Miss Migraine: The trouble with migraines in college part 1

Banner that says "The Adventures of Miss Migraine"

The Adventures of Miss Migraine is an ongoing column about my life with chronic migraine. A version of this post appeared first on my blog of the same name on August 29, 2012. I wanted to re-post this series now, in hopes that it will help anyone getting ready to head off to college for the first time, or going back to college. College is hard enough without migraines!

The trouble with migraines in college

During a journalism class my senior year of undergraduate work, my professor — we’ll call her “C” — held individual meetings with us about the work we’d done so far and any concerns we had for the rest of the semester.

For the past month or so, I had been seeing a doctor at the on-campus health center once per week for my never-ending head pain and visiting a chiropractor three times per week for the same reason. I was scared by the constant headache that had nestled itself in my temples, and my course work — 15 credits and a graduate level thesis to write, present, and defend — daunted me. So far, neither the doctor nor the chiropractor had been able to put a dent in my pain.

I explained my situation to C and expressed my concerns for the final research project that made up a majority of our final grade, as it was due around the same time as my thesis project. C reassured me, told me that so far, my work had been great. I’d be fine.

American flag waving in front of the Cathedral of Learning at the University of Pittsburgh

The Cathedral of Learning at the University of Pittsburgh, where I completed my undergraduate degree.

But the pain increased. A trip to the ER left me feeling more miserable and more out of control than I had before when the doctor, after pressing incredibly hard on the tendons on the back of my neck and asking if it hurt (yes, it freaking hurt, he was using Superman strength!), declaring my never-ending pain a stress headache, and prescribing Valium (which did nothing more than make me loopy and sleepy).

A friend had to buy my groceries so I didn’t have to spend a fortune on delivery — a fortune I needed for my medical expenses. Since I had one professor who didn’t complain about me missing class because I was a senior in a class of freshman and sophomores and earning an A, I often missed one of two class sessions per week to rest and attempt to catch up with all the work I’d fallen behind on.

As an unnecessary-for-graduation elective, C’s journalism class fell to the bottom of my priorities list. I realized while doing my research for the final paper that I simply did not have the energy to finish it on time. By now I was seeing a neurologist and trying Topomax, which was expensive and left food tasting strange. I had endless doctor’s notes. So I asked for an extension of the final deadline, several weeks in advance of said deadline.

C refused the extension. Upon reading her harshly worded email about her strict policy of no extensions, because that’s not how the “real world” works and a newspaper editor would never give an extension, a mix of frustration, despair, and anguish filled my body with heat. I had never turned an assignment in late. I had never been late for class. I had a high grade. I had medical documentation. I was furious. I immediately lost all respect for C.

Rather than fail a class and ruin my 3.8 GPA because of a cruel professor who refused to acknowledge the pain I was in (or that I had mentioned my concerns about this very topic to her weeks ago), I responded to her email with my intentions to withdraw from the class, because, I explained, I was simply unable to complete the work within her required timeline.

I filled out the necessary paperwork and delivered it to her for her signature. It became clear to her that I was serious — not simply playing for a free ride — and she relented, but not without an incredible amount of pressure for me to finish the research paper as quickly as possible — something I’d already explained was not possible at all. I did finish the paper, and the class, but I didn’t have very nice things to say about C in my end of term evaluation.

Have you had migraine-related trouble with your professors? How did you cope with it?

Miss Migraine Gets Angry Part 2

Banner that says "The Adventures of Miss Migraine"

The Adventures of Miss Migraine is an ongoing column about my life with chronic migraine. A version of this post appeared first on my blog of the same name on December 19, 2012.

If you read Miss Migraine Gets Angry, you know that my insurance company tried to limit my access to triptans, and that I planned to follow through with them and correct their egregious money-grubbing behavior. (Oops, did I type that out loud?)

Unfortunately, I wasn’t entirely successful, partly because I’m currently unable to take triptans at all (more on that in another post). But my neurologist did send the insurance company an authorization for them to a.) cover Maxalt and b). give me the full 12 pills my prescription calls for.

