Scream Cropped

Scream Cropped (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I swear that if I hear myself described as ‘the lady with the headache’ once more, I’m going to scream. Actually, I probably won’t, because it would hurt, but inwardly at any rate, I’d be doing a Munch. The word ‘headache’ alone doesn’t begin to describe it. Forget migraine, I’ve had them and this was nothing like it.  ‘Thunderclap headache‘ begins to get somewhere close.  At my age, spending 9 nights in hospital after an ambulance transfer is quite an achievement.



For a while they thought it was a brain haemorrage or a stroke, but thankfully it wasn’t.  So after CT scans, MRI scans, lumber puncture and an ultrasound of my head which had a name with ‘Doppler’ in it, the headache that caused me to vomit, sweat like the proverbial pig and hardly able to move for several days was revealed to be Reversible Cerebral Vasoconstriction Syndrome.  A pain I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy, if I could think of a worst enemy on which to wish pain.



Essentially, what happened was that the blood vessels in my brain went into spasm, twice, almost 24 hours apart.  It happened like flicking a switch – the second time I was just sitting there, minding my own business feeling slightly nauseous when suddenly it felt like my head exploded.  Cue ambulance teams, A&E and breaking my own personal record for a hospital stay. But what is really interesting is why it happened.  Not stress, not the pressure of juggling working on a PhD with bringing up a young family…  no, it was the SSRI antidepressants which I’ve been on, on and off, for most of my adult life.   They were stopped dead and that’s that.  Never again.  The neurologist said I need to discuss alternative forms of antidepressant with my GP, but to be honest, for the moment I’m reluctant to let anyone mess with my head for a while…


On the plus side, all the scans revealed that I do indeed have a brain, which will probably come as a relief to my PhD supervisors in Manchester!  It also meant that the neurologists found a cavernoma on my brain, which could in the longer term, cause epilepsy.  So for now I have to take things easy for a bit.  I’m signed off university for another couple of weeks, and I have to see the neurovascular medics at the Royal Preston Hospital to discuss the management and treatment of my brain blackberry.


There are many things that I have to be thankful for.  Accuse me of melodrama all you like, but there were moments that I didn’t think I’d make it home so merely sleeping in my own bed is one!  At the risk of being over-emotional, this post will finish with two bits of fairly unprofessional and homespun wit and wisdom.


First, things I have learned.  Never underestimate the value of a brain that goes about from day to day performing its functions normally without you even realising it is there.  Family and friends are the most important things in the world and we can’t tell them how much we care about them often or strongly enough.  Going without cuddles is very, very lonely.  There are several excellent reasons to leave your front door unlocked, one of which is allowing the paramedics access to help you when you are alone.


Steve Tilston

Steve Tilston (Photo credit: Bryan Ledgard)

Second, people to thank.  A random list based on the fact that I’ll probably never get chance to thank these people properly.  Andy, the first response man, who held the hand of a total stranger while she vomited and screamed.  My husband, children and wider family, because I love you all and when I needed you, you were there as always.  The ambulance team from Blackburn or Burnley (sorry, I forget) whom I could not recognise again because I don’t think I opened my eyes long enough to see you.  The staff of the Royal Preston Hospital, who were without exception calm, patient, compassionate, reassuring and kind.  My lovely friends, for managing to make me laugh despite it all.  My supervisor, Glyn, for undertaking to sort out anything at the university for me.  And finally, my friend Steve Tilston, for writing beautiful songs and singing them in soothing tones that got me through several very long nights.