Tag Archives: IIH. Intracranial hypertension

About Laura

Introduction

Laura is a former primary school teacher, blogger, poet and jeweller living in Sussex UK. She is a positive thinking, mum of 2 teenage boys and is happily married to Joel. Laura is an IIHer, chronic migraineur, patient advocate and mental health campaigner.

After developing a debilitating brain condition, IIH, in 2014; she sadly had to give up her 14½ year teaching career. Soon after being diagnosed, she turned her life long love of writing into this blog to document her journey with chronic illnesses. This evolved into raising awareness of disabilities, chronic illnesses and mental health.

Laura runs the Mission Migraine Twitter account, which raises awareness that migraine is much more than just a headache. Laura started her own business Paprika Jewellery & Accessories after starting to make jewellery as a distraction from the pain.

She writes poetry to explore her own mental health and well-being. Laura writes about positive thinking and living her best life, despite her conditions. She hopes to inspire others to find their own sense of purpose, whatever challenges they face. Continue reading About Laura

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How to stay sane when stuck in bed with chronic illness or recovering from surgery. An insider’s guide

Staying level headed with debilitating pain. 

Those of you that already follow my story know I’m no stranger to surgery. I’ve  had my 3rd brain stent surgery for IIH (Idiopathic Intracranial Hypertension ) on 15th November. I was aiming to get downstairs on Saturday and I made it. It’s so important to have goals to keep you motivated. I had a family day yesterday too!

But I’m going to be spending this week in bed again recovering, as expected. My pain levels are high today and I had a bad night’s sleep, but I don’t regret it. Days with family are what keep you going . My condition is extremely debilitating but I’m not seeking sympathy; I share my experiences to raise awareness!

Please note: if you have questions about IIH, any chronic illness or mental health concerns; please speak to a trained health professional. These tips are about self care and any advice I share is based on my own experiences.

I shared this selfie on social media, 10 days after surgery. It was youngest’s 13th birthday and I was in bed, fed up that I couldn’t celebrate. The response to this post has been amazing. I received lots of supportive messages and my husband, Joel, was asked at work how I stay sane and positive when I’m stuck in bed for weeks – struggling to get to my en-suite bathroom at times.

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So here’s my guide to staying sane as a chronic and invisible illness warrior! 

  • Don’t fight the pain! I used to be determined not to give in to the pain and I’d push myself to do too much too soon, making my recovery take longer. Now, I try to listen to my body and have retrained my brain to know that it’s okay to rest, This has taken years of making mistakes, until being taught to recognise and change patterns in my behaviour by my coach, Josie (details below).
  • Ask friends and family to tell you when you’re looking tired. It’s easy to miss signs that you’re flagging, but don’t shy away from asking those close to you to say if you look like you need to rest. If someone tells me I look rough I’m not offended, I just realise that I do hurt a lot and may need that pain relief!

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  • Remember your condition doesn’t only affect you. A delicate ecosystem occurs for most familes when someone has a chronic illlness. This means any change has an effect on family life. If you’re the one in constant pain, then your contribution to family life is probably limited. For example, I usually do online grocery shopping and am usually the mediator. Plan for those times when you can’t make your usual contribution. Try asking a friend to pop to the shops or do some jobs around the house, so your partner doesn’t have to do everything!
  • Give yourself time to recover. I always seem to forget how tough living with daily high level pain is or how hard recovery from surgery is. So I tend to think I’ll cope better than I actually can. Now I set myself goals and break these down into smaller steps. E.g restarting your physio or getting dressed before venturing downstairs. Whatever goals/steps you take need to be all about you! This is the time to practice self care! Maybe keep a pain diary or notes after surgery, so you can look back at what has worked for you in the past,

