Part 1. Ambulances are Cool, Right?
This is a series for Migraine Awareness Week 2020 (6th-12th September) where I give an insight into the life and experiences of someone suffering from migraines. Migraine Awareness Week is where those with the condition and other supporters raise awareness for migraines as a complex, neurological disorder instead of “just a headache”. Today is the story of my first migraine and how it ended with an ambulance ride.
Every nine-year-old child wants to break a limb or two. Yeah, it’s going to hurt but you get so much street-cred for it. You’re the special kid who gets to leave lessons early, get to the front of the lunch queue and possibly even ride in a wheelchair. You’ll be asked for the stories for weeks! And how fun are crutches? What could possibly be even cooler for a child than breaking a limb?
Riding in an ambulance.
With blue lights on.
Speeding down a dual carriage way.
Problem is, children don’t often think about what it takes to land themselves in an ambulance, let alone an ambulance with their blue lights on.
Want to know what it feels like to ride in an ambulance? The truth is: I don’t remember. The last clear memory I have of that day was being sent home from school before a spelling test. I was incredibly relieved; I can’t spell to save my life.
There are only bits and pieces I remember after that. Extreme pain in my head I had never felt before. Launching a lot of vomit across my room, covering mine and my sisters bunk beds in vomit (fun fact, I named the zone in my room which usually gets coated in vomit “chunderland”). Two paramedics trying to talk to me but their voices sounding quiet, muffled and incoherent. Insisting my cuddly toy tiger came with me, wherever we were going. Laying down in the ambulance and closing my eyes.
The next thing I remember is waking up in a hospital bed the next morning around 10am with meningitis drugs being pumped into me.
My mother would probably not describe the experience as cool either. While it was my first migraine, I was displaying typical migraine symptoms and we already knew my dad has the condition. There was a sensible reason why I was being so sick. However, the problem with migraines is that they display the same characteristics of many other illnesses. These ones are life threatening. For example, meningitis and stroke. Sometimes, a migraine and other serious illnesses can only been distinguished between by very few symptoms. For instance, meningitis can only be told apart from migraines by a high temperature and a rash. Unfortunately for my mother, my first migraine happened to coincide with me having a temperature. I also get aphasia, a rarer symptom of migraine where I can’t talk straight. This is also a symptom when someone has a serious head injury. I had managed to hit my head earlier that week.
So my mother had to call an ambulance, not knowing if her child had meningitis, a migraine or had sustained a serious head injury. I will never be able to know what my mother felt that night. If my mother developed any grey hairs around that time, they are probably all down to that night. A child being in excruciating pain and not knowing why is probably close to a mother’s worst nightmare.
After serious events, onlookers will sometimes describe the moment where they knew the person was going to be ok or maybe a moment which makes them laugh in hindsight. This moment for my mother was watching my sleepy brain wrestle with the doctors. After a serious migraine, all I want to do is sleep. However, the doctors, not knowing whether I had a migraine or not, wanted to keep me conscious. They kept shaking me and prodding me, trying to keep me awake and make sure I wasn’t dying. I was having none of it. I wanted to sleep so I was going to sleep. It got to the point where they had nearly succeeded, and I was waking up to the relief of the doctors. I do not remember this moment, but, instead of waking up my mother, the report said that I sat up, told the doctors to give me five more minutes, turned over and went back to sleep.
Luckily, this has been my only trip to hospital with a migraine. However, many others re-live such tales multiple times due to complications from a migraine or not being able to tell if it is a migraine or something more serious. It also turns out riding in an ambulance doesn’t give you much clout at school. Maybe if I’d worn a badge saying, I got to ride in an ambulance. Please be nice to me it would have been cooler. Instead, I went back to school, to the same normal routines with most of my classmates not even noticing I had gone. I went straight back to normality, even though I had received a life-changing diagnosis.
Personally, children, I would stick to the broken leg.
MIGRAINES – MORE THAN JUST A HEADACHE