I Can Never Be a Drug Addict…

Though I’m feeling kinda high now! Have just overcome the absolute worst ‘headache’ I’ve ever had. Actually, I don’t think I’m gonna call them that (at least when they’re this bad) because the term somehow diminishes their seriousness.

It started on Tuesday evening, after a week of a flu / eye infection likely caused by the flu, while I was writing my last blog entry as a matter of fact, and consisted of a tightness in my left temple extending out to the center of my face. I took my regular Excedrin (which cuts off my minor headaches, especially when taken with Coke — nothing else works, and I’ve tried every over-the-counter drug there is, many many times). But Excedrin didn’t respond, and the next morning I woke up with real pain – tightness all around my head and now a pulsing in the left temple where the pain had originated. After another dose of Excedrin and a cup of coffee did nothing, I took a Maxalt (migraine drug) tablet. Two hours later, after literally feeling the blood drain from the upper half of my body (I HATE Maxalt’s side effects: it works on your migraine, which is a headache resulting from enlarged blood vessels bringing blood to your brain, by constricting those vessels, thereby reducing the blood supply to your head — a medical authority must deem you not at risk for stroke or heart attack before you’re given the drug needless to say…), the throbbing pulsing pain began to recede. But the tightness was still all around, and it felt like something was lodged in my sinus cavity, where my ear canal meets my throat (I had a sore throat and my ear needed “popping” as an effect of the flu). I waited until the lightheadedness, or ‘light upperbodiness’ rather, subsided, then somehow got myself to the subway, and on to work. About five hours later, the Maxalt began to wear off and the pulsing began again. I tried to follow it up with Excedrin, but to no avail. I took another Maxalt; this one did absolutely nothing, except make me feel the drain of blood from waist up. I took another (you can take up to three in a 24-hour period, but no more under ANY circumstances — I don’t like taking a single one to tell the truth), and this one had a minor effect. Tightness was slowly turning into sharp shooting pain, and throbbing was diminished but still there. I didn’t want to leave work and navigate the subway in such a condition — either with the increasingly excruciating pain or the upper body bloodlessness. My sweet co-worker and friend Denise (a fellow dancer, by the way — she does belly!) suffers migraines and insisted on accompanying me home. By the time I got home, the pain was horrendous — I felt shots of pain searing straight through my skull from side to side, and more pulsing in my left temple. The doctor who I’d seen on Monday for the sinus / flu / eye problem told me he’d be on call 24 hours until my regular doc returned, so, I called him. He said it sounded like sinus, since that was my original problem, and to focus on decongestants and not the Maxalt, and, as horrid as such a suggestion sounded in the heat wave, to take a very steamy bath — I really needed to clear my sinuses. I did as he said, and, unbelievably, while in the shower I did feel some relief, despite my 94 degree airconditionerless apartment. But when I got up to my loft to go to sleep, there was no way in hell my head was going near that pillow. I had to sit completely upright or it would feel like either the veins in my left temple, or the gunk trapped in my ear canal — I couldn’t tell which was the more apt characterization of the pain — were going to burst right out of the left side of my head, leaving blood and mucus and who knows what else all over the pillow. Seriously, I don’t mean to be gross. I was really scared I wouldn’t wake up if I fell asleep. Instead, I spent the night crying because of the, now 30-hour-long searing, pulsing,horrible pain, never knowing when it would end.

I waited for 9 a.m. to roll around, then called doctor’s office right away, making an emergency appointment for 2 p.m. But when I got to work, I couldn’t take it any longer. Finding me propped against the bathroom wall with a wet paper towel glued to my head, a co-worker asked what was wrong and I burst out crying. Another co-worker emerged from another stall and insisted I go to the hospital; head pain just shouldn’t be that bad unless there is something serious going on. Both wonderful women walked to my office with me and waited while I phoned the doctor to tell him if he couldn’t take me in now, I’d have to go to the hospital. The receptionist said to come in right away. Alexis and Lisa, and now Jonathan, another co-worker and friend from down the hall, helped me pack my things, turn off my computer, and get downstairs and safely into a taxi.

