Unconventional Cure — Leave The Headache Behind


I was at a Midwestern medical center, taking internal referrals.  The referring physician was a medical doctor I had never heard of.  Of course, there was no information about why a 70 year old grandmotherly woman with white hair and a surprisingly pleasant smile had been referred.

She told me she had headaches.  She was very happy that she did not have one on that day.  They were horrible and even an emergency room injection of narcotics did not do anything for them once they started.  They were variable, sometimes brief and sometimes lasting a whole day.  They could be on either side, or both, but most often cut a line from above one ear to above the other ear.  They were getting worse and quickly.

One of the smartest things anyone ever told me (It was an ancient professor in France, who was so experienced he had to say smart things once in a while) was that if a patient could not be diagnosed, or did not make any sense, just spend more time with the patient and get more history.  He said that very often patients knew exactly why they had the problems they had.

After a little more time, it was pretty easy to figure out that she had a headache every single time her husband yelled at her.  He had run a business very successfully for many years, something about stock or option derivatives that I understood little of and she understood even less. He had done many things in his life, including farming wheat (which almost everyone in the region of this Midwest university had done at some time or another) but somehow he had seen things which other people had been unable to see. His success had been stellar. She lived in comfort that was pretty rare in that region.  She had been to some very expensive doctors about her headache.  She was tired, and wanted an end to them.  She only came to see me because it was known I was both a smart and a nice lady.

She didn’t have to keep a journal to figure out her husband gave her headaches.  She said that he had always been dictatorial, that he was of German origin (hers was Dutch) and he had liked her gentle and complaint temperament for the 50 or so years of her marriage. He phased out his business activities so he could rest at home.  After all, he was 82 years old.  But as soon as he got home full time, her headaches got worse.  She had developed a nice network of women friends who shared her pleasure in “domestic” arts such as needlework.

I told her we could treat what was going on with her with empty chair technique. I cautioned her as I caution all with whom I use this technique that it was not a good idea to confront the other party, her husband. After all, the headaches were caused not necessarily by her husband as he was, but the husband “in her head.”  We could talk more about her relationship with him and we would certainly find reasons that things were as they were.  Her marriage was stable and 50 years old and I thought it was important to be delicate and go slowly, since she lived full time in a house with this man whose behavior she found this disturbing; so much so she could say nothing.  Clearly there was something good and strong about this marriage, that had produced large numbers of happy and successful children and grandchildren.

She agreed, and said she would come back to see me in a week.

She did, but she told me it was just to thank me, for she had left her husband, and the headaches were gone.

I almost slid off my chair onto the floor.  She apologized for breaking her promise to me, but told me she should have done this years ago. She said that she decided it was stupid to continue to see me and to have “imaginary” talks with a husband in her head when he was sitting around the house and clearly had nothing better to do. She started slowly and he rebuked her in a way to which she had become all too accustomed.  She herself was amazed how fast she accelerated. She told him that the way he had treated her for years was not something she was going to put up with.  Of course, he became defensive and angry. She arranged for accommodations with a nearby friend.  She told this person about what she was going to do, and secured immediate (and free) accommodations. She was gone. She told me that he thought she would be back immediately, but she had not gone back, and knew she would not.

I told her I was concerned that this had been unplanned and she needed to figure out how she would live.  She said that she had already contacted a lawyer, and she knew she would be just fine. I offered her support; she didn’t want any. She said she could take it from here, that she would not see me again.  She kissed me on the forehead and left.

I told my preceptor, who said one session cures happen, and that I had been fortunate to catch this woman when she was “ready.”  Me, I wondered how many women were ready, and had lived through a suffering so great that with such minimal stimulus they would make the same choice.

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