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  • Be honest about having visitors. Let’s be honest, the novelty of surgery soon wears off and friends might get bored with your chronic illness. You’ll probably stop getting as many flowers and cards, but hopefully your friends will still support you as much as ever. For me, receiving a text cheers me up, but having visitors (when you can) is vital! You’ll get a mental boost and it breaks up the bedroom boredom. But, if you’re in too much pain; be brave and postpone. True friends will understand and if they don’t, then you don’t need them!
  • Keep a gratitude journal. I spend time every day reflecting on what I’m thankful for. I write 3 positive things in my diary every night or the following morning, This can be anything and it’s the little things that count when you’re recovering from surgery or a bad flare. Washing my hair, managing to eat a proper meal, having a snuggle with Joel or a giggle with my boys mean so much to me in that acute pain phase. I’d suggest starting getting into this routine before surgery. It’s also really nice to share these with friends or family!
  • Meditate. I can’t explain how much meditation helps keeps me calm in hospital and in the following weeks. I download my favourite meditations (in case there’s no WiFi) on my phone and take my headphones to block out the horrible noises on a ward. They also help me sleep between hourly obs through the night! I also use techniques I’ve learnt to visualise my happy place to lie still during a procedure or anaesthetic. You can read my tips for meditation here.
  • Use affirmations to visualise positivity. Ok, so I know the word meditation may have scared you off, but stay with me! Using affirmations has been the key to staying sane through 3 brain and spine surgeries this year! I also use affirmations cards from TheYesMum  (@theyesmummum on Instagram) daily.

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My coach Josie, from Worry Freedom created personalised affirmations to help manage my worries, which are mainly about how surgery impacts my family. She turned each concern into a positive affirmation, such as ‘I am proud that my boys have built resilience’. I record these as voice memos on my phone and listen to them before, during and after my stay in hospital. They’ve helped me to stop worrying about everyone else and concentrate on my one job – healing.

  • Ask family to spend time with you in your bedroom. When you’re always in bed, it can get very lonely. So, whether it’s snuggling with Joel watching TV, having a chat about the day or watching a film with everyone on the bed; having my family come to me is so important. For example, we ate youngest’s birthday meal in my bedroom, so that I could still be a part of his special day.
  • Entertainment. I’ve always been against TVs in bedrooms (personal choice), but after my first surgery Joel set one up in my bedroom so I could watch my favourite comfort movies. It’s stayed! I rely on my iPad so when we realised this was going to be our new normal, Joel set up Apple TV so I have lots of choice. I’ve also have audible and Spotify so I can listen to gentle music or spoken word on the days when I can’t open my eyes.
  • Bonus Tip – When you’re doing better, but still stuck in bed or the house I think you need a hobby. Many chronic illness warriors craft and this helped me not to feel so lost when I’d been diagnosed. I’d taken silversmithing classes before falling ill, so I began making beaded and up-cycled creations. Now I run my own online business with an Etsy shop. I’m closed whilst I recover, but I’ll be posting more about this as I prepare for reopening. You can see what I make on my social media pages too. ⬇️

Paprika Jewellery & Accessories

Paprika on Facebook

Paprika on Instagram

Paprika on Pinterestl

Paprika on Twitter

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So these are my top 10 tips for managing to stay positive, or at least rational when can’t do anything. But hey, we’re all different and these are just what works for me, If you’ve got the money to invest in working with a coach, do it! It’s all about finding solutions and a good coach can change your outlook! I had counselling after diagnosis, when I was still grieving for the life I’d had. If you’re struggling please talk to your GP/Doctor straight away!

Are you recovering from major surgery? Do you have a chronic illnesses? I’d love to hear about what you’ve tried if you’re housebound or bed-bound. What tips do you have to keep rational and level-headed? 

Chronic Illness Bloggers

Why I’m done with online support groups for chronic illness! #chronicillness #chronicblogs

If you follow my blog you’ll know that I’ve been very active in a variety of support groups since becoming chronically ill in 2014.

So why the change of heart?

In nearly every group I’ve joined, there’s been a culture of drama and/or negativity. I love to support others, but my health was suffering by getting too involved and I realised that I was done with being an active group member. I have left most groups, so I want to explore online support groups and share my experiences.

What is a support group? 

  • A face to face or online community open to anyone, but often focused on specific topics i.e. mental health or pain conditions
  • Led by a professional facilitator, such as a nurse or counsellor, or by group members/founders
  • A comfortable space where individuals come together to share their stories, experiences, feelings, coping strategies and information.
  • A way to help reduce isolation and loneliness by realising that there are others dealing with similar situations.
  • A bridge between medical support and self-help

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Why I joined online support groups

Rewind to when I first fell ill. I was isolated and lonely as friends began disappearing from my life. I was struggling to understand my illness and my mental health was suffering. When I joined an online support group, I realised I wasn’t the only one with my diagnosis, which helped my mental state. However, the negativity in the group exacerbated worries about my future. I decided this wasn’t the group for me.