Doctor couldn’t figure me out. Which doesn’t surprise me since even my neurologist has never diagnosed my head pain precisely. She (neurologist) has insisted they’re some form of migraine because I respond at least somewhat to Maxalt, which supposedly only works on migraines, although no one in my family has ever had a migraine and they’re supposedly very hereditary, and although the pain that prevents me from lying my head down or holding it in any other position than upright is symptomatic of sinus congestion, whereas migraineurs typically wish to lie down on the side of the head from which the pain is emanating). Neurologist surmised that I had combination migraine and tension headaches. My allergist, however, says they’re likely almost completely sinus based, since I do have a deviated septum and other chronic sinus problems, and my sinus headaches are simply turning into migraines. My regular primary care doctor thinks they’re actual sinus infections and always gives me antibiotics, which may or may not work — they’re usually gone by the time I’m done with the penicillan. And, this doctor first thought it was sinus since I’d just had the flu, but upon seeing how much pain I was in in his office, decided they had to be something more; sinus pain couldn’t be that severe. He suggested possible temporal cluster headaches, which have both a sinus and migraine element but are tremendously uncommon in women (unlike migraines) and usually cause pain in the face, not the temple. He also said it might be neuralgia. Was in too much pain to even ask what that was, and I really more than anything desperately needed to be free of at least the searing pain. It had been over two days now. He said he wanted to send me for a sinus x-ray to see exactly what was going on in my sinus cavity, which was definitely a good idea, but there was simply no way in my state I could get myself around Manhattan. I couldn’t see cars coming at me on the streets, couldn’t read street signs very well — my equilibrium was completely off, I was having a hard time walking a straight line, and I was easily becoming disoriented. Normally, head pain associated with these symptoms would be a sign of a possible stroke or brain hemorrage, but since I’ve had the pain before (albeit not as bad) and since sinus conditions are also associated with loss of equilibrium and disorientation, he just didn’t take it seriously. He said after my x-ray, he’d place an order of Codeine — a narcotic drug that was so powerful it’d be sure to knock me out, which would be waiting for me at my pharmacy, a whole 50 blocks from his office. Okay, fine, but I need an injection before I leave, I told him. He looked up from writing the prescription. What? My allergist has given me on the spot shots when I’m broken out in hives and itching like a madwoman, so I assumed he could give me a shot of Codeine; I was actually going to ask for Morphine.

“I need it to get to the x-ray place and to get home,” I said. He chuckled and went back to writing the prescription. He wasn’t taking my pain seriously; I wasn’t going to get my shot; I was going to have to walk the streets of Manhattan in excruciating, blinding, disorienting pain. I started bawling, like a baby. I couldn’t help it. I don’t understand why doctors don’t understand headache pain. Headache pain can be completely debilitating; I felt for parts of this one like a guy who’s seriously injured in war and taken to a base hospital; I needed Morphine like he did. I cried harder, trying between sobs to tell him I couldn’t get myself six blocks to the x-ray imaging place without a shot of something to abate the pain. He laughed and said he didn’t have any Codeine on him, shaking his head in humorous disbelief at me. I asked him if I could have a shot of Morphine then. He burst out laughing. I cried harder.

Finally, he looked me in the eye and said, “What movies have you been watching? Do you realize what would happen if I had injectible narcotics in this office! Every drug addict in this city would be banging the doors down…” and continued laughing.

Oh. Didn’t think of it that way. I guess drug addicts are not breaking down the allergist’s door for a fix of antihistamine. Maybe I should have gone to a hospital. I mean, I don’t know if my insurance would have covered it, but they should if a person is unable to get herself from doctor’s office to imaging center to pharmacy to home without serious risk of walking out in front of a car. I thanked him, grabbed my prescription, and cried all the way downstairs and all the way outside, where I managed to find a cab driver brave enough to pick up the hysterical girl and drive her six blocks.

The people in the imaging place had no sympathy either. I asked for a glass of ice to hold to my head and they told me to walk down the street to the deli and buy one for 50 cents. After waiting nearly two hours, during which time I tried, unsuccessfully, another Excedrin, I was finally called to the back for my x-ray. Once I peered into the mirror of the changing room I saw that my left eye was swollen practically shut. This is now days after I’d started the antibiotics for the infection, which seemed to be clearing up. The technician who performed the x-ray was nice and took more x-rays than were ordered, as I kept pointing out to him that it was my left temple and ear canal that were hurting, not my facial sinus cavities, and he complied, taking pics of the whole left side of my head, in addition to the face. When I left I asked him if I was having a brain hemorrage, he looked at me like he’d never heard the term before. Said he was only ordered to look at my sinuses, and doc would get reports hopefully tomorrow. Tomorrow… if the Codeine didn’t work I didn’t know if I would make it through the night — both because I was worried about something — whether it be a vein or sinus cavity — bursting, and because I just couldn’t take the pain anymore; this was the longest head pain episode ever and I needed to know it would end sometime. I can honestly see now how people can become suicidal over pain.

