Me, Migraines, and My Brain Injuries

By Wanda – 

When I was young they called me clumsy, if something bad was going to happen, it happened to me, and it happened on a large scale. I’m an all or nothing girl, always have been, and always will be. I can’t remember a time without headaches and pain; here is my migraine journey…

My First Brain Trauma Injury

If you want to be good at something, you start early, like PeeWee Football or Brownies or Tee Ball. My first traumatic brain injury was, to me, a world of pain, red, and light.

I was three when my hobbie horse bucked me off. Flying over its head while riding with the Indians in a John Wayne movie, I landed head first on the brick fireplace hearth. The situation was so serious a neighbor took me to Quantico Marine Base’s medical center because there was no local hospital.

Most people assume a head injury to a child isn’t as bad as one to an adult, in fact the outcome for children suffering traumatic brain injury is far worse than the outcome for an equally injured adult.

Although most traumatic brain injuries are classified as mild because they’re not life-threatening, even a mild traumatic brain injury can have serious and long-lasting effects.

Second Time Around

Somehow, I made it to Kindergarten in one piece.

I was already suffering from headaches, but being so young, I thought everyone’s head hurt most days. Kindergarten was an adventure: I got a “full body hug” from a Boa Constrictor, got whacked over the head (yes! my head) with a metal traffic sign from our tricycle road maze, and the “Big Event.”

The “Big Event” head injury was caused by someone jumping from a hayloft onto the opposite end of the teeter-totter from where I was sitting. Traumatic brain injuries are difficult to diagnose in young children because they don’t have the communication skills to explain the symptoms or the lingering side effects. Repeated brain injuries in younger children can have have long-lasting consequences in reasoning, language, or emotions and sensations.

Third Time’s a Charm

Fast forward to my 40th birthday: I’ve broken multiple bones, fractured even more, have torn ligaments and tendons, and lost count of the braces, casts, and crutches I’ve had to use. I’ve also survived cancer and left an abusive marriage, supporting my girls and myself without child support or reliable health coverage payments. This life has made me stronger. I’ve learned to deal with migraines that affect my vision, balance, speech and memory.

I was visiting my parents, my daughter Nikki was out west, and my daughter Ruth was with me, but didn’t come to church that morning. She stayed with my mother who had just had surgery. Not 3 miles from the home I grew up in, an illegal alien robbed the Denny’s (I know, right?!?).

In his getaway vehicle he came out the “IN ONLY” entrance of the McDonald’s beside the Denny’s. He then crossed two lanes of traffic for which the light had just changed to green, tore through the rather large grass meridian and fled down Dale Boulevard, our main street, leaving distraction in his wake. I learned two lessons that day:
1: Never sneeze while driving: things can change dramatically in a second! And 2: If you have a cell phone, it’s possible to dial 911 with your big toe.

The first responders couldn’t get my door open and got no response from me because I couldn’t move even though I could hear them. Dialing 911 with my toe brought them back to my Volkswagen with the tools needed to remove me from the position in which I was trapped.

This was a doozy of traumatic brain injury, spinal injury, knee and hip injuries, and nightmares of the wreck. My brain just didn’t process things properly any more. I was in full Zombie mode.

It was 3 weeks before I could function on my own. Because of this, I lost my job. Eventually because of the pain and worsening migraines, I had to apply for disability.

A traumatic brain injury’s direct effects, which may be long-lasting or even permanent, can include unconsciousness, inability to recall the traumatic event, confusion, difficulty learning and remembering new information, trouble speaking coherently, unsteadiness, lack of coordination, and problems with vision or hearing.

This injury caused my migraines to often become unbearable. Mind you, I’d had headaches pretty much all my life so admitting I couldn’t handle these migraines was life changing. We started DHE treatments for five days twice a year. We used the intravenous form of the drug with an infusion every 8 hours.


The Bug Died, but the Rabbit Lived

My most recent traumatic brain injury was due to my fear of hitting animals while driving my beloved black Beetle into the city one morning, something (later determined as a rabbit) bolted across the road.

I swerved over to ride the middle line, got clipped by an SUV who decided to change lanes with no warning and kept going, over-correcting to the left where my tire went off the roadbed, trapping the rims of the left tires below the level of the asphalt. I had seconds to handle all this, and make a decision between running into (and probably getting sliced in half by) a metal road sign or putting all four tires in the grass and stopping in what looked like a flat area. I chose the grass median strip. It wasn’t flat at all.

My last solid memory is of narrowly missing the sign. It seems I managed to open the driver’s door, even though the car was on its side. I have flashes of memories, but don’t really remember anything between the sign and the ER.

Moderate traumatic brain injury causes unconsciousness lasting more than 30 minutes. Symptoms of moderate traumatic brain injury are similar to those of mild traumatic brain injury. Certain types of traumatic brain injury may increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia years after the injury takes place. At this point my migraines became intractable and I started to experience Hemiplegic Migraines which mimic mini-strokes.

Keeping Score at Home

Four traumatic brain injuries…they definitely increased the frequency and intensity of my migraines, and may have even caused them. There are many types of migraines and I’ve experienced most of them, from Basilar to Ice Pick, Cluster to Ocular, and migraine with and without aura.

In a cycle of 28 days I spend an average of 24 with some form of migraine, making me a rare and complicated patient. Most migraines are treated with over the counter medications, triptans, NSAIDs, and various medications for particular symptoms such as nausea.

The main preventative medications break down into beta-blockers (✔️), anti-seizure drugs (✔️), tricyclic antidepressants, Effexor, and certain herbs (✔️) like butterbur and vitamins like riboflavin (✔️). When the preventatives don’t work, stronger oral medications, injections, and IV infusions are used; unfortunately your body can build up a tolerance to any of these treatments so they may have to be rotated for people like me with chronic migraine.

The Heart of the Matter

Migraines and headaches have been a constant companion in my life. I have scoliosis as well as the multiple traumatic brain injuries, but the scoliosis wasn’t noticed until college. Brain injuries are tricky things because we know less about our brains than any other part of our body.

Alas, the questions remain:
Did my early childhood brain trauma cause my migraines?
Did my Hemiplegic Migraines cause my Dawson’s Lesions?
Did my Dawson’s Lesions cause my Hemiplegic Migraine?

We may never know. We may never be able to control my migraines, but that’s ok. It would be awkward to suddenly not have a migraine or headache 99% of the time. The brain injuries have taught me how strong (or pigheaded, according to my uncle) I can be.

Pain is nothing but weakness leaving the body. How odd it would be to one day wake up without head pain…

(Above: An MRI of my brain showing a lesions from Hemiplegic Migraines)


[(Anderson V. and Moore C. 1995) (Ewing-Cobbs L. 1989.]

2 thoughts on “Me, Migraines, and My Brain Injuries

  1. Melissa says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your experiences! I too have had migraines for many years and they got worse after a very bad accident I was in and almost died and lost my unborn son of 34 1/2 weeks gestation. I don’t remember much of it, and I too had a few injuries to my head as a child and was in two different domestic marriages. When I put what you brought into light, the headaches got worse and worse right up to the stroke mimicking ones. I don’t feel so alone now. I have had several CAT scans but the neurologist is afraid to send me for a MRI because last time in a open MRI, 2 strong Valiums, 2 techs, a towel over my eyes, and my now husband outside the machine squeezing my hand and talking I still freaked out on them. So because of my history they do not want to even try one of my brain. Thanks again, it really helps to know that you’re not alone when living with chronic migraines never mind all the other disabilities I live with from life!


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