So, I joined an open group called Mission Migraine. It was full of amazing women and had a positive vibe, yet we all supported each other. What I loved most, was the we shared our own stories to raise awareness and challenge misconceptions.  I was proud of what we were doing, so I started the Twitter account @migrainemission to continue raising awareness. Sadly, the Facebook group is no longer running.

Finding the right fit

I knew that Migraine wasn’t the full picture, so I explored a variety of groups to help me understand what was happening. I connected with other people with similar symptoms to my own, in well led groups. I was able to access information to help me research possible causes of my symptoms. In one group, I read about a consultant in Cambridge, specialising in Pulsatille Tinnitus. This was a pivotal moment in my journey! If you don’t know my story, then you can read it here.

DesignWhen I was initially diagnosed with a rare brain disease, Idiopathic Intracranial Hypertension (IIH), I joined IIH support groups, which helped me find information and reassurance. Soon I became overwhelmed by the number of Facebook groups I was in, so had to decide which of these were right for me. I left those that weren’t. I’d found more friends who totally understood my pain!

When it no longer does what it says on the tin

In most groups I joined, I’d encourage positivity and try to raise confidence levels. I’d post inspirational quotes, share knowledge and helped other’s learn to celebrate the smallest achievements. Helping others gave me a sense of purpose and achievement.

But I couldn’t get away from the drama.

Design

Members of support groups are vulnerable, with many suffering with unrelenting pain, crippling anxiety, financial or family worries. This creates a breeding ground for negativity and arguments. If this disruptive behaviour isn’t dealt with effectively, then the group is no longer able to support it’s members and is not fit for purpose.

As an empath, I’m susceptible to getting  too involved. I gave so much, but my physical and mental health were suffering. What I was getting out of these groups now? I’d had enough of group politics and feeling responsible for near strangers. I worried I’d lose friendships, but when I did leave I was flooded with relief. And of course, my true friends have stuck by me.

Would you benefit from an online support group? 

I may find a group that’s right for me again one day, but next time I’ll do my research first. Here’s a list created from personal experience and research. (See below)

Pros

  1. Gaining self-worth or a sense of purpose
  2. Feeling less lonely or isolated, especially for those who may not have access to face-to-face support groups
  3. Getting support in times of stress, depression or anxiety
  4. Being anonymous allows you to vent or discuss feelings openly and honestly
  5. Staying motivated to manage your physical illness or mental health
  6. Gaining control of or feeling hopeful for the future
  7. Raising awareness of invisible illnesses, disabilities or a specific disease
  8. Getting practical feedback about treatment options, benefits or worker’s rights
  9. Feeling empowered by supporting others or working successfully in a team
  10. Accessible when it suits you, even in your PJs, leading to more participation

Cons

  1. Peer to peer groups are probably be run by unqualified members, who are also unwell – vulnerable people supporting other vulnerable people
  2. Increased negativity due to constantly discussing aspects of your illness or disability
  3. Interference on posts with unhelpful comments or incorrect information
  4. Written communication means that inference or tone can be easily misjudged
  5. Participation online may compound isolation from other friends or family
  6. A lack of control over medical advice, quality of information or criticism of health care services/professionals
  7. Reinforcement of negative emotions and negative remarks to other participants
  8. Disruptive group members may dominate the conversation, cause tension or create interpersonal conflicts
  9. Comparisons of whose condition or experience is worse
  10. Possible use the environment to prey on vulnerable members

Design

What is needed to create a good social support network? 

  • Those running the group must be very clear about what support is available and when.
  • Clear rules covering: disruptive behaviour, sharing medical advice and discussing medical professionals.
  • Conflict needs to be handled professionally.
  • A positive environment, that’s nurtured and monitored so that people feel listened to and that other members will show empathy and be supportive.

Do online support groups work? 

The disadvantages of online support groups are discussed by authors and healthcare professionals. Concerns about the quality of information, criticism of health care services/professionals and reinforcement of negative behaviours are certainly valid. However, this study. of online groups for those with physical illnesses, found that concerns about the risks of online support groups are not always justified.

In my opinion, there is increased risk in online peer-to-peer support groups, as those facilitating the group may be vulnerable due to their own physical or mental illness. This may make it more challenging to nurture a positive and safe space.

