Oh joy. My cluster headaches are back for spring. In fact they returned on the 1st of September, which Australians consider to be the first day of spring. Boom, just like that.
(Previous posts. Doesn’t everybody use blog posts to track their personal health history? I know I do.)
Cluster headaches are, as Wikipedia describes them: excruciating unilateral headaches of extreme intensity.
“Cluster headache is probably the worst pain that humans experience.
Women with cluster headache will tell you that an attack is worse than giving birth. So you can imagine that these people give birth without anesthetic once or twice a day, for six, eight, or ten weeks at a time, and then have a break. It’s just awful.” — Dr Peter Goadsby
They occur in clusters during active periods (hence the name), and many people get them seasonally, though others have them permanently.
They affect about 0.1% of the population. They cause a sharp pain across one side of the head, from around the temple, down to the jaw, typically lasting between 15 minutes and 3 hours.
This is important: no conventional painkillers are effective against them. Not paracetomol, not aspirin, not Nurofen. Nothing works. It is not the same as migraine.
The more I read, the more it’s clear that I don’t get them as badly as some people (thank goodness).
But they’re still bloody painful. On this pain scale (which is not specific to Cluster headaches) mine probably peak at about a 4 or 5 out of 10. (“5 – Very Distressing – Strong, deep, piercing pain, such as a sprained ankle when you stand on it wrong, or mild back pain.”)
I get them seasonally, usually for a couple of weeks, and typically 3-4 times per day, starting around 6am (and yes, they are painful enough to wake me up) until around lunchtime or early afternoon. Mine last about 20-30 minutes.
I thought that I’d first suffered from these around 2007, but in fact when I saw the doctor on Tuesday, he said he had notes indicating that I’d had them (undiagnosed) going back to 2002 — though my recollection is they didn’t get really bad until 2006 or 07.
The doctor seems quite interested in it — I gather they’re rare enough for a local GP that he doesn’t see many cases.
The pain is intense, from the temple and behind the eyeball down to my mouth.
At its worst, all I can do is try and apply some pressure with my hand, or push my head into the pillow if still in bed, which may or may not help. Really at best the force of the pressure merely distracts me from the pain.
It’s said that oxygen helps: many people respond to inhalation of 100% oxygen (12-15 litres per minute in a non-re-breathing mask). While I haven’t tried this (I suppose it could be organised at home, with some effort/cost) it does seem to be that exposure to a chill wind, eg stepping outside in the morning air, does helps soothe the pain.
Caffeine seems to help as well — tea or Coke. Perhaps the latter helps more than the former.
The pain is so intense that when it just fades away and you’re back to normal, for a while there’s a huge feeling of relief that it’s gone… until it returns.
And the medication? In previous years I wrote that I thought the Veracaps SR the doctor prescribed helped. But I’ve got to say that now I’m not totally convinced it does. Perhaps it’s not really been doing anything, and the headaches have naturally faded after a week or two. Certainly this time around, I’ve been taking it since day one, and while it’s possible it’s taken the edge off it, so far they’re still hitting me every morning. (Though this morning’s first was later than previous days’, and not quite as strong.)
Maybe it just needs a few days to kick in. Hopefully in the next week or so mine will disappear again until next autumn.
Every time they come around again, I end up doing a little more research.
This time around I’ve discovered that there is an Organisation for the Understanding of Cluster Headaches (“OUCH”). The US arm had a conference in Nashville in July — they have a bunch of videos with Peter Goadsby which I intend on watching soon.
A recent Triple J Hack story on chronic pain, which opens with a guy from Darwin describing his cluster headaches. Well worth a listen.
I’ve just discovered a Facebook group, which has some posts from fellow-sufferers which, I can tell you, are inspiring to read. Because people are sympathetic, but I’m not totally sure anybody can really fully understand it unless they’ve experienced repeating bouts of extreme pain themselves.
And there’s now an Australian support site as well.
