Migraines are severe headaches that cause intense pain. They are often accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and extreme sensitivity to light, sound, smell, and touch
Gila is twelve years old and lives in Philadelphia. She’s a charming, happy-go-lucky social butterfly. She loves spending time with her friends, especially playing jump-rope and ball games, swimming, horseback riding and other active, outdoor activities.
When did you start getting migraines? How did you know they were migraines?
When I was in sixth grade, I started getting very, very bad headaches. They went on for hours and often lasted for more than a day. Of course, my parents took me to the pediatrician. He suggested making sure I was drinking enough water, getting enough sleep, and taking Tylenol and resting when a headache hit, but none of that helped. Eventually the doctor referred me to a neurologist, who is the one who diagnosed me with migraines. He told me I was his youngest patient to experience such severe migraines.
We tried to cut out chocolate and other common migraine triggers, which was hard, but it didn’t help.
We couldn’t isolate a trigger for the migraines; my headaches wouldn’t follow any pattern. They just came and bulldozed into my life.
What are migraines?
Migraines are severe headaches that cause intense pain. They are often accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and extreme sensitivity to light, sound, smell, and touch. There are usually additional uncomfortable symptoms such as dizziness and changes in vision (like blurry vision or seeing blinking or twinkling lights or stars). For recurring headaches to be considered migraines, they need to be at least several hours long (They can continue for up to a few days!) and recur at least twice a month.
How does having migraines affect your day-to-day life?
Even when I don’t have a migraine, or rather, when I am in-between migraines, my life isn’t fully normal because it is interrupted. My migraines come several times a month, even as often as once a week, and each migraine can take a few days to pass. I am in and out of normalcy. That means that even when I am back in school, I am behind in my classes. I feel lost, like, Where am I? What is going on?
I also feel very different from my friends, which is hard for me because I am such a social person. I often feel socially isolated and lonely.
I am at the mercy of the migraines — because who knows when the next one will hit? When a migraine hits I am bombarded with pain so intense that it causes nausea, and I have extreme sensitivity to light and sounds. Some migraines are a bit shorter, like a few hours or a day, and I just try to sleep through them. Others take days to pass. I don’t really eat or drink or do anything other than wait miserably for it to end.
What is the hardest part of having migraines?
The pain, for sure. It is so severe that nothing else exists other than the pain in my head. During a migraine, I have to be perfectly still, in a dark room, with the shades drawn, with my eyes tightly closed. Every sound or bit of light makes it so much worse.
I’ve tried lots of prescription medications to control my migraines. One of the medications made me gain a tremendous amount of weight in a very short amount of time, and that was very hard for me.
We finally did find medicines that helped. They don’t take the migraines away, but they do take the edge off the pain. I take a daily preventative medication, and I have “rescue” medications for when a migraine begins.
It’s so hard to just stop all activity and stay still and silent until the migraine passes. Sometimes it takes a few days, and sometimes it is so bad that I have to be hospitalized. There are months that I am in and out of the hospital because I need to be on IV medication. Each time I am admitted, I need to stay for a few days while I get strong medicine through an IV line, around the clock. My mother stays with me the whole time. She is always by my side.
Any tips for other kids with chronic medical conditions?
I have a few things I want to tell other kids who also have medical issues.
Firstly, tell your friends what you’re going through! It’s hard for them to really understand what you’re experiencing, and it’s even harder if you don’t share.
Daven. Ask Hashem to help you. Talk to Him.
Try to remember that many medical conditions do get easier to handle or resolve over time. You can get through this!
You are strong, and this challenge is making you even stronger. You’ll be a more compassionate person. You’ll be kinder and more mature. Realize that every challenge comes along with gifts; I have more compassion and a stronger faith in Hashem.
It’s really hard because other kids your age don’t get what you’re going through and don’t get how painful it is, but because of everything you experience, you will be better than others at being there for those who are going through hard times.
Is there something you wish you could tell the world?
No one has a perfect life; every person has challenges. But if your challenge is not a medical one, thank Hashem that your body is working well and that you are not in pain right now. In the hospital I meet a lot of kids with other medical problems, and it gives me a lot of appreciation for the parts of my body that work perfectly. If you are healthy, be grateful for that.
The best part?
There isn’t really a best part.
Sometimes, after I am hospitalized or after an appointment with a specialist, my mother takes me on a special outing to get something yummy or something pretty to wear to cheer me up.
My siblings also try to keep my spirits up, and I appreciate that very much.
Sometimes I get balloons, visitors when I am at the hospital, and presents, but it’s all so, so not worth the pain.
But I do feel like when I feel good, I have a much greater appreciation of being healthy. That’s a good part.
I go to the hospital often. I remember being wheeled on a stretcher for CAT scans and an MRI. I was a little nervous about being in the machines. My mother joked with the staff members and tried to lighten the mood.
One time when I was in the hospital, the staff wanted to get me on medication as soon as possible, but they couldn’t get a vein. They put an IV line in my ankle!
I just want to say that nurses make a big difference. Doctors don’t do so much; they just tell the nurses which medicine to give me. But nurses are there when you’re suffering, helping you, supporting you. They are so sweet to me. I am considering being a nurse when I grow up, because you can make such a difference in people’s lives.
Thank you for sharing, Gila! You are a strong and wonderful person. May you be healthy and pain-free always.
Our hero, Gila is b’’H a grown-up now and we are glad she no longer suffers from migraines.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 934)
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