When looking for online support, it’s recommended that you ask questions before joining a group to find the right fit for you. If you don’t feel comfortable or safe in a group, put your own health first and take action. Online support groups aren’t for everyone, but remember that they aren’t the only option.

Finding my own way

I have my own network of friends online. We give mutual support through physical and mental illness. I also work 1:1 with a trained professional, via online video conferencing, to support my mental health. I wouldn’t have all of this support, without having been in the groups. I also have an amazing network of friends and family, who have shown that they’ll stick by me through thick and thin. I know how lucky I am to have that and I’m the happiest I’ve been in 4 years of chronic illness. I don’t know about the future, but for now; I’m done with online support groups.

Chronic Illness BloggersReferences

Pain Doctor-Finding help online

Mayo Clinic guide to support groups 

Mental Health America-Finding online support groups

#IIH life in the slow lane!

I’m finally posting an update after my 2nd surgery, nearly a year on, so thanks for your patience while I’ve been in the slow lane! I’ve been on a rollercoaster journey with my IIH (Idiopathic Intracranial Hypertension) over the last year.

WHAT’S BEEN HAPPENING?

In June 2017 I had my second skull surgery and 4 weeks ago I had the same operation on the left. They have removed the C1 vertebrae mass on both sides to make space for the jugular vein that was squashed; preventing blood draining from my brain. I use a plumbing analogy to explain this. If you think of the veins as the pipes, you’d remove the blockage at the top first, because if you remove the top blockage beforehand, you’ll just create a bigger blockage below. This is how my surgeons work, slowly and methodically to ensure that all surgeries are exacting.

The surgeries have been difficult for us all. I’m not scared of surgery, but I worry about how my boys and Joel will handle the added pressure. This time, I’ve asked for help from the wonderful Josie Brocksom of Worry Free who gave me strategies to help me deal with my concerns and trust that Joel would be able to cope with the additional pressure, which of course he has. She has also taught me that it’s ok to rest, so this time I have let myself stay in the slow lane so that I can heal!

I’m lucky enough to be covered by private healthcare. One of the biggest perks is having a private room of course, but I love the food too! Yes, really! I’ve been waiting to show you this photo of the yummy lunch I had the day after my surgery last year. Just look how good that was! I just had to order the same this year too!

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Before I continue, I wanted to address a question Joel and I get asked so often:

HOW DO WE KEEP SO POSITIVE?

As with everything in life, we have some choice. Of course, I have no control over how the IIH affects me, apart from my pain relief. However, I do have control over how I manage to stop my high pain levels, from affecting my mood. Myself, Joel and my boys also choose how much we let IIH affect our own lives and time together.

I’ve been able to share over 20 years with my best friend. Joel is affected by IIH just as much as I am. However, amongst experiencing all my of pain, constant worry and looking after us; he works incredibly hard in a tough job. He is also an advocate for carers through the Family Matters team across the whole of Lloyds Banking Group! He keeps me going and picks me up when I fall. He makes me laugh til it hurts and ensures that the children have emotional, physical and comical needs met. I couldn’t ask for anything more and I know I’m lucky to have him by my side at every step.

I can’t say all is peachy, as of course it’s not: I still cry, get frustrated and have meltdowns-I’m only human! Joel and the boys keep me fighting this disease and get on every day. We’re open with each other and share our experiences with others who just get it.. We also have the opportunity to raise awareness of how to stay positive when chronic illness affects a family, and we are both very proud to do this!

THE SURGERY

When the wizard has (my ENT specialist surgeon) removed part of the C1 vertebrae, he gets as close to the nerve as possible; without it being dangerous. This is only done for the few like me, by the team in Cambridge. They’ve developed procedures to reduce unwanted side effects and they explain everything so well. They are now developing other studies and sharing their findings with the medical world.

I was only in overnight both times and have a drain in which helps to limit the chance of having unwanted side effects. These are shoulder weakness, trouble swallowing and a hoarse voice. It’s too gross to show, but here are my post op selfies!

2016-feeling warm and puffy!

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2017-Looking amazing on oxygen all night due to low SATs

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The operations have both been successful. The scans show that the jugular vein is no longer under pressure and the blood can flow freely through the veins there now.