I might lurk a bit in some of the forums. The more I read, the more it’s clear to me that while mine are very painful, I’m not getting them anywhere near as badly as some other people. But it’s nice that know that other people understand what it’s like.
Excellent. Smoking rates are continuing to drop, from 21.2% in 1998 down to 15.3% now.
So, how about the next step, government? Now that smoking is almost entirely banned indoors, what about extending smoking bans to include all undercover areas — I’m thinking particularly of under shop awnings.
(If I ran the world, I’d be looking at smoking bans in highly trafficked outdoor areas, such as CBD and suburban shopping centre footpaths. And the following step might be banning it everywhere except in private homes and designated smoking rooms/areas. It’s one thing to have a bad habit; it’s another to have a bad habit that blows poisonous fumes into others’ faces.)
I’m sure (more than usual) people were staring at me on the train today.
And you should see the amount of gunk that was in it this morning.
The doctor’s given me some eyedrops for it.
I’ve never been a drinker.
Oh sure, there were the social pressures in my uni days. But it’s a habit I just never picked up.
My parents weren’t drinkers. My partner isn’t a drinker. It’s just not my thing.
I’m not a teetotaller though. Occasionally (perhaps a few times a year) I’ll indulge in a beer or a glass of wine, but (particularly since the discovery that alcohol can sometimes help trigger cluster headaches), most of the time I’ll decline and stick to water.
So I find it a little puzzling that some people drink to excess. I can understand the enjoyable, social drink if that’s the kind of thing you like, but binge drinking, to the point of being sick? Why would you?
I suppose everybody’s different.
I had intended for us to do regular bush walks this year, as part of getting fitter and burning off some flab. We did one, at the You Yangs, in January.
We did the walk up to Flinders Peak to admire the view and get the heart pumping.
Turns out the park was damaged during floods in February, and it’s all closed at the moment.
Must try and do some more bushwalking at other nearby parks… perhaps one every month or so would be good.
For many years I’ve used Herbal Essences shampoo. While I hated the ads, I liked the shampoo.
But recently I’ve noticed tell-tale white residue on my clothes.
Oh no. Dandruff. Not nice.
So I’ve switched to anti-dandruff shampoo for a while. It doesn’t smell as nice, but it appears to be working.
My dad turned 79 the week before last.
He got sick and went into hospital on Thursday. Pneumonia.
Over the weekend he was very unwell, and yesterday he expressed the view that he would like to go soon.
Tonight he got his wish, and slipped peacefully away.
RIP JQ. 7/8/1931 — 16/8/2010.
Thank you all for your thoughts.
I thought I’d just highlight a post from 2008 where I noted one of the influences my dad had on me: My dad and the trains
The other one was computers. He didn’t understand them, but he could see it was important to enable me to pursue my interests, and thus he helped fund my first three: the Vic 20, the Commodore 64, and the BBC Micro.
Here’s also a link to some text about him from the biography of Lillian Roxon, the legendary rock music critic.
And I thought I’d repost this fantastic old passport photo of him from 1969.
See also: The funeral
There appears to have been a recent reluctance from dieticians to use the term because of its manipulation by food marketeers, with the EU banning its use unless it can be proven.
However this page from Kraft Foods flags their top ten (none of which, I think, they make or sell):
- Oats — I regularly have oats in my breakfast
- Yoghurt — not regularly. I used to, but kind of went off it when I reduced my dairy intake last year. (Update: though come to think of it, we often have frozen yoghurt)
- Blueberries — not regularly
- Spinach — yep, it’s a green that the kids don’t mind eating, so it’s a staple in our house
- Nuts — yep, I’ve been trying to snack on these a bit more recently
- Soy beans — not really, though I have switched to soy milk on my breakfast cereal; does that count?
- Tomato — certainly cooked into pasta sauces. Sometimes on sandwiches
- Citrus fruits — not as often as I should
- Sardines and oily fish — ditto
- Rosemary and other herbs — not particularly often
What others are worth the bother?