On Sunday evening, around 6:30pm, Gwen started acting a little off. We had just eaten dinner, and were reading a story together on the couch, when she sort of shut down a little. Just a little bit quieter, just a little bit stiller, just a little bit less engaged. I asked her what was wrong and at first she said she didn’t want to tell me. “Is something hurting you? Do you have an owie?” “I don’t want to tell you,” she insisted, which only caused me to worry more. I persisted, and eventually she told me her eyes were hurting. “Show me where,” I said, and she pointed to her forehead in between and above her eyes.
For the next half an hour, the pain seemed to come and go. After a dose of Advil I proceeded with getting her ready for bed, and when lights out came, she simply rolled over and fell quiet, without her usual insistence on stories, songs, cuddles, and so on. I stayed and snuggled for a minute or two, then departed. Not three minutes later, I heard the unmistakable sound of a child’s stomach being violently emptied.
Chris had just arrived home, so we both rushed upstairs and leaped into action: him stripping the bed and running a bath, me comforting Gwen and peeling off her pajamas. She was weeping and very uncomfortable. She got in the bath and immediately lay down. As I stroked her back and soothed her, I asked if she could sit up. She told me, “If I sit up it will hurt my head.” I was astounded at her ability to recognize this and express it to me so clearly.
After about 15 minutes in the bath, I got her dressed in new pajamas and tucked her into my bed. I lay with her for a long time while Chris waited on hold with the nurses’ line to see if we needed to take further action. I was really scared by the idea of a three-year-old with a headache – one that seemed sensitive to light, also. Gwen was exhausted and soon fell asleep.
Our discussion with the nurse that night was possibly the most helpful discussion I’ve had with anyone there. She was very attentive to our concerns and gave us clear instructions on what to look for and how to follow up. At one point, she did ask us to wake Gwen up and see how she was doing: was the headache still present? Was she shaking or having difficulty breathing? Was she lying peacefully or tossing and whimpering in her sleep? How were her colour and temperature? She encouraged us to check these things every two hours throughout the night and if anything changed, take her to the ER. As such, Chris slept on the couch downstairs and I slept with Gwen in our bed so I could keep a close eye on her.
The night passed fairly uneventfully after that, and no trips to the ER were needed. Gwen woke in the morning seemingly back to normal and has not had any further symptoms. However, I wanted to keep note of what she did and ate that day so that if this does come up again – if there is some kind of migraine trigger – I will be better able to track it down.
Sunday morning, we went to church. She had toast for breakfast. At church, she ate cookies and drank lemonade. We later went out for ice cream at Dairy Queen. We were briefly at my office to pick something up, and I worried that she’d touched the ant traps there, but Chris assured me that if that was the problem, it would have shown itself much sooner. We spent a quiet few hours at home – no unusual snacks that I can recall. We went out for a nature walk at Colliery Dam Park in the late afternoon. After that, we made oatmeal raisin cookies. For dinner, she had leftover Kraft Dinner (her “favourite noodles”). It was shortly after that the symptoms started; once of our theories is that the leftover KD was just a little too old.
It’s hard to know whether the headache caused the nausea or the nausea caused the headache. I was very touched by the encouraging and sympathetic messages I received on Facebook, and especially buoyed by the many people who told me that yes, kids this young can get headaches and in fact they remember being prone to headaches at a young age. Most striking was Chris’s aunt, who commented that one of her first long sentences was, “Mom, I have an owie right here,” and pointed to the exact spot on her forehead where Gwen pointed. The fact that it was one of her first sentences would indicate she was somewhere around Gwen’s age when this happened.
There’s something about kids and headaches that makes me really sad; I do remember having a lot of headaches growing up (especially as a teen) and I guess I have an association with not being trusted since headaches are invisible and what kid doesn’t want to get out of school for a day with an easy excuse? So thinking of many of my friends as children with terrible headaches breaks my heart, and I sure hope Gwen is not prone to them. However, after receiving all this advice and support I do feel that if it happens again I will be better prepared and better able to comfort her.