Suffering from severe migraines, or any long term illness, can have a hugely negative impact on your finances, as well as on your health.
Until I started dating my now husband, Pete, I really didn’t have a clue about just how bad migraines can be. While migraines do come in varying levels of severity, a lot of people still see them as just a really bad headache. In Pete’s case they are much, much more than that.
Fortunately, at the moment we have them reasonably under control with a concoction of medication and a plan of a action if he does feel one coming on. However, as well as impacting his health this condition also impacts our finances, with multiple prescriptions and frequent time off work.
Severe Migraines – More than ‘Just a Headache’
As I mentioned before, migraines do come in all different shapes and sizes but I think Pete’s are probably towards the furthest end of the severity scale.
Here’s what usually happens.
In common with most migraine sufferers he does get an ‘Aura’. This usually gives us enough time to get home from where ever we and get some medication down him. When he feels a migraine coming on he takes a tablet which is supposed to delay the onset to give other medications such as anti-sickness tablets and painkillers a chance to work.
The anti-sickness is probably the most important because once he’s been sick it can be really hard to get him to take anymore tablets. Also if I give him painkillers and then he’s sick I have no idea how much of it has actually got into his system.
Next Pete jumps in the shower. He’s been known to stay there for anything from 15 minutes to an hour and half as it does give a small amount of relief while he waits for pain killers to kick in.
Then to bed in a dark, quiet room. The pain is so intense he literally can’t do anything other than just lie there. His speech becomes slurred and he often experiences numbness down one side of his body. It’s a bit like looking after a very drunk person! Sometimes he’ll ask me to massage his neck shoulders, other times he can’t bare to be touched. And then it’s just a waiting game, hoping the painkillers kick enough for him to get to sleep. Sometimes this takes a couple of hours, sometimes it takes all night.
Usually the next day he experiences a ‘migraine hangover’ which can vary in severity – usually in line with how severe the migraine was and how long it lasted. On occasion he does need to take the following day or two off work to recover. Sometimes he goes to work when actually he probably shouldn’t.
Pete currently takes both beta blockers and anti-depressants to help control his migraines and while they work at preventing them to a point there are lots of triggers, including stress and alcohol. He also experiences memory loss, which is not a typical migraine symptom and is something his doctor is monitoring.
Plan of Action
One thing we’ve found has help with Pete’s migraines is having a plan of action, so that I know what to do when he has one. When we first started dating and I was looking after him during a Migraine I googled what to do. While I found plenty of advice for the person suffering – take pain killers, dark room, no noise – there was zero information on what someone could do help other than those three things. It made me feel completely helpless. There have been times he’s been in so much pain he’s tried to harm himself and I’ve had to stop him. There have been times I’ve sat next him and cried because there is nothing I can do to make it better for him when he is so clearly in agony.
So now we have a plan.
Dotted around our house are ‘Migraine Kits’ containing painkillers, his ’emergency tablets’, anti-sickness tablets and a few other bits. Having all the correct medication in one place with a list of what it’s for and when it’s to be taken is a huge help. It also means if I’m not there but someone else is they know what to give him. I also know to get a glass of water, ice packs from freezer and a bucket in case he’s sick.
The idea for this actually stemmed from an incident a few years ago, on valentines day. I’d spent all day preparing a romantic meal for us. After eating it, Pete had a migraine came on and spent the next half out throwing up the food I’d spent all day cooking. When he’d finally finished being ill, I managed to get him to take some painkillers. Or what I thought we’re painkillers. In my panic at the situation I’d actually given him a double dose of his normal migraine medication by mistake. Cue me spending an hour on the phone to NHS direct trying to find what to do and whether I could give him anything else. Probably the least romantic Valentines day ever.
How often Pete experiences severe migraines can vary massively. Sometimes he won’t get one for three or four months. Other times he might have two or three very close together. Obviously when he’s experiencing one of his severe migraines I want to do everything I can to help and there a few thing we’ve found but that I’ve not really seen mentioned anywhere else.
One of things that really helps Pete while he is suffering from a migraine is sex. I’ve read a lot online about how people who suffer with migraines sex life can be impacted as a whole, but nothing on sex during a migraine. While I can completely understand why someone experiencing a migraine would not want to have sex (and I must absolutely stress this will not work for or be a solution for everyone) the relaxation it offers helps alleviate the pain and allows him to relax enough to sleep. Unconventional, yes, but for us, it works.
The second thing is a recent discovery in the form of a Migraine hat. Pete has actually only used this once, as luckily, his migraines have been few and far between recently, probably due to an increase in medication. It’s basically a hat that covers the eyes too (for full black out) that is full of a liquid gel. It’s kept in the freezer and while the gel doesn’t freeze hard the cold can be very soothing for the migraine sufferer. He absolutely loved it and said it’s one of the best things he’s ever tried for his migraines, as the intense cold really helped numb the pain. If you would like to find out more you can find a migraine cap here (affliate link)
Minimizing the financial impact
Everything I have described above has varying levels of impact on out finances. The biggest one is needing to to take time off work. Luckily, at the moment, Pete has very understanding employers who are happy to allow him to put aside a few days of annual leave to take if needs time off after a severe migraine. However, if he was ever to move jobs we have no idea if they other employers would be so considerate.
Then there is the cost of numerous prescriptions. Pete currently takes five different medications related to his severe migraines. To minimize the cost of this we have chosen to have a prepayment certificate – which costs £104 for 12 months spread over 10 monthly payments.
We are also very careful about which pain killers we buy. Quite often branded products have exactly the same ingredients as their own brand counter parts for a much smaller price.