I recently found out that a young woman I tutor is a migraineur--her headaches keep her out of school for days at a time, and when she finally got some medication from a doctor last week, the side effects of that medication made her so fatigued and out of it that she still couldn't go to school. Her mom mentioned to me that they'd be attending a meeting at her high school this week, one in which the Powers That Be would decide if this migraine sufferer would be held back a grade due to her absences. (A concomitant problem? The declining grades on her report card, a problem exacerbated by her frequent absences.)
Below please find the letter I wrote to the school--I wrote it before asking her mom if they even wanted my take. I mentioned that of course she didn't have to include it at all during the meeting. To my happiness, she was grateful for any and all weapons she could put in her arsenal and was to present it to the school's administration in a Wednesday meeting. I've called her X and removed any identifying details to preserve anonymity.
After the letter you'll see the attached list of webpages I included for the family. They, like many who have just recently learned that migraine is affecting a loved one, are worried about the problem but aren't entirely familiar with its complexity.
If you all have any tips for me or the student involved, please throw 'em at me.
February 26, 2008
To whom it may concern:
My name is _______, and I have known X for ten months now. I am a tutor for the School District and have had the opportunity to work with X on her school work in addition to talking with her about her personal life.
A few weeks ago, I learned that X is a chronic migraineur. Immediately I empathized: you see, I am a severe chronic migraineur, and the disease sometimes debilitates me so much that I am unable to work, attend family functions, or spend time with friends.
It is my understanding that X may be on the cusp between ninth and tenth grade and that her frequent absences might cause the school to decide that she must repeat ninth grade. I’m writing today to reassure you that, when suffering from a migraine headache, it is next to impossible to stand up and walk around, let alone attend school. Her absences were far from desired, as she spends most of the time in her dark room feeling pretty awful whenever she takes off school. Even after seeing a doctor for her condition, she was very much under the weather, a combination of her migraines and the sleepy side effects of the medication.
Please keep in mind the severe disability incurred by migraine sufferers when thinking about X's case. She is a bright, enthusiastic, genuinely caring young woman who faces great adversity. She learns quickly with one-on-one instruction and I am more than willing to help her catch up on any work she’s missed during her absences.
Attached please find a list of resources on migraine disease, including descriptions of its effects and triggers. Approximately 28 million Americans have the disease and are dealing with it every day. Please do your part to make sure that X is able to live her life as healthily as she can and consider the attached information in making your decision. I recommend starting here first:
Then you might want to do a search on “the impact of migraines” in order to see how devastating the disease can be to the sufferer and his/her family and friends. This page presents some information on that: http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/16338.php
Again, I am able to work with X to help her improve the grades that may have slipped as a result of her absence. I can be reached at ______ with any questions or concerns.
Migraine Disease Resources
There exist thousands of informational pages on migraine, ranging from articles hosted by the National Headache Foundation to personal accounts of dealing with migraine disease written by sufferers, care givers, doctors, and friends of migraineurs. Below please find a selection of websites I have found helpful, sites that will help you if you take the necessary time to look through them and read them carefully. There is a great deal of information to learn, and the more you are able to educate yourself, the more control you’ll have over your disease.
What is a migraine? How is it treated? Why does the disease occur in the first place? These questions and more are answered on this Health & Human Services webpage.
MAGNUM, the National Migraine Association’s headache support group page. This site features TONS of helpful information, links to other sites, recommendations for patients and healthcare providers, and much more. A good place to start your learning process.
The National Headache Foundation has a LONG list of resources and helpful information for people wanting to learn more about Migraine. This particular page is entitled “Educational Resources” and will really come in handy and help you get a better understanding of the complex nature of migraine disease.
A comprehensive description of migraine disease, its effects, its cause, and what patients can do to improve quality of life.
What are some common migraine triggers?
This section of the MAGNUM website explores the myriad issues faced by migraineurs. Migraine is a debilitating disease, not just a headache. This page has many articles and references that are good to cite when meeting with a school or workplace regarding special accommodations that should be made for migraine sufferers.
The New York Times has this blog written by several prestigious headache sufferers, all of whom approach the topic from a different perspective. I believe this site is only going to be updated in February 2008, though it will be kept online after that.
_____'s anonymous migraine blog, featuring helpful links and information on what does and does not help her cope with severe chronic migraine disease.
Lifestyle changes for preventing migraine disease, including shifts in diet.
The role of diet in migraine headaches.
This About.com page discusses the relationship between migraine and diet. The importance of eating breakfast each day cannot be emphasized enough, as keeping a regular eating schedule will prevent many migraines. (Skipping meals is one of the most common and controllable triggers.)
This WebMD.com page is a good jump-off point for migraineurs who want to figure out what, if any, food items are triggering their headaches. Keeping a general headache diary can help you and your healthcare provider figure out some of even the most elusive migraine triggers so you can improve your well-being. Making a diary of your own in a little notebook will probably be more helpful than using the chart on this page, but be sure to look at the elements they include on the headache diary chart so you can be sure to add those to your chart.
This website features a guide for an elimination diet. When followed properly, a well-designed elimination diet like this one can help migraineurs figure out what foods are triggering their headaches and which ones are “safe” for them. Remember to consult with a doctor before beginning any major dietary change in order to learn of the best methods possible.
Another page that helps those who want to effectively identify headache triggers.
A partner site with the one above, this page is a headache-specific elimination diet and has a list of common foods that are found to trigger migraine in many sufferers.
An ABC News article that gives a broad yet informative view of seven of the most common headache triggers.
This article is one of many news items out there describing the link between compact fluorescent lighting and migraine headaches.
The New York Times article on fluorescent lighting’s effect on migraineurs.
Another article focusing on the link between fluorescent lighting (both the old-fashioned long bulbs and compact fluorescents) and migraine.
This site helps people with limited resources get the medication prescribed by their doctors. A social worker will be well-suited to help with this and see if it can assist you in particular.