Duane Reade pharmacy was a comedy of errors again. The heat wave crashed their computers so they couldn’t turn out any prescriptions. Clerk told me it would be a couple of hours. Not wanting to go back to my hot apartment, I managed to find a refrigerator with cold sodas, and held one to my temple while I crashed on the chairs. Soon, I heard the pharmacist calling out to me. I had my head in my hands, and had taken my glasses off since they had been bothering me basically since I began wearing them. When I looked up to see a figure in the distance wearing a white gown waving at me, I had no idea what was going on. I found my glasses, apologized and stumbled to the counter, where he told me he’d written mine out for me in his own handwriting since the doctor had explained to him how much pain I was in. Awww. But he needed to go over the instructions with me verbally since his handwriting was so crappy, he said, and when he did so, for some reason felt the need to impress upon me the importance of not consuming alcohol with this or any narcotic. Advising me not to drink for the third time, the clerk, who had just told me she likewise had a migraine, burst out laughing, and for the first time, since the ordeal, I nearly did as well. Poor Indian pharmacist had no idea what we were off about — that the idea that anyone with a severe headache would actually want to party was a riot. “Look, I am just trying to do my best to get this poor girl her medicine,” he muttered, embarrassed.

Well, apparently, I could never become a drug addict, because Codeine, one of the most intense painkillers, had the effect of: a) completely numbing my entire body, except for my head; b) taking away the throbbing in the left temple but; c) by breaking those throbs into tiny sharp sparks of pain; d) shooting the sparks of pain through my head to the other side so they could then shoot back across, thereby; e) making my entire head ablaze with sharp sparks of searing pain shooting back and forth across my head. I think I’ll take the throbbing in the one temple over this, thank you very much. I had no idea what to do: could I take Codeine and Maxalt together? I was going to GIVE MYSELF a brain hemorrage with the damn drugs. I dug out my neurologist’s card and dialed, only to discover she’d moved. Three phone calls later, I finally found her. After initially scolding me for for not having been in for a while, hence not knowing about the relocation, she told me I really shouldn’t take so much Maxalt and should follow up with acetominophen (Excedrin), or say, Codeine. I burst out crying all over again. She couldn’t understand my reaction to the Codeine: “Everyone responds well to Codeine, oh well!” she said as if I just told her I’d missed my bus. Ended up telling me to take the Maxalt through the weekend unless the pain actually subsided, and good luck! (Okay, and she also told me to come see her next week regardless of whether the pain was gone to discuss.)

I went up to my upstairs neighbor’s cool, air conditioned apartment (she’d offered it to me earlier in the week) and tried to prevent myself from thinking about my pain by playing with her cat. That pain aversion lasted all of 8 minutes. I tried to explain the intensity of my pain to her; she said she understood, she’d had horrible backpain, and could she offer me this great drug she’d been given: Codeine. Ugh. I came home and tried to blast the pain out by putting on head phones and cranking up my Latin dance CD I’d bought in Blackpool. When the time came that I could safely do so without drug interference, I took another Maxalt. Between the Samba and the pill, some of the edge actually went away.

Managed to sleep sitting up on futon Thursday night, and awoke Friday morning in same amount of pain. Maxalt was hardly working at all by now. I called Lisa at work to ask her to inform the front desk I was sick and check my mail. “Oh my gosh, I’ve never seen someone in so much pain over a headache,” she said, causing me to bawl again. Called doctor; sinus x-ray not in yet. When 8 hours had passed, I took another Maxalt, only to realize, to my horror this was my last one. I called the pharmacy and the nice Indian pharmacist told me I luckily had one more refill left; which he’d do for me. By that time, I was feeling light upper-bodied by the last Max, and decided to wait an hour before walking three blocks to pick it up. By the time I got to Duane Reade, Indian pharmacist had left for the day and the blasted computers were down again. A record-breaking heat wave is not a good time to be sick. Other pharmacist said he couldn’t fill it with the network down and to come back. I bawled again. Funny thing was that all of the bawling was making me feel a little better; I think it was literally relieving some pressure in my skull muscles. On my way back home, I got the idea to stop in the deli and buy a bottle of Coke. I found black cherry vanilla. At home, I popped two Excedrin and downed them with the Coke.

In half an hour the whole headache was gone.

