Stu News and Photos

My name is Stu and I am here to share what I can.

At the tail end of the last century, I found myself looking to make a life for myself as a writer, and to heed the siren call of South California. Upon my settlement in the land of fruits and nuts, I developed headaches.

These weren't ordinary headaches, ones that could be eased by a cup of coffee or a nosh or a couple of Advil. No, these headaches were far worse. They emerged into a cactus flower of a throbbing ache, taking about fifteen minutes to go from pain-free to generally disabling. The feeling was as if someone was slowly blowing up a balloon that rested just behind my right eye.

The headaches would last for several hours and no medicine would keep them at bay. Not Advil, not Tylenol, not Excedrin. Not antihistamines, not decongestants, not barbiturates.

I visited several types of doctors, all of whom sent me to another doctor, none of whom had a cure. MRIs, CT scans, PET scans, X-rays, all read by technicians and physicians as normal, as benign. So, y'know, yay, no brain tumor. But those pesky headaches.

And when I say pesky, I mean so painful that I'd fantasize about pulling my eye out to relieve the pressure.

As the doctors were not helping, Leslie and I took to the research stacks at the local libraries and the volumes of information on the internet. Unfortunately, nothing fit my symptoms.

Years went by.


Then, in the throws of another disabling, punishing headache, I made my way to the computer and began a new path of research. After reading through another dozen websites, I came upon some information on a different type of headache than I'd read about previously. They were called "Cluster Headaches." (Read the aforementioned link to Wikipedia, as cluster headaches have another, far more descriptive name that I won't mention here for the folks who don't want to hear the name. Suffice it to say that the name they give these headaches is entirely appropriate.

Anyway, it turns out that my symptoms matched up almost exactly with the diagnosis of cluster headaches. And to make sure, I had Leslie go over the symptoms without my input and she came back in full agreement: I had cluster headaches.

Immediately I went to an independent neurologist and detailed my symptoms and my diagnosis. He went down the list of symptoms with me: Pain only on one side, no relief from any common medications, restlessness, inability to lay down, unbearable pressure behind my eye, the sensation of a stuffed nose... All of this had him nodding in agreement: "You've got cluster headaches."

Ok, great, wonderful, marvelous. But now what?

First, a brief explanation of this type of headache: Something causes dilation of the blood vessels in my face, causing pressure on my trigeminal nerve. This nerve helps me feel my face, as well as helps with eating. So, kind of important, the eating thing. So surgery to cut the trigeminal nerve is not a way to go just yet. What are my realistic options?

Turns out there are two stages to fighting cluster headaches. One is prophylactic (preventative) - For me, we're trying a daily dose of a beta-blocker, Propranolol. This hasn't seemed to do much, but they say it takes a while for it to become effective.

However, all is not lost. The second stage of dealing with cluster headaches is to take an abortive (to stop the headache as soon as it starts). For me, the drug that was prescribed was Zomig, an inhalant.

So now it's the day after my consultation with the neurologist and I start to feel a headache coming on. So I walk into the bathroom, open up a Zomig, pop the top, shove the tip up my nose, lean my head back a bit, and fire away. And you know what? My headache went away! No kidding, my headache just slowly drifted away, as if the air had been let out of the balloon.

Now, cluster headaches come in clusters, so I've had the beginnings of the headaches every day for a few weeks, but the Zomig worked every single time without fail. A blessing. And now I'm in a headache-free period, which may last for a month or more. But when the headaches come back, no more debilitation. No more lost days. No more agonizing, soul-killing journeys into near-madness.

So, anyway, that's what's up with me. Maybe later I'll mention my night of the kidney stones.


Anonymous said...

Oh Stu!

I feel *terrible* that you had to suffer - for years - with those terrible headaches. :( I can only try to imagine how horrible it must have been. And how frustrating for Leslie; to be helpless to ease your pain must have been horrible for her, too.

But, YAY! You found it, and you got it fixed!!! I am thrilled to see that the medication is working! It's like a whole new chapter in your life! Congratulations!

Thim :)

Melissa said...

while I don't suffer from them, my mother does and they have sent her to the emergency room several times.

She's just been diagnosed with clusters, but hasn't gotten the nose spray stuff you mentioned. she's been on beta blockers, and just got put on something different.

She did, also, go to a chairopractor (not sure how to spell that), and he worked wonders. When she has had a headache post the visit, they've been no stronger than those that would respond to advil.

You have my sympathies for the pain, and for suffering so long. I will keep my fingers crossed for you that it works. No one should suffer like that, especially not some as nice as yourself.

Chuck said...

My, those sound horrible, Stu. I'm glad you've found something that can help keep them from getting out of control. Good luck with your new meds!

David said...

Stu, I am SO happy you found Zomig. WOW!!!! I can only imagine how paralyzing and painful those headaches must be. The thought that you might be past that chapter of your life is amazing news. I am doing the snoopy dance (don't even try to imagine what that must look like!!!)

Congrats, bro. So happy for you...

-- Dave

Dangermouse said...

Hey my man. I'm stoked to hear you've tamed those nasty headaches once and for all! :D

Anonymous said...

Hey Stu, I happened along your blog and Im a suffer of clusters for the last 6+ years. sorry that youve joined the ranks of the select few cluster sufferers.. I hope more pain free days ahead of you. Make sure to do your homework about preventatives and abortives. Oxygen is the best natural way to abort clusters. much better than putting even more chemicals inside you. Take a look at (i think. Its a forum for people like us. ull find alot of helpful info as well as helpful people. unfortunatly you'll probably have many months/years with this condition so dont stop doing your research. i was on verpamil as an preventative and imitrex as abortive. Good luck..

Jim said...


I've had them since 1988, Imitrex shots helped back in 95-98 but quit working, as have most of the meds I can afford. I've found that strong coffee and oxygen are the 2 that do the most for me.

This might sound corny, but the thing that helped me deal with the pain the most, was knowing I'd live thru it, and that nothing was physically killing me, even though it felt like it.

Best of luck,


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