Nurse and Midwife Liz Durant

RK interviewed nurse Liz Durant about her life and work, and her battle with chronic migraine that has been hampered by medication allergies. 

Tell me a bit about yourself? Where do you live, and do you have family, pets, hobbies?

My name is Liz. I am a born and bred Sydney girl, currently live in Cessnock NSW. We moved here 17 months ago from Broken Hill where I lived and worked for 12 years (prior to that I was in Darwin for 2 years).

I am one of 4 kids, my parents have been married for 53 years and still together (both my ageing parents are battling ill-health – dad has early dementia and my mum has a terminal lung condition which is huge reason why I moved back East last year).

I am an Aunty to 5 nieces ad 3 nephews. Sadly my older sister passed away in March 2018 from a rare form of MND and end-stage COPD. My brother and his family live in Sydney, and my younger sister and her family have recently moved to Darwin.

I am married – had our wedding in the outback in Broken Hill at Easter 2019. I am a step-mum of 3 young adults. I am a fur-mum to 3 cats (2 boys, Meggsy and Rascal, and my husband’s girl, Lynx).

I love to de-stress by reading (when I can), photography (mostly landscapes and sunsets/sunrises), art and craft (try my hand at watercolour painting, rock art, paint by numbers – this has been my self-care recently to reduce stress), walking, visiting new places for the landscapes and history of the region, occasionally watching a movie.

What is your passion in life?

My passion in life has been focused around my career as a nurse/midwife. I love to support people at their most vulnerable, usually when they are sick or have health conditions or when I was working as a midwife, supporting women, babies and families. I really want to help them learn how to take better care of themselves and therefore their community, and have a better understanding of their health/impact on life.

Do you currently work? 

I’m currently working as a Registered Nurse in the community, caring for and supporting retired nuns in their health and wellbeing.

Previously I have been working in the aged care industry in various senior nursing and management positions which cause high stress and my work-life was often impacted negatively by chronic migraine. I’ve also worked in other nursing areas such as child and family health, indigenous health, immunisation, orthopaedics and rural/remote work.

Tell us about your migraine?

I started getting migraine attacks in my late teens/early 20’s. I don’t remember my first migraine attack, but I do remember talking to my GP at the time about them and was told to do a ‘food diary’ and work out what was causing them and they’d stop. I did that; cut out or cut down on those, and they didn’t stop!

I’ve pretty much managed my migraine by myself since I was about 18. Unfortunately due to developing severe multiple drug allergies over the years, I haven’t been able to take medications that I used to which has complicated my management i.e. only being able to take Paracetamol and Endone (which isn’t really a good drug of choice for migraine pain).

When I first started to get a migraine attack the symptoms started out with pain and pressure behind my right eye, like it was trying to push my eyeball out of my head and the whole right hemisphere would throb. This also came with photosensitivity, noise sensitivity, and the most awful nausea. Then I also started losing vision in the right eye after a few years.

Then a few years after I moved to Broken Hill (2009), my symptoms started to change (they probably had previously to this but didn’t really take much notice of them). I started to get what I call a ‘waterfall’ sensation loss down the right side of my face (I could feel the difference at the midline, like a line was drawn down my face), starting from the hairline, down my eye and side of face to my chin. I also started losing strength in my left arm.

After a little while, I did some thinking about my symptoms and discovered that in the 2-3 days prior to this happening I would get what I call ‘the droppsies’ in my left hand. I would be holding something and then suddenly it would just fall out of my hand. I was forgetting words, or unable to say the correct word (despite the correct word being in my head and wondering why I got strange looks from people, I hadn’t realised I’d said another word that was totally off-topic).

I ended up in ED in Broken Hill on at least 3 occasions as my symptoms changed; for pain and to rule out stroke. Every time without fail, “it’s JUST a migraine Liz” or “it’s JUST a new symptom of migraine that you’ll have to learn to live with.” The last ED visit was actually after I was married in late 2019; I woke with my right eye drooped, not opening, slurring my words, no use of my left arm. The worst symptoms yet. My husband freaked out and called the ambulance – they came, checked me out (did FAST) said, “no, not stroke, JUST a severe migraine but we’ll take you up to get checked out anyway (reluctantly).” And that’s what the doctor said – “just a severe migraine.” Although they did try to help me out this time, putting me in a quiet, dark room and only came in when they had to and didn’t turn on the lights. The lovely young (new) doctor attempted to give me an injection of Imigran and mistakenly pushed the syringe BEFORE it was in my leg and wasted an $80 injection; then gave me a tablet form which I proceeded to have an anaphylactic reaction to. So my migraine attack ended in a few doses of adrenalin and a 4-6 hour stay in ED (with a migraine attack!).

