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Lee Capristo
Director of Publications
Anne Arundel 100

I Awoke with a Migraine that Never Left

Written by Mary Spargo,'11

SMCM junior Mary Spargo awoke May 12, 2003, with a debilitating migraine. She still has it. Here, she describes how she juggled her pain with teen years, friends, and now college, and how she still holds onto hope for a healthy future.

My day begins exhausted with only a few restless hours of sleep along with a constant pounding in my temples. This throbbing stays with me 24 hours a day, seven days a week and never-ever-lets up. I go about my day attending classes, but I can barely hold it together. I nod off in class and I struggle to take notes, because it is so difficult to concentrate. My migraine is excruciating and all I can think about is going back to sleep, but I know that I can't and I have to keep going.

After class I try to socialize with my friends, but this pleasant diversion drains my energy even more. As evening falls it's time to start studying like all my classmates. Only now, I am worn out physically and mentally from all the activity and the stress of the migraine. But like every other student, I push myself to memorize the material in hopes that I will be prepared for class the next morning.

After most people have gone to bed, I pop in my cocktail of sleeping pills hoping and praying they will work so I can get at least an hour or two of sleep. I drift off praying tomorrow will be a better day.

This has been my life for the last 2,330 days, since May 12, 2003, when at age 14 I woke up with a migraine that has never left. It has been a huge struggle surviving and coping this way, but each day I manage to get up to start a new day.

When it started, I tried desperately to find the cause. I was a normal teenage girl who went running every day, was conscious about my health, and rarely took medicine for simple colds or headaches.

As the migraine was becoming debilitating, I was forced to stop the daily things I was used to doing. Doctor appointments filled up my days and foreign medicines entered my body, one after the other. I was in a world where doctors told me how I should feel, yet I knew they had no idea about my constant pain.

After a couple months of enduring this, I never felt more alone, scared, or helpless. As months turned into years, however, I started accepting the migraines because I came to an understanding that life should not just stop.

Mary SpargoLet me share with you some events so you can see how I came to this growing and healing process. When the migraines started, I felt like hammers were beating into my temples. It was a pain so sharp and intense that it forced me to hold my stomach and cradle my head in my hands. All I wanted to do was curl up in bed and never get up. Only the migraine did not allow me to sleep, because the pounding and throbbing motion in my head kept me up for days. The lack of sleep only worsened my migraine.

I started looking for a cure at the University of Maryland Medical Center with a neurologist who specialized in migraines. I had many tests, such as a CT scan, a Magnetic Resonance Imaging, and a spinal tap. I also took several headache medicines such as amerge, imitrex shots, and topamax, but none of the medicines worked. I made numerous trips to the emergency room when the migraines became unbearable. However, the medicine protocols the doctors used to bring my migraine pain level down were not very effective and I suffered more from the side effects of the medication. I knew then I had to look beyond traditional Western medicine to try to stop the pain. The Eastern medicine philosophy focuses on healthier ways of living and advocates herbs, acupuncture, and physical manipulation to heal the body. So I sought the help of a chiropractor, a massage therapist, and an acupuncturist. The chiropractor found that my constant migraine was impacting the bones in my neck and back, causing them to go out of alignment, which became a new source of pain. The massage therapist found that my muscles were glued together from the stress of the migraine, causing my entire back to ache. I had sessions with both doctors for a couple of years, but nothing improved the migraine pain.

Next, I went to the acupuncturist, who has a different approach to healing. He manipulates the energy in the body by putting needles into specific pressure points. During some sessions, I felt the heat in my head go down my body, but the pain of the migraine never moved.

Since my efforts with local doctors were not working, my family and I searched for more aggressive migraine treatment options. I discovered that there are several hospitals around the country that specialize in treating head pain. After selecting the hospital with the best reputation, my family and I drove to the Michigan Head Pain and Neurological Institute. I stayed in Michigan for about five weeks while the doctors ran tests and powerful drugs through my system. After trying all medicines to break the cycle of the migraine, I tried injections in my head to block the nerves from sending pain signals. When nothing touched my migraine, I was released from the hospital with little hope that these migraines were ever going to go away.

As years went by, my body was deteriorating from the effects of the chronic pain and insomnia. I began taking sleeping pills to help the endless nights of not sleeping, but my body quickly built up a tolerance. I became frustrated with the cycle of pain and medication so I sought out another alternative treatment: neurofeedback. This involves hooking the patient's head up to electrodes as they play different mind games on a computer to help reset the brain.

Unfortunately, after over 20 treatments the pain did not shift. Instead, I was referred to another doctor in Massachusetts who specializes in functional medicine. In functional medicine, the body is evaluated as a whole and is analyzed at the cellular level to make sure the minerals, vitamins, and enzymes are working properly. After getting the test results back, I started taking herbal supplements and minerals to improve my overall body since it was depleted of them. I have seen some improvements in my blood chemistry, but nothing has helped the migraines.

My family has stuck by me ever since the migraine started and for that I am very grateful. They have done everything to support, listen, and be there for me when I needed them.

Teachers from high school and professors from college have been my biggest cheerleaders. They are not only my mentors but my friends who I confide in and who want me to succeed in school and life. I have also made many friends of all ages who treat me with compassion without fully understanding my challenges.

However, there have been people who have left me because they were frustrated that I was not getting better. They could not help me and they did not care to listen to the same problem over again. Others were angered that I was not able to do the many things young adults normally do, and they did not have the patience to wait around for me. In the end it was good that I lost a few people because I would not have appreciated the ones who have stuck by me as much as I do today.

For the past six years, I have questioned, blamed and been angry with God for my chronic pain. All my life I have been a religious person, trusting the Lord with all my heart, so when the migraines began I was confused and angry. Why was He robbing me of my life? Why was I missing out on college life? At times, I wanted nothing to do with my faith because all the prayers I was sending were coming back unanswered.

It has taken time and maturity for me to see that there has been good from this horrible ordeal. I started to understand that God does not want to see me suffer, but He has a purpose for my life and with that comes challenges. I am a much better person for having gone through the pain. For one thing, I have learned compassion and understanding.

My compassion runs to people who are in any physical, mental, or spiritual pain, no matter the circumstance. Pain is pain regardless of the source and sharing that burden with another can lighten the load. My understanding of the migraines has come from maturity and from school.

Going through college has changed the way I think. Of special importance was my encounter with an English medieval mystic in an early British literature survey class.

I discovered I had a lot in common with Julian of Norwich, a medieval woman who had a near death experience. She also looked out at the world and saw only suffering. She doubted God's love.

But then she had a series of several visions about God's love and had a revelation about faith. God spoke to her revealing that all will be well in His own time.

I understood through Julian's experiences that suffering happens to all people but that God will not abandon us when we are in great need of Him. He will heal us in His own time because He has a purpose. I still don't know the answer to "why me?" I still suffer from my migraines every day. But I continue going about my day coping the best way I know how and living life to the fullest. I will always be searching for a new cure to heal this chronic pain and I will not give up hope.