Headaches. We all get ‘em, we all whine about ‘em. But I think I may bite my tongue before I go bemoaning my next bout with cranial pain, because recently I heard the story of 13-year-old Jaden Turner, whose headache experience dwarfs the occasional puny poundings in my head.
From January to May of this year, Jaden suffered a succession of increasingly severe migraine headaches. They often lasted for days. He had to forego his normal activities such as playing basketball or listening to music and often missed school. All he could do was to retire to his darkened bedroom and try to sleep off the pain.
“He couldn’t do anything. He was a totally different kid,” Stacey Williams, Jaden’s mom, told me. Anything more than dim light or a soft voice could be agonizingly painful.
“Even some of the smallest sounds, like if my dog was whining, even the smallest, tiniest sounds would kill me,” Jaden said. Being touched on the head was so excruciatingly painful he had to forego haircuts.
“When the headaches were really bad, my head was constantly hurting,” he said. “It wasn’t like it just happened in the mornings and stopped in the afternoons and came back overnight... I went to sleep with it and I woke up with it.”
Jaden’s pediatrician at California Pacific Medical Center diagnosed migraines, but rest and ibuprofen didn’t help. Jaden was then referred to neurologists from Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital. The doctors were located at CPMC in San Francisco as part of a collaboration between the two health-care providers that began in 2012 to enhance access to highly specialized medical care for San Francisco and North Bay children.
After being evaluated by pediatric neurologist Susy Jeng, MD, Jaden was referred to Packard Children’s Pain Management Service, where anesthesiologist Meredith Brooks, MD, agreed with Jeng’s suspicion that the pain was from irritated nerves. Brooks thought Jaden’s occipital nerves, which emerge through the spinal column and pass through the trapezius muscle onto the skull, were the likely source.
On May 17, Brooks gave Jaden six nerve-block injections — four at the base of his skull and two in his forehead. “The needles Dr. Brooks used were so huge they looked like turkey basters,” Williams said.
Those massive needles did the trick. Jaden returned to school the next day and – knock wood – hasn’t had a headache since.
Reflecting on the young patient’s saga and quick turnaround, Jeng said, “It was like this kid was hit by a bus, and now he’s back to normal.”
Previously: Director of Stanford Headache Clinic answers your questions on migraines and headache disorders and New Stanford headache clinic taking an interdisciplinary approach to brain pain
Photo courtesy of Stacey Williams