Have any treatments or medications worked for you?

I’ve not really found any treatments work for me as such – like I said, treating migraine headache with only Panadol, Endone and Maxalon only made me sleep so I would wake up and my face/arm had sensation returned but I also ended up with migraine hangover for days afterwards.

I got so annoyed with having so much sick leave due to migraine (at that time I was having chronic migraine attacks). A friend in Victoria had had both her Daith’s pierced and kept trying to encourage me to have mine done. I finally went in search of a reputable piercer and have mine done. I found one in Mildura 330km away and booked myself in. That was exactly 3 years ago – I had the right one done first, thinking that was the migraine side. My manager at the time (also suffers from migraine and had both Daiths pierced) scolded me and said I should have had both done at the same time. She was right. My migraine over the next 4 weeks moved to the left side! So after 4 weeks, I had the left done as well.

Within 2-3 weeks of feeling like my brain was a radio-frequency gone wrong, my brain settled and I stopped getting painful migraine attacks and the frequency of migraine attacks also significantly reduced. This seemed to start silent-migraine which I still get now – loss of sensation in my left arm (with droppsies 2-3 days prior), loss of vision in my right eye (like I’m looking under water), sometimes I get right sided face sensation loss but it’s more likely that my eye droops; lose words, slurred or slow speech so that I make sure that I’m using the correct words. I once was trying to tell my manager about my migraine attacks – instead of the word “migraine” microwave kept coming out of my mouth. My manager thought it was hilarious – yep, I was heading to another doozy of a migraine the following day!

Just this Friday gone I had my very first Neurologist appointment. Oh the feeling of being validated, and heard, and understood! I wasn’t crazy for the symptoms I was describing, and how they’ve changed over time. I finally have a management plan, which is to prevent migraine as much as possible rather than take medication for pain. Since I don’t seem to get painful migraine as much anymore. One of the medications I’m already taking the Doctor said has also been known to be used to prevent migraine symptoms – so he just increased my dose!

Have you changed much in your life to try and manage your migraine?

Having my Daiths pierced made a huge impact on managing migraine, even though it changed the symptoms, severity and frequency. I’m relieved that I don’t have the painful migraine as often, although I could do without the other symptoms.

Reducing stress in my life has been a key factor in managing migraine. Changing jobs (executive manager in residential aged care to a district clinical consultant role – though the stress would change but only worsened as I was bullied for the 18 months I was in job which had a negative impact on my migraine frequency). I ended up leaving that job and worked back on the floor in residential aged care for the 3 months prior to moving to Cessnock. 

I thought by moving to be closer to family, and out of that stressful work environment would reduce my migraine attacks. It didn’t. I had one in my 3rd week in my new job! I guess moving across the State would do that. Then I left that job after 6 months of being on-call and long hours and lots of stress. I changed to a private company doing health assessments for the mining industry but the awful lighting in that building was causing painful migraine. I had a freak accident where I was accidentally head-butted by a miner which caused a significant concussion and a visit to the Opthalmology clinic. After 7 weeks I left that job and took 6 weeks off to get my physical, mental, emotional health back on track. Then I landed my current job and the stress has pretty much gone – I actually enjoy getting up and going to work!

To help reduce my stress, I started doing some self-care. I would take myself to the markets here in town or in Newcastle, drive to the beach in Newcastle; I watched a YouTube video on rock art and watercolour painting- so I started doing those and found great satisfaction and I was much calmer in myself. 

Do you have any other health conditions? Do they make your migraine worse?

The allergies to medications impact me hugely in that there aren’t many medications the doctors are willing to give me. The idiopathic angioedema is related to many foods, drinks, preservatives that are added to foods/drinks/medications. I have noted over the last few years that some foods can cause migraine (watermelon is one) and the migraine can then proceed to a severe allergic reaction/anaphylaxis. I’ve also recently seen an immunologist that has started me on new medication (which was now identified by my neurologist as also helping with migraine). So this new medication is actually helping with preventing reactions/migraines, assisting with my sleep and also helping with my mood.

What would be your top tip to anyone living with migraine?

Do you your own research online – that is where I found out so much information about migraine, the different types, management (with and without medications.

I would also recommend making sure you get some great support (professionally from doctors/others working in the field, and from people in the know about migraine). Having support from others like the Migraine Australia Facebook support group is great too.

Many people still do not know or understand migraine, especially at work e.g. managers, work colleagues, etc. Most people say “I’m sorry you still have a headache” when talking about the hangover effect of migraine; or “how long is this going to last? I hope it doesn’t happen again – you’re taking a lot of sick leave and time off work”.

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