NEXT STEPS:

During my pre-op testing (ct venoplasty/venogram), my neuro radiologist found arachnoid granulations pushing on my stent and narrowing the flow of blood. These are normal lesions found in the venous channels that allow the CSF to flow into the venous channels. These are rarely found in the transverse sinus, however, and unfortunately they are growing around and through the stent in the left side. This explains why I started to go down hill again a few months after last year’s surgery, so I will need a procedure to stretch the stent and push the granulation back.

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Unfortunately, I also need a stent in the right transverse sinus, so I have been referred back to the neuro radiologist following our check up in Cambridge yesterday. It’s good to know that we are moving forward surgically and it means that I can focus on my goal of reducing the morphine even more. The transverse sinus is part of the venous system in the brain and allows the blood to drain from the back of the head. If you’d like to know more, I have a reference to this medical article here.

Last year’s surgery was such a success that I was able to travel abroad, have a 40th birthday party and generally spend more time with my family. This is my priority and as I was able to reduce the dose of morphine I take in the morning a few months ago, I now need to get back on track with that as I come out of the other side.

I’ve big plans with my family this year and although I always suffer, it’s so important that I try and enjoy my life as much as I can. I don’t know how much I will recover from this disease. This means making the most of life NOW! This is why we decided to visit the Imperial war museum yesterday on our trip to Cambridge. This was only my second trip out of my bedroom since surgery. Although I only managed half the visit in the museum and the other half lying down in the car, I’m amazed that I was able to do tbis and even though I’m exhausted today, I’m still finishing this blog!

As it’s only a month post op, I can’t say much has changed; although I haven’t passed out since, which was happening weekly beforehand. But, I feel like I’m turning the corner now and have every faith that symptoms will continue inproving quickly, as soon. I had such a positive response from last year’s surgery,  I feel positive that I will continue making baby steps towards achieve my goal to reduce my meds and increase time with my loved ones. So, I’m still in the slow lane, but I’m happy here for now whilst I carry out my job of healing, and continuing to rest!

Please check out my social media accounts and stores if you’re inspired:

http://www.facebook.com/Tearsofstrength

http://www.twitter.com/happyiihgirl

http://www.instagram.com/paprikajewellery2

http://www.pinterest.co.uk/PaprikaJeweller

SHOPS:

http://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/ThePaprikaJewellery

 

Chronic Illness Bloggers

IIH and skull surgery: part 2 #IIH #brainandspine

Skull Surgery

It sounds much worse than it will be. This is the next step in of my treatment plan. I have Idiopathic Intracranial Hypertension (IIH) and this is my journey,

To prepare for surgery; I’m resting; well, resting as well as anyone with needtodoitis can! I am on strict instruction to allow my body to be in the best condition possible, for my surgery on Thursday (15th June 2017). I’m also owning up now, to not fully understanding the recommended medical document, at the end of this blog. 👀

Firstly, if you are new to my blog or need a recap please read this post,, written after my first skull operation; a Styloidectomy. (I just re-read it; I’d forgotten some of this-yikes)!! Please be aware that there’s a surgery scar in case you’re squeamish.

Background

In January 2016; I had a Styloidectomy; the removal of the bone behind your ear; called the Styloid Process (red area on the diagram). My right Styloid process was removed by The Wizard; my ear and skull surgeon and one of the magical team I’m under in Cambridge. I have constricted veins in my head, mainly the jugular vein; affecting blood flow from my brain; leading to a build up of pressure in my skull. Following that op, I was able to have a two way conversation again; after two years of complete brain fog. Everyone noticed a difference, but I was still in 24/7 pain and unable to walk unaided. My memory was still poor and I still struggle with words,

img_7354At the time, we thought that the next step was to have a stent placed here. Due to being one of the patients to have these procedures; immediately after the trial group; I have to be prepared for rules changes. I had stent surgery of the left transverse sinus in September 2016, whilst they waited for their paper to be published. This is now available and they are  the first team in the world to use these methods, for this rare brain condition. You can find out more about all of this, in the ABOUT/BIO drop down menu: what is IIH?  

I’m lucky enough to benefit from what they have learnt in the trial. They found that placing a stent in the jugular vein, after removing the Styloid processs; was less effective than expected. But, once a stent is in place it can’t be moved; so patients often had the mastoid process removed, to relieve some of the pressure on the vein.

