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Navigating the ER with Migraine

Reading time | 4 mins

Going to the ER for migraine pain sucks. I wish I had a more elegant way of saying it, but I honestly can't think of a more appropriate word to describe it. Why?

In my experience, every time that I leave the ER, I feel worse than when I went in. Each and every time is the same… defeating, saddening, and, to put it simply, painful. Unfortunately, living with chronic migraine means that trips to the ER are just part of my reality.

Over the years I’ve picked up a few tips to best get through my migraine experience. Here’s a look at what I’ve learned.

Wear sunglasses

Bright lights can be a big challenge for people with migraine. Hospital lights are the very worst.

The harsh florescent lighting pierces my eyes and makes my pain feel that much worse. It’s hard to leave my dark room with blackout shades on the windows for the intense brightness that comes with an ER visit.

To combat the bright lights, I bring sunglasses. Any way to help shade my eyes from the lighting, especially during a migraine state, is a win.

Bring your own entertainment

I’m often in the ER by myself since I live far away from my family and my migraine pain worsens at odd or inconvenient times.

This means that I’m often spending hours by myself in the waiting room or in a hospital bed waiting to talk to a doctor. I have a hard time sitting still when my pain is at such an extreme level.

In an effort to keep my spirits up and not get too consumed by my pain, I try to distract myself with TV and movies. Even if I can barely pay attention, it’s better than focusing on the pain and the seemingly endless hospital noises.

The caveat here is that I always download my viewing content before leaving my apartment. Hospitals never seem to have good Wi-Fi or phone service. Downloading is key since internet connections and streaming services likely won’t be available.

Pack a sweatshirt

Getting IV fluids always makes me cold to my core. In an effort to combat my shivers, I always bring an extra sweatshirt to keep me warm, especially if blankets are limited.

Hospitals in New York City, where I live, often don’t have pillows. Oftentimes, my sweatshirt can act as a pillow, too.

Pack snacks and water

As I mentioned earlier, I generally visit the ER by myself. This means that I may spend hours there.

This can often leave me without access to food and without anyone available to pick up healthy options for me. So, I tend to pack some easy, healthy-ish snacks in my backpack so that I don’t have to miss any meals during a migraine state.

I generally pick up granola bars, mixed nuts, or anything else that I have easily accessible in my apartment at that time — ideally something that’s portable and not too messy.

It’s always nice to have a bottle of water (at least until I get through the waiting room and access IV fluids). Hydration is always top of mind for me, especially when I’m dealing with bad pain.

If you’re like me, and decide to pack some snacks and water, be sure to let your attending nurse, doctor, and other healthcare providers know what you’ve brought along. Your food and drink selections may factor into your treatment regimen.

Bring a companion if you can

The thought of bringing a friend to the ER with me sounds mean. I say this because I never want to feel like I’m burdening someone else with my pain. Dragging someone to the ER and forcing them to sit with me for hours feels like a lot to ask of someone.

That said, there have been a few select instances where I’ve desperately needed someone to be with me at the hospital. I was so pained and felt so broken that I needed emotional and physical support to get through the experience.

In these instances, I’ve wished that I had a trusted friend with me. They could read off my list of migraine medications for the many doctors who seemingly asked me the same questions over and over again.

I’d want my ER companion to ask the nurses and doctors to get me my medication and follow up when it hasn’t come. I’d want them there to ask the doctors for more medication when the initial treatment protocol doesn’t work (because it never does).

Most importantly, in these instances, I’d want someone to be there to help me stay positive when it feels like I’m completely out of options and not getting any relief.

Remember that you’re not alone

I like to text my migraine friends when I’m having a hard day. An ER-visit day falls into that category.

I find that it helps to connect with someone who understands what it’s like to go to the hospital for a migraine. It’s frustrating. Knowing that I’m not alone makes a huge difference in my mental health.

Most importantly, maintain your mental coaching

As I’ve mentioned in my article, I’ve Had A Migraine Since 2013: How I Keep Going, I find that mental coaching is a huge part of my everyday migraine management.

It means I coach myself through migraine experiences all day, every day. That doesn’t change when I have to go to the ER.

I continue to remind myself that I can handle anything. Today’s just another challenge that migraine is throwing at me.

For more information on how to manage migraine, reach out to your doctor or healthcare team. 

MIG-US-NP-00139 JULY 2019