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Me, My Girl and Her Migraines

A Man Shares How He Deals With His Partner's Chronic Condition

She called, on the verge of tears, with pain in her left eye and spotty vision in both, so I knew it was going to be a mean one — and the second of two this month. Michele fought back tears as she told me she was leaving work. I wanted to make sure that the bedroom was set up by the time she got home.

After I hung up the phone, I began to shove cardboard boxes into the gap above the sliding glass doors in the bedroom to block sunlight and tucked blankets over the curtains (because the curtains alone never fully shield sunlight during the day). I made the bed and piled up all the pillows on her side. She wouldn't be home for at least 15 minutes, which meant I had time to run to the store to get Gatorade, the preferred postgame drink of my migraine sufferer.

She was a wreck when she got home. Trembling with pain, she was having difficulty speaking clearly. I held her up with a hug and then led her to the dark sanctuary. The dog had his ears down; even he knew something was wrong.

I can change a flat tire for her, do her taxes and rub a knot out of a stiff neck, but when a migraine takes over, my role is reduced to Master of Darkness and Procurer of Gatorade and pills. It's not a job I take lightly, but a role that renders me mostly useless and somewhat clueless is not one that I welcome. ...Read More

According to the National Headache Foundation, nearly 30 million Americans suffer from migraines, and they affect women about three times more often than men. Doctors now believe that brain abnormalities cause migraines, which vary in severity and duration. They're linked to “pain centers” in the mid-brain; once activated, blood vessels constrict and dilate and inflammatory substances get released that can cause painful throbbing. Migraines can also cause nausea and vomiting, upset stomach, abdominal pain, sensations of being very warm or cold, fatigue, dizziness, blurred vision, blind spots and temporary vision loss. Put another way, they can reduce your happy, productive loved one to a vision-impaired, teary-eyed mess.

Beyond the grief of seeing my Michele tormented by migraines, and not being able to help her in any substantial way, is how these “headaches” are misunderstood and misrepresented by the public. In February, TV reporter Serene Branson was rumored to have suffered a seizure on air that caused her to speak gibberish during a live broadcast. When the video went viral, people didn't know how to react; some people cringed and many laughed. When it was later revealed that Branson had actually suffered a migraine, many talking heads trivialized it as “just a headache,” and some continued to laugh at the uncomfortable video.

Outside of that instance, many who don't have a loved one who experiences migraines or haven't had one themselves consider a migraine just a fancy name for cranial pain or a more severe headache. (Some even call their own headaches migraines: Basically, if you think you've had a migraine, you're probably wrong.) An actual migraine can't be dismissed as "just a headache" — code for “take some ibuprofen and get back to work.” If only it were that simple.

Two months after the nasty migraine that sent Michele home from work, it happened again.

We were at my parents's house about four hours from home, which wouldn't have mattered if Michele's travel box, which typically houses her pills, weren't empty. She pulled the thing from her purse and inspected the plastic shells one by one. I let out a few four-letter words and she slumped over the bed, burying her face in a pillow.

Not ready to give up, I dumped the entire contents of the bag onto the bed and raked through the random collection of makeup, receipts and gum. Nothing. Still, I scoured the empty bag again and then back through the pile of junk on the bed. My stomach turned. But in a flash of clarity I realized a Plan B: Some of my mom's migraine medication must be lying around.

I'm a migraine veteran, you see, because my mother is a sufferer too. Although when I was young, the medications weren't nearly as effective. All I knew is that when my mother said the code word, she needed dark and quiet, and my brother and I had to stop beating each other up. Eventually the pain would subside.

Now my mother takes her migraine medication in the form of a self-injection. So even if I could find one of the needles, either Michele or myself would have to administer the medication by stabbing her in the thigh with the needle. I hoped we could handle this.

I told my mother the situation, and she told me where I could find the self-injection medication in the bathroom. She also gave me detailed instructions on how to load the needle into the trigger device as I marveled at the contraption. Meanwhile, Michele's pain began to worsen. She was counting on me.

Taking the cartridge pack out of the case, I removed a syringe. The device was a bit wobbly. I wiggled the button and triggered the thing, nearly stabbing myself in the hand and shooting the substance all over the bathroom mirror. Nice.

There were two doses left. I pushed the pen on the second cartridge, heard it click, but the safety catch didn't seem to be secure. So I put the pen back in and pushed it down harder. The needle snapped. Strike two.

With a scratchy, pained voice, Michele called from the bed near the bathroom to ask if I had gotten it. I told her “almost,” and I repeated the steps until I thought I had gotten the needle ready to go. I wasn't going to test it and risk another misfire. I walked to the bed and pulled her to the edge so her legs would hang down. She held herself up and took a deep breath, and I told her to jab it into her thigh.

She took a moment. Then she pressed the device against her skin, paused and hit the button. Only it didn't go off. I wondered if I had screwed it up and told her to try again. She did, and nothing happened. She was disappointed and I was despondent, but I told her to try once more. She braced herself again and hit the button and bam!—the needle went off. She was startled and pulled it from her thigh prematurely. Probably about two-thirds of the medication made it into her bloodstream.

“That hurt,” she said.

“Well, at least we could never be heroin addicts,” I told her.

She smiled, and I was thrilled that I broke her focus from the pain temporarily. She lay back down and I tucked her in. She fell asleep a few minutes later.

  • A chronic condition can affect a relationship in numerous ways, but being a supportive partner will make all the difference.

Me, My Girl and Her Migraines
A Man Shares How He Deals With His Partner's Chronic Condition
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