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Mastoidectomy

This led the team to the conclusion that it would be more effective to perform a mastoidectomy before stenting here. This would make room for the jugular vein to take the stent more precisely and possibly mean that stenting wouldn’t be necessary. I’ve highlighted both the Styloid and Mastoid process, in the diagram above.

I have only found articles about mastoidectomys for other conditions; as both of the surgeries used; aren’t new procedures. What the Cambridge team have done, is to think outside the box and are use tested surgeries in new ways; helping IIH patients with restricted venous outflow. I am referencing one of the clearest (and least scary) articles, to try and explain the procedure; although this is for other conditions.

This procedure is usually performed when a patient has: had infections that have caused hearing loss, tumours or for patients being fitted with a cochlear implant. The mastoid cells and process form part of the temporal bone. A mastoidectomy traditionally removes an area of mastoid cells; which which has a honeycomb structure, due to bone being formed around air pockets. However, the mastoid process is below this area; highlighted in the first diagram. This bone is denser and  connected to the C1 vertebrae, therefore attached to the top of the spine. This video explains the anatomy of the C1 vertebrae. Cervical Spine anatomy

There are many veins, nerves and muscles attached to the C1 vertebrae, which is essentially a pivot; allowing us to extend our neck and nod. The mastoid process is the outer part of the skull; attached to the occipital area and provides attachment for many muscles. Thankfully, I have complete faith in The Wizard and he’s assured me, that if anything; he’s conservative with how much bone he removes. He will drill the bone just enough; to make room for my jugular vein to work more efficiently.

Risks and Further surgery

It’s a similar surgery to the styloiectomy and has the same risks: which aren’t life threatening. There’s a possibility of having a weak shoulder/arm or a hoarse voice  following surgery. Despite the serious nature of the operation; I will be only be kept in overnight; unless there are complications. I will have a drain in overnight; used to   try and prevent side effects. In the future, I may need a stent here; it’s been the plan since the start, after all; but we have to focus on one step at a time. If you wish to know more about the anatomy and a typical mastoidectomy; please read this article

I’m sure I will be back very soon with some amusing anecdotes from our little adventure. Thanks again for stopping by; please don’t hesitate to ask questions. Remember though, that this team are the only team in the world treating patients like myself in this way; so I may not know, or be able to find the answer.

 

Chronic Illness Bloggers

Day 18 #MHAMBC #MHAM  What have my doctors said to me that give me hope? 

This is a tricky question to answer because I haven’t had much joy with neurologists. They have just given me false hope saying things like ‘we see cases like you all the time’ ‘we’ll have you fixed in no time’ and ‘just keep trying that medication, 6 months isn’t really long enough to know if it’s working’. As you can probably tell we have parted company. The only hope I did get from him was that my MRI  scan was normal. I should have been thrilled by that but I wasn’t. You see I knew there was something else complicating things and have since found out I was right and that I also have IIH. 

So how can I look at the question in a positive light…that’s my usual self and I can’t let this post go by without that me!  

 

Well, the answer lies with my GPs. I have had 2 amazing GPs over the last 18 months and I feel so lucky to have found them. I might have to fight for them; this week I haven’t been able to speak to my GP all week so tomo is the day of ringing at 8am and trying to get to speak to him. We’re on first name terms and we haven’t spoken in about 3 weeks. It feels wrong. I have a lot to tell him! 

Anyway, I digress…my previous GP was in his first years of his career and had never treated anyone like me. I was a challenge and he couldn’t believe that I wasn’t fixed by the time he had to move on to his next rotation. The hope he gave me was that I was a trier! He told me that I tried more things than he could ever think of to try and fight the migraines. I think we taught each other things but I do wonder if I’ll be one of those patients that he’ll still remember when he’s been practicing for years.

My current GP gives me hope every time I speak to him. He listens to EVERYTHING I say. He goes out of his way to help me, working on his days off to fill out forms for me and even driving up to my house to drop them off. That did get him a nice bottle of port for his trouble though. He always has time for me; and I take up a lot of it but he never seems to mind. He has had to work on things that he’s never dealt with before and will continue to because of the groundbreaking surgery I’m due to have for the IH. My migraines are an unknown quantity until after that op. But I have every hope that he will help me through. Pfft. Who needs neurologists and their puffed up egos anyway?!