Migraine sufferers are all around us. Twelve percent of Americans ― almost one in eight ― are occasionally affected, and most of them don’t retire to a dark room for four days to recover.
If you’re one of the afflicted, chances are you have a fairly strong opinion about whether U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann’s migraines are a deal breaker in her campaign for president. That opinion is likely based on how well your own migraines are controlled.
The Minnesota Republican, outed by unnamed former staffers in a post on the conservative Daily Caller blog, says her headaches haven’t affected her performance in the House of Representatives and wouldn’t prevent her from serving effectively as commander in chief.
That’s not the impression created by the article, sensationally headlined “Stress-related condition ‘incapacitates’ Bachmann; heavy pill use alleged.”
In the story, unnamed aides and advisers say she has frequent headaches that put her out of commission for days. She’s been “hospitalized” at least three times, it says, though the itemized examples include three visits to urgent care centers ― typically walk-in clinics ― plus one episode in 2006 that followed surgery for appendicitis.
Then there are the pills. “Prevention pills. Pills during the migraine. Pills after the migraine ...” to quote the unnamed adviser.
For the benefit of those lucky enough to have no first- or even secondhand experience with migraines: They hurt like hell. The classic symptoms are throbbing on one side of the head, often accompanied by violent nausea and/or extreme sensitivity to noise and light. They’re sometimes preceded by a flashing “aura.”
Migraines run in families, and sufferers often are told to avoid things like chocolate, bacon or alcohol. Travel and sleep disruptions can also bring on a migraine.
But stress is often blamed, and so are hormones. Three of four victims are women, and two of the best-known triggers are menstruation and menopause.
That’s what makes the Daily Caller’s story such a cheap shot. It pushes the old “hysterical female” button, and hard. The unnamed sources say Bachmann’s headaches are brought on by “stress, a busy schedule and anything going badly for Bachmann.” The story begins, in fact, with an anecdote about an attack triggered by the resignation last July of her communications director. “Staff turnover can frustrate any employer, but Bachmann responded more dramatically,” it says.
Read: We can’t have a president lying in bed with the lights out when it’s time to launch the missiles.
Comment boards and blogs quickly filled with testimonials from fellow migraine sufferers, most of them women.
Some have searched desperately for relief and come up empty; they say they can’t function at all on migraine days. We believe them.
Others who share Bachmann’s pain are indignant at the suggestion that it would preclude her (or them) from serving capably as president. Some of them hastened to add that they are unlikely Bachmann defenders. A recurring theme: I can think of many reasons Michele Bachmann shouldn’t be president, but migraines aren’t one of them ...
Many pointed out that modern therapies, mostly prescription drugs, are effective ― and no more worrisome than anything you’re likely to find in any other candidate’s medicine cabinet.
In the end it doesn’t matter how many migraine sufferers are women, or how many of them are able to function anyway. What matters is whether Bachmann can. That’s an easy enough question to answer, but it’s going to take more than the two-paragraph doctor’s note she produced Wednesday.
Though we don’t admire the way this particular question was raised, it’s relevant and fair to ask all presidential candidates about the state of their health. The public should insist on seeing medical records, and candidates should provide them willingly. We shouldn’t be making judgments about who should be president based on anonymous drive-by attacks.
Chicago Tribune, July 22