In this post I describe a cluster headache attack that is left untreated. This description is based on real memories of the times when I didn’t have medication yet. During that period I had episodic cluster headache that occurred four times a year for about four to five weeks. Attacks came every other day. This has worsened over the years and evolved into chronic cluster headache with up to six attacks on a single day. You’ll read about this in full detail later on.
Cluster headache attack: description through the eyes of a patient
I’m quietly working at my desk when it starts. Oh no, not now! This can’t be happening, but unfortunately it’s true: I will go through hell in the next hour.
First signs of a cluster headache attack
A cluster headache attack comes very, very rapidly. Warnings are rare and subtle. Personally, I know an attack is imminent when my right nostril gets congested. I feel a subtle pressure behind my right eye. I’m getting low spirited, it can happen any moment now. And so it does: mere minutes after the first warning the battle ensues violently.
War in my head
The pain reaches peak level after just a few minutes. I know this will last for a full hour. I have to go through sixty minutes with thousands of red hot pokers drilling their way into my brain behind my right eye. For a full hour I don’t know where to crawl, for a full hour I want to bang my head on the wall and whenever I’m alone that’s exactly what I do. I would do anything to relive me from this pain for just a second.
After about fifteen minutes the thought of grabbing a spoon to pop my eye out begins to sound like a good idea. Yes, that would be ideal to release this enormous amount of pressure behind my eye. Lucky for me I don’t have the strength to get up and grab me a spoon. Forty-five minutes to go. I can’t stay still, my feet stomp nervously up and down, my leg shakes and I grab my head in my hands.
After thirty minutes I sigh deeply. It’s as if I’m already suffering for hours and I’m just only halfway there. Again I despair, another thirty minutes to go. This seems like hours, I get up and start walking back and forth across the room. Every half minute I check the clock, which seems to be ticking backwards. I drop myself on the couch again and grab my head once more. I ram my fingernails deep inside my forehead, unfortunately this doesn’t silence the excruciating pain of the cluster attack.
Maybe it helps to hold something cold against my head? There’s a can of coke on my desk. Like a maniac I roll the can form my forehead to my eye socket and back, but no, this can’t relieve the pain either. I grab my head again and start rocking the chair, I do this until suddenly the pain starts to diminish.
The battle is over
Could it be? I check the clock and sure: an hour has passed since the war broke out. I’ve been in hell for an hour. As fast as cluster headache comes, equally fast it disappears. Unbelievable really. I’m quite alright now. There are no signs of the battle that just took place. As if nothing happened I sit there in my chair and continue my work. A colleague asks if I’m OK. Yes, I’m fine. The day after tomorrow I have a new appointment with the beast inside my head, but for now that seems like a long time away.
This was a typical cluster headache attack as I’ve endured them at work. Always between 9 and 10 AM. I could set my watch to it. Because I felt fine after an attack it took a long for me to got to the doctor with this problem. When I got home from work at night the pain was long forgotten and I felt absolutely alright. It wasn’t until the attacks became more frequent that I visited my GP.
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