-your-entire-neighborhood kind. Road construction complete with idling diesel engines and, the creme de la creme, tar.

Don’t these people know that I need at least eight hours of sleep and my alarm goes off at 8 a.m.? That their smells trigger bad headaches or migraines? That the cacophony of heavy equipment makes it all worse? That the beeping of the walkie talkie-like cell phones, a staple of the industry, is enough to make me tear my hair out?

Like it matters to me if the neighborhood has better water pressure and streets. Harumph.

If I were writing this yesterday, I would have reminded myself that I can’t move the roadwork, but I can make myself not unhappy. Some days grumbling is a prerequisite to finding a solution. Especially when I’m tired (because a jackhammer woke me up at 7 a.m. . . .).

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Baby Steps to Minimize the Impact of Migraines & Headaches

Not_happy_2“I’m not happy” is what my friend’s three-year-old says when another kid has something he wants. Whether he’s eying a root beer or the rocking chair, this simple statement expresses so much. Obviously something has to change to make him happy, or at the very least, not unhappy.

Since hearing him say this, I’ve replaced specific complaints with “I’m not happy.” Instead of feeling helpless in the face of pain, sensitivity to touch or any other symptom I have, another goal occupies me — to not have whatever is going on in my body or mind make me unhappy.

I can’t make any of my symptoms go away, but I can minimize their impact. I distract myself from pain by reading, listening to music (quietly) or focusing on how I’m breathing. When sensitive to touch, I sit up so nothing touches my head.

Doing what it takes to make myself not unhappy is so much easier than wrestling with Big Issues. Yes, having migraine is horrible. Worrying about it is useless. Making myself suffer even a little less is more than worthwhile.

I can’t make my migraine and chronic daily headache go away, but I can make living with them not so hard.

Can Painkillers Cause More Harm By Masking Pain?

Ben’s story in When Is a Pain Doctor a Drug Pusher?, the NY Times Magazine article I wrote about yesterday, brought up something I’d never thought through: Opioids don’t correct the problem that causes pain; they just mask the pain. Couldn’t this cause more harm than good?

Ben, a farmer for whom “. . . years of pushing 800-pound bales of hay wore out his back,” said:

“They [opioids] helped my pain. I could get out and work, use the bulldozer. I
was working a 250-head cattle herd. I was doing everything relatively
pain-free because of the drugs. They gave me my life back.”

When there is a physical cause of pain, won’t doing activities that the injury made impossible cause further degradation in the damaged area? The same areas of the body are stressed as were before, but the body’s warning system can’t do its job.

Even when pain can’t be traced to a direct physical cause, as with headache disorders and migraine, masking the pain may still be harmful.

Say I have enough pain relief to return to my previous levels of activity. The “lifestyle management” tools I use now — regular sleep, exercise, minimizing triggers, etc. — would no longer seem as important. I’d probably let them slide. Why worry about triggers if they don’t affect my daily life?

But I’d still have chronic daily headaches and migraines, I just wouldn’t feel the pain of them. Getting rid of pain would not keep chronic daily headache and migraine from doing harm in my body and brain. The potential for long-term damage remains. Also, migraine has many symptoms other than pain that a painkiller can’t treat.

On the contrary, some argue that the brain learns to be pain and gets stuck in a rut. If something no longer causes pain, then the pressure on this mechanism could let up and allow the brain climb out of it’s pain rut. If this is the case, opioids make sense.

I’m not arguing that opioids shouldn’t be available for patients who need them. (My stance is the opposite.) However, treating an illness and treating pain caused by the illness require different approaches. Getting closer to the source of the problem when possible seems the logical place to start.

Addiction is the problem child in the realm of opioids. Sometimes the quieter kid really needs the attention.

Related posts

Opioids for Chronic Pain & Questioning Pain Doctor vs. Drug Pusher

Pain specialist Ronald McIver is serving a 30 year sentence for drug trafficking. The drugs? Opioids prescribed for pain relief. NY Times Magazine looks into McIver’s case and the mess surrounding opioids for pain management.

The in-depth piece definitely supports the use of opioids for pain management. I’ve created a PDF of the article so I could highlight what jumped out at me. I didn’t highlight any details of McIver’s case.

I, too, believe that opioids should be available for people with chronic pain. However, the devil’s advocate in me jumped on a bunch of thoughts that I hope to explore this week:

  • Not feeling the body’s pain signals isn’t necessarily good.
  • The effects of longterm opioid use aren’t well known. Most research has been with cancer patients, who do not use the drugs for extended periods.
  • Building tolerance is not only your body getting use to the drug (called desensitization), but becoming more sensitive to pain overall, not just the pain that you are specifically treating.
  • When most patients (and some doctors) feel like they’ve tried
    everything, they haven’t. Often other treatments should be considered
    before turning to opioids.

