In all honesty, recent events have shaken our family. It has stripped it down to hours and days, not months and years. Although January was a tough month for illness in the family, with Cooper even visiting the ER with dehydration from a terrible stomach virus, February has been difficult in many ways. February has seen us struggling terribly with the complexities of an uncertain diagnosis for Thomas. The mystery of migraine headaches.
Thomas was diagnosed two years ago with migraine headaches following testing including MRI and vision evaluations. We explored our options for a pediatric neurologist affiliated with Seattle Children's Hospital, and felt confident in our selection of Dr. Plawner, who works through the PolyClinic in both Northgate and Downtown Seattle offices. The diagnosis came, and wasn't that shocking to us, since migraine issues run on both sides of the family. There was joy in that it wasn't a different monster lurking, such as brain cancer or other type of tumor causing his headache pain, and we were still optimistic that his headaches would be controlled and life would move on. Life settled down again with a nightly dose of a preventative medication and with a "cocktail" of rescue meds dictated by protocol developed by Children's. We had the school on board and Thomas was getting used to realizing when a headache was brewing and what he would do at school when that happened. There were some hiccups along the way, such as when a teacher would want him to "wait it out" or a substitute teacher wouldn't respond as quickly to him leaving class for his meds, but we continued to stay in close contact with the school and work through any of these situations with a good amount of confidence.
Two weeks ago found us in a very scary place....unrelenting migraines and daily headaches. He missed school, again and again, and I couldn't get any of our current meds to "break" the headache. He went to bed moaning and tossing around with a migraine, woke up in pain, with a migraine to follow that morning headache pain. He couldn't function, couldn't do his school work that he continued to fall behind in. He looked sick, his eyes droopy and dull, his face pale with darkening circles under his beautiful blue eyes. We were medicating, and I realized we were medicating too much for this to be normal. Well into the second week, in which we could do little for Thomas, I contacted the neurologist again. I was researching the web for information, searching for answers to our new situation. As I kept reading, the stories became more and more menacing. Discussions about medications with unacceptable side effects, medications that won't work, failures in the school setting, debilitating, chronic pain, disability plans, new treatments and clinical trials, international medications that aren't available in the United States yet, questionable treatment options, etc....
Self talk is a very powerful thing when confronted with such darkness. Time and time again I had to bring myself out of the situation and focus on anything positive at the moment. The hope that Thomas isn't one of the children whose headaches can't be controlled. The hope that there are still a lot of options out there to try. The hope that just because one medication doesn't work, it's not the end of hope for a normal life for him.
We were fit in to an appointment with the neurologist down in Seattle. Unfortunately, but fortunately, he was in the midst of a migraine when we were in the office. At one point, I quite clearly pointed out, "THIS is what he has looked like for two weeks now. THIS is not my son." He was tossing about under my dark black coat on the table, the lights to the exam room turned off to try to help his growing pain. She was able to see him in this state, and was clear with us that he was in a bad way, a bad spot. But with that, she also clearly stated, "We will get him through this." And that comment played itself again and again in my mind. It's funny how even such a simple statement can be a lifeline. She didn't expand on it much. She didn't offer the quick fix. She didn't throw out percentages, or timelines, or other hopeful information. Such is the way of the migraine. There are no definitives. There is no "magic pill", or if there is, it is very individualistic and quite elusive. You are lucky if you find it. You may stumble upon the magic combination, oftentimes struggling through years of trial and error on other combinations of medications, other types of hope in a bottle.
We left the office after a powerful shot of a Torodol and new prescriptions to fill. A new round of steroids, a new preventative med, a new shot at a rescue med. "We'll blast him, " the doctor said, "and hope that we can get this headache cycle to "break"." There are also no clear paths to "break" a migraine cycle. You HOPE to stay out of one, frankly. Some last weeks, some last months. Some people go to the ER time and again to take powerful meds to try to break the cycle, or give just a bit of relief. Although she didn't bog us further with any of this info, it's out there to find. People have their stories. They talk about their struggles with their children. They talk about the loss of control in their lives and their endless quest for something that works. Its frightening, it's life changing, its a surreal place to find ourselves in.