The Honest Migraine’s (THM) interview this month is with Lauren, a neurological intensive care RN. Lauren specializes in neurology, neurosurgery, migraines, headaches, strokes, brain tumors and other trauma related to brain and spine.
Lauren’s experience with migraine started very early on in her life, well before her formal education. Her first experience with migraine was watching her Dad continuously suffer from them.
“I remember finding him, several times a month, with a towel wrapped around his head and eyes, moaning and holding his head,” she said. “He suffered from photophobia (sensitivity of the eyes to light); noise bothered him, and he had pounding head pain.”
It wasn’t until Lauren got older that she “realized the severity migraine sufferers deal with.” This personal experience, in addition to her education, has equipped her with tremendous empathy in helping patients in the hospital.
It wasn’t until she was in her late 20s that she suffered from migraines herself. “Prior to that, I would only have a headache here or there,” she said.
The statistics are staggering. “Migraine leads to more than 1.2 million visits to emergency departments in the United States.” (Source: National Headache Foundation, https://headaches.org/2018/01/16/individuals-migraine-presenting-emergency-department-often-return/ ).
In the ICU, Lauren has “worked with people who have suffered with migraines for years and have tried many medications.” In some cases, she said, “A doctor will order a CT scan or an MRI. Patients that are suffering from or have suffered a traumatic brain injury or an infection such as meningitis or a brain abscess are also treated in the Neuro ICU and migraines are frequently one of their current or chronic symptoms and illnesses.”
When helping treat a migraine sufferer in the ICU, Lauren said the goal is to “try to control the pain and symptoms the patient has. This is usually done with medications, applying heat or ice, calming the environment, and dimming the lights.”
She confirmed that photophobia is commonly experienced by the migraine sufferers she helps treat.
We, as migraine sufferers, know just how much light can impact us. The American Academy of Ophthalmology identifies the migraine connection with sensitivity to light: “About 80 percent of people who have migraines have photophobia.”
The pain a migraine sufferer experiences in the hospital is not a one-way street. Lauren says as a nurse, “At times you feel helpless watching someone in this kind of pain. I focus on helping patients as quickly as I can.” Being empathetic, she wants the pain to subside right away for her patients.
In addition to any necessary scans a doctor may order, depending on a patient’s health conditions, Lauren explained that certain protocol must be followed in the hospital. “A chronic migraine sufferer might be in for pain and worsening symptoms, but it is important that we make sure there isn’t another medical condition occurring – like a brain tumor, stroke or infection that could be appearing like a migraine. We need to be sure we get clear lab tests. We also do diagnostic imaging and testing such as MRI, CT scan, EEG, diagnostic cerebral angiography and more as required,” she explained.
Accepting this thorough medical work up / exam is imperative for all of us. I know I am tremendously thankful for physicians that truly leave no stone left unturned. It provides peace of mind and can prove where the problem is originating.
Once any other medical conditions have been ruled out and if the patient is diagnosed with a migraine, the patient is provided with a “migraine cocktail,” Lauren explained. “It often consists of antiemetics (anti-nausea, anti-vomiting drugs) like Compazine® (which also has an anti-anxiety element) or Phenergan® (also has an antihistamine element), NSAIDS like Toradal®, steroids (Dexamethasone®), and/or an IV of magnesium.” Another procedure that can be administered in the hospital are “nerve blocks.”
This interview with an RN who dedicates her life to helping others is just a reminder to all migraine sufferers, anyone that struggles with a chronic condition, or for loved ones that surround a patient – that you are not in this alone.
There are some very compassionate and dedicated medical professionals by your side to help you achieve a better quality of life.
*The drugs listed above include very limited information. As always, questions should be directed to a physician regarding these medications, their benefits and known side effects.
Coming next: Discover the hidden blessings in change