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Dear Michele Bachmann: Let’s face facts about migraines

Michele Bachmann’s migraines

4 minute read
I'm no fan of Congresswoman Michele Bachmann (R-Minnesota), who announced her candidacy for president on June 27. Mainly because she's silly and irrational.

Confused, too. Returning to her birthplace in Waterloo, Iowa, Bachmann proudly declared, "John Wayne was from Waterloo, Iowa. That's the kind of spirit that I have too." But it was the serial child-killer-rapist John Wayne Gacy who was born in Waterloo, Iowa. The movie actor John Wayne was born in Winterset, Iowa, 150 miles from Waterloo.

The fact-checking website Politifact.com rated 23 of Bachmann's statements since 2009 and found only one true, six half or barely true, and 16 false— or, as Politifact.com put it, "pants on fire."

Michele Bachmann gives foolish women in Congress— and there are more than a few— a bad name. But this week Bachmann made a statement about her medical profile that was not merely silly and untrue but also suggested she's woefully ignorant about her own condition.

Are shoes to blame?


According to the New York Times, Bachmann acknowledged that she "suffers from migraine headaches so intense that she has sometimes sought emergency medical treatment, but the congresswoman said Tuesday that the condition would not preclude her from serving as president if elected."

Bachmann blamed her migraine attacks on her "uncomfortable high-heeled shoes." In fact, migraines can be triggered by many factors. Stress is the big culprit. Red wine and certain foods like cheddar cheese are other factors. But uncomfortable high heels? Probably not. And if they are the trigger, only an idiot would continue to wear them.

Bachmann's son, who is a physician but doesn't treat his mother for her migraines, said that during a migraine attack, "She is probably not going to run a mile, but in terms of being able to engage, she can comprehend and assess information— without a doubt." Well, as a migraine sufferer from age of five, let me tell you: When in the throes of a severe migraine, it's not possible to engage in anything except a fervent prayer to die.

Impossible to predict

Dr. Bachmann said his mother takes drugs that include two when symptoms arise— one to reduce pressure inside the cranium, another to reduce vomiting— as well as medication to prevent attacks. Dr. Bachmann also said that at least twice while traveling, the Congresswoman sought emergency medical treatment in urgent-care centers, where she has received non-narcotic injections and was monitored by doctors.

The problem with migraines is that there's no way to know when a severely incapacitating migraine will strike. Nor is there any way to know if the medications to forestall a migraine will work, or when one will need to be hospitalized to relieve the vomiting and intense pain.

According to Michele Bachmann's retinue, she does indeed suffer those kinds of migraines. An unnamed adviser told the Times that "the Congresswoman carries and takes all sorts of pills for migraines that at times render her incapacitated." (Her campaign managers and family said denied this.)

Distinguished company

Bachmann is hardly alone: The American Migraine Foundation says 36 million Americans, or about 12% of the population, suffer from migraines, which can be "extremely disabling for sufferers, painful enough to cause work loss" typically for 24 hours. Most people have only a few attacks per month, but chronic sufferers can have many more. Migraines are three times more common among women than men, the foundation says, adding that those who get the headaches are more likely to suffer depression, anxiety, sleep disorders, other pain conditions and fatigue.

There are many kinds of migraines, some more severe and debilitating than others. Michele Bachmann has the severely incapacitating kind.

If you want to know about migraines, I recommend neurologist Oliver Sacks's book, Migraine. Yes, Sacks was played by Robin Williams in Awakenings. And yes, Sacks has migraines. So does the novelist Joan Didion, whose 1968 essay about migraines, "In Bed," recently surfaced on the Internet.

Clueless doctors

But don't ask health-care providers about migraines unless they're afflicted themselves. A doctor who doesn't have migraines has no clue, just as a man has no clue about childbirth and a celibate Roman Catholic priest is useless for sex and marriage counseling.

Pronouncements about migraines from a cool objective hypothetical viewpoint are meaningless. Only a fellow sufferer knows. Ask me.

This much I can tell you: When all hell breaks loose somewhere in the world, a president with migraines can't be counted on to be anywhere but hugging a commode in agony and begging for relief. Or death.♦


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