A few weeks ago, I boarded a plane and headed out to sunny California for a wine tasting mini-break in Napa to celebrate a good friend’s forthcoming wedding. I’d been working some long hours and was happy for the opportunity to get away for a few days to relax, but I was worried that between my late hours and the stress of traveling, my rheumatoid arthritis might spy an opportunity to creep up and ruin a perfectly good vacation. I made sure I drank plenty of water, dosed myself with vitamin C and slept on the plane to try to keep my immune system in check. I took a nap that afternoon when I felt my energy starting to give out, but after a solid night’s sleep, I felt like I was in good shape as we were on our way to our first wine tasting the following day.
Ever wary, I still made sure I balanced out my imbibing with plenty of water, spent some quality time in the Jacuzzi before bed, and again got lots of sleep to keep my reserves up and my RA at bay. The next day went much the same: wine, sunshine, good food and lots of laughing, with a healthy dose of hot tub and hydration in the evening. When I awoke on the fourth morning ready for another day of vineyards and cabernets, I felt like I was safely in the clear and that my RA was going to behave.
Phew! And then I felt it: a niggling little ache in my left temple, like a small nail was slowly being prodded into my brain. The tell-tale sign that one is on its way is this very slight aching on the left side of my head, and as much as I wanted to ignore it, I could tell it was there, even if it was faint. Along with rheumatoid arthritis, I am also a migraine sufferer. While I’ve gotten migraines ever since I was in college, they have increased in frequency since my diagnosis of RA. For many, migraines can also be an unwanted side effect of some medications for RA, such as Humira (any others?), which means that on top of dealing with an autoimmune disease, we also have to monitor our bodies for signs of a migraine.
When mine began to multiply post-diagnosis, my rheumatologist sent me to see a neurologist, who gave me a medication to take at the first sign that a migraine was on its way. As we drove past the foggy vineyards- the sun had been exchanged for clouds and rain - I debated whether or not to take my migraine meds. Taking them would mean no alcohol, and considering that I was on a trip whose explicit purpose was to taste wine, and it was the last day, I really hated to have to miss out. On the other hand, not taking them would mean that my migraine would most likely grow from a tiny, nagging little pain to a full-blown, knife-wielding, nausea-inducing maniac of a head ache within a few hours. As I have so oft asked in my articles, what is a (wine-loving) gal to do?
Unfortunately, this is where my last shreds of denial regarding my health kicked in and convinced me that maybe I wasn’t really getting a migraine. Maybe, just maybe, this was ‘just’ a headache that I could ward off by tossing back a few NSAID’s (even though this NEVER works). But that is what I did. I put my migraine meds away and pretended that it was just a regular, normal-person headache that would subside quickly and leave me to enjoy the rest of my day pain-free. Needless to say, it didn’t work. The migraine continued to fester until it felt like the entire left side of my brain was a cesspool of stabbing aches and pains and my stomach felt queasy and gross.