A tower of pills

Insurance companies’ policies determine our level of access to health care.

While I was waiting for the authorization to go through, I called the FDA, and they directed me to information online proving that no, the FDA does not regulate insurance companies and that, yes, the recommended Maxalt dosing comes out to 12 10-mg. pills per month [Note: The page I had linked here doesn’t seem to exist anymore, and my lazy Googling did not come up with a ready replacement]. I emailed this to the insurance company with a polite, but firm, note. I never received a response, and they refused to let me speak directly with the pharmacy department. The woman I spoke with, while polite, seemed frustrated with my insistence.

So did it help? Has my insurance company changed its policies? Nope.

There’s one more step I can take, though. That’s to call the local branch of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, an organization that helps protect the public’s interest when it comes to insurance of all kinds, including health. I’ve been too sick with migraines to do this (and the urgency isn’t there since I can’t take the pills), but I plan to after the holidays.

This issue goes beyond me. It’s an issue that affects all migraine patients. In the greater scheme, insurance companies that limit prescriptions of any kind affect not only all of us suffering from  chronic illnesses, but those suffering from acute illnesses as well.

(And as a foot note, the authorization did go through and was approved, but there was some kind of issue between the pharmacy and the insurance company. I didn’t bother figuring out what it was since I can’t take Maxalt now anyway, but let’s just say this has been anything but a smooth process.)

Has your insurance company tried to limit your medications? What steps have you taken?

 

Miss Migraine: My eyes are fine! (Mostly)

Banner that says "The Adventures of Miss Migraine"

The Adventures of Miss Migraine is an ongoing column about my life with chronic migraine. A version of this post appeared first on August 1, 2012, on my blog of the same name.

Upon finding out I have chronic migraines, people almost always ask me, “Do you need glasses?”

My answer has always been a (probably somewhat snippy) “No, my eyes are fine.” But there’s always been that shred of doubt. Well, what IF I do need glasses? I’ve always had 20/20 vision, but what if years of hunching over books, reading in low light and staring at computer screens has caused my eyes to degenerate?

Today, I saw an optometrist. At the end of my appointment, while I attempted to blink away retinal burn from the blinding lights he’d been shining into the back of my eyes, he told me what I had known all along: My vision wasn’t causing my migraines. In fact, he said, the two (in my case) were unrelated. I should have asked him to write me a short note that I could laminate and pull out of my purse when asked the glasses question:

Kelly’s chronic migraines are not caused by her vision.

Signed,

Dr. H.

My right eye squeaked by with 20/20, and my left with 20/25. I was prepared to brag to my husband that actually, dear, my eyes are FINE, thank you very much (it was he who insisted I make this appointment–I would have lived with the doubt). Of course, there was a caveat. There’s always a caveat.

Dr. H. flipped lens after lens in front of my right and then left eye, asking each time if the change made the letters on the wall blurrier or clearer. When he removed the viewfinder from in front of me, he jotted a quick note on my chart.

“Well, you’ve got a bit of astigmatism,” he pronounced.

He asked if I knew what astigmatism was. I did: Basically, your cornea is shaped funny, more like an oval than a circle. My father has it. So along with my flat feet and asthma, I can now count astigmatism among the ailments he’s given me. I think I need to ask him again if he ever gets migraines.

As children, our brains have an easy time adapting to the misshapen cornea, but as we get older, focusing gets more difficult. So it’s likely that my vision will deteriorate as I age. Dr. H. suggested I get glasses to wear as-needed, like when I’m using the computer or driving at night, to reduce eye strain.

Wearing them a little bit or all the time apparently won’t make my eyes better or worse, but I will have to adapt to them. With astigmatism, you also see the world at a slight tilt, but your brain corrects for it. These glasses will also correct for it, so when I get them, it will seem like I’m looking through a fishbowl for a few days, and I can expect a headache.

But then again, I always expect a headache.

What annoying questions do people ask you about your migraines? Do vision problems contribute to your pain?