So… when that ‘headache with something special’ comes on, I drown myself with Excedrin and Coke, they do nothing, I resort to Maxalt, which takes the edge away but not the root of the pain, I try to follow up with Excedrin but it does nothing, so I try more Maxalt, which now has decreasing effect, try to follow that up with a narcotic, which simply turns one pain into another more severe one. Then, after four days of excruciating, completely debilitating, even suicidally-invoking pain, I take two simple over-the-counter Excedrin and a black cherry vanilla Coke and it’s gone just like that.

Happily today, Sunday, was my first pain free day in over a week. I still have a bit of a sinus thing going, but my ear has popped, the eye is not dripping mucus, and my throat is not bulging red, and, most importantly, no head pain, either at the left temple or anywhere else!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Thank you so so so much to Lisa, Alexis and Denise from work, Rebekkah from upstairs, and Jonathan and Nicole for being such great friends and calling me repeatedly to check up (and make sure I was still alive) 🙂 🙂 For someone without a husband and family, friends are everything 🙂

I’m very excited to return to dance. Today was the last day for my eye antibiotics, and therefore, glasses! I stretched hamstrings and adductor muscles this morning. Ouch. But not as bad as I would have thought. And I transferred to video the routine Luis and I taped on the camcorder, watched it over and over, and wrote down the choreography (just so I can remember it in my own way; Luis’ll laugh at the writing!). I seriously can’t wait till tomorrow night at 7 for my lesson! Anyway, here are a couple of pictures of my sickness: one of me and my arsenal of meds, and one of some interesting ‘artwork’ my freezer made!


  1. I am so glad you have such wonderful New York friends.

  2. hey tonya, I am glad you are feeling better; it sounds like you had quite the time. Sorry about those migraines. Would something like yoga help a little bit? If you are interested in taking a yoga class, let me know. I am glad you are feeling better. And you are such a wonderful and sweet person, hence the caring.

  3. Hi Tonya,
    How are u? My mum actually came across your site and showed it to me to read. I am a 22 yr old female living in Australia and was diagnosed with TACs in 2006. I totally understand how you feel and know exactly what you are going through!
    I have had doctors laugh and smirk at me, tell me it’s all “psycho-sematic” etc. They truely don’t understand the chronic pain that comes with CH & TACs at all.
    I have had it since 2005 constant and been on so many meds, it’s unbelievably excruciating + exhausting as you know. I was also told it was a migraine… it IS NOT a migraine + not your run-of-the-mill Headache either. Your case is so similar to mine.
    I hope that you are doing better,
    Thanx for writing your blog, it amazing how many ppl actually suffer with this and go through the same scenarios.
    Take care =]

  4. Hi TONIA
    Sorry to hear your plight. I have a great neuroligist who has been treating me since January of this year. I was checked out for the usual problems but finally diagnosed with TAC. my general doctor doesn’t even know how to spell Tac but I need to go to him for a referral. Having met the consultant on a bad day, I wrote down the symptoms, because, like you, describing the pain makes me cry. He wrote the wholw consultation down for me to read when I felt better! I fell in love for him because he understood….
    Meds are working on and off and I am taking five types to try to improve things. Very difficult to get to know why this is so rare? My GP called the hospital with my condition and they knew me by name That is rare!
    Good to hear you can manage through the pain. I have a great circle of church friendsfrom church that know if I can- I will and not to be judgemental if I can’t.

    (The best thing that caused relief was Botox. Sadly they only applied it to my painful side, I look great on one side and like rhino on the other. Try It if you can.
    Love and regards from England

  5. Hi Celine — thanks for writing; it’s always helpful to hear from others with this problem! Botox — very interesting! I never would have thought of it. Well, I just went back to the doctor and he gave me some new meds, so if these don’t work I’m going to talk to him about Botox. I’ve heard it’s been used for migraine sufferers too! Thanks again for writing, and keep in touch 🙂

  6. Hi Tonya,

    I came across your site after doing a search on TAC’s as yes I suffer from them too. Finally after nearly 5 or so years of them I had a neurologist diagnosis me with TAC’s. Now it was great to finally have a name for them, but not so great to hear that there is not much that can be done to treat them. That is in the way of drugs etc. He did prescribe some for me, but I was pregnant when diagnosed so couldn’t start them and still can’t while I am breastfeeding. He also said that have straight oxygen had been know to alleviate the pain. All well and good if you can get acess to a oxygen cylinder at a moment’s notice.

    Would be great to keep in contact with you and chat about this further!


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