Just reading this list may raise your ire. Please give me a chance to write about the topics before jumping down my throat. We’ll be able to have a more thorough discussion that way.

Weird Things Meme

Deborah from Weathering Migraine Storms tagged me with the weird things meme. Bloggers who get tagged have to write about six weird things about themselves and then tag other bloggers to do the same. It’s taken way too long to come up with my list, but here goes.

  1. I like orange juice that’s so thick you can eat it with a spoon. That
    watery orange liquid that claims to be orange juice is an insult to
  2. My alarm clock has to be set so the minutes are divisible by the hour. All through high school, the alarm went off at 6:36 a.m. I have no idea how this started, but it’s kinda fun.
  3. Toilet paper that has the end folded to a point (like at hotels) grosses me out. I can go without the seat cover in public bathrooms, but someone manipulating my toilet paper is too much.
  4. Honey is my preferred condiment for french fries. A friend turned me on to this at Houston’s. It works particularly well with the spices they use, but it’s good on any restaurant’s fries.
  5. I almost always sit with my legs crossed under me — what was called Indian style when I was a kid. In my desk chair, on the couch, at the dining table, sometimes even in the car. When my knees start to hurt, I stretch my legs out, but always have them crossed again within five minutes.
  6. I dedicated my thesis to my dog. I got her right after I started my master’s program and she died four months before I graduated. She got me through a lot and I missed her terribly.

I’m tagging folks writing headache blogs that I’ve just learned
about. Most of them are new bloggers and all of them write interesting
posts. I’m looking forward to learning more about the people behind the

If you’ve been tagged, here are the rules:

“Each player of this game starts with the ‘6
Weird Things about You.’ People who get tagged need to write a post of
their own 6 weird things as well as state this rule clearly. In the
end, you need to choose 6 people to be tagged and list their names.
Don’t forget to leave a comment that says ‘you are tagged’ in their
comments and tell them to read your blog!”

Expert Answers to Questions About Migraine & Headaches

Teri Robert and John Claude Krusz, a neurologist and headache expert, have been hard at work on answering patients’ questions about migraine and other headache disorders. You can learn a lot by poking around in the previous answers or ask your own questions.

All Types of Art Submissions Requested for Migraine Book

Betsy Blondin, an editor and writer who has migraine, is compiling and editing all types of migraine art to publish in a coffee table-style artistic and creative book about migraine. She describes the project as:

I have wanted to publish a book like this for many years to provide another way for people with migraines (and those who live with them!) to share their expressions of migraine with others and to help promote awareness to people without migraines that organizations and sites/blogs such as yours have long been doing. I am particularly interested in helping to illustrate the positive and uplifting moments and events in the lives of people with migraines, because I feel that while migraine is horrendous, it doesn’t define who we are all the time.

Here’s my Web site page about the project: http://www.wordmetro.com/projects.html, and I’m attaching submission guidelines for the book for your information. I am offering a nominal fee to contributors whose work is accepted for the book.

The submission guidelines are below. You may e-mail Betsy with questions about the project.

Migraine: Expressions
Writing and Art Submission Guidelines

Thank you for considering contributing your creative writing and art to this migraine art book project. My hope is not only to help promote an awareness of the impact migraines have on our lives, but also to illustrate hope and positive events and to share how much we all do and accomplish. Although migraine is a huge part of our lives, it doesn’t define who we are.

For All Submitted Works

  • Please include your name, location, contact information, and a little bit about yourself with any submission.
  • If your work is accepted for publication, you will receive more details and an agreement to sign (you will retain ownership of your work and receive a fee). Artists and authors will be asked to confirm that the submission is their original work, that they own the rights to it and are therefore free to license us to print it in the book.

For Written Works: Quotes, Poetry, Prose (Essays, Short Stories)

  • Prose should be 2,500 words or less.
  • Written material can be e-mailed to migraine@wordmetro.com as attachments, preferably in Word documents or saved as plain text or rich text format.
  • Please edit your work prior to submission. If your creative piece is accepted but needs editing, we will contact you.

For Works of Art: Drawings, Paintings, Photographs, or Other Media

  • Please send print/high-resolution (minimum 300 dpi, 4 to 5 inches) digital files of photographs or scanned work, preferably saved as jpg files.
  • Smaller files can be e-mailed to migraine@wordmetro.com, and larger files (more than 5 by 7 inches) can be mailed on disk to Word Metro, P.O. Box 984, Carlsbad, CA 92018.

I hope you’ll consider submitting something. I’m trying to figure out what mine will be, but will let you know what it is when I do.

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