Prisoners With Migraine

Despite migraine never making an appearance in “Orange is the New Black,” I think about it every single episode. The cinder block walls and concrete floors off which every sound reverberates, the flickering overhead fluorescent tube lights, and the cacophony of smells from hundreds of people crammed together would add up to a migraine hell. Imagining having a migraine in that environment makes my stomach roil in fright.

Even more terrifying is acknowledging that many prisoners must endure migraine attacks in those very conditions. Knowing that some previous rulings have declared withholding migraine medication from prisoners to be cruel and unusual punishment is of some comfort, but that only helps the prisoners who have already found an effective treatment.1

How many prisoners have accurate diagnoses and have access to effective abortive medications? Are their symptoms dismissed as “just a headache”? How many have severe chronic migraine that’s untouched by medication? Are preventive medications even an option?

The question that haunts me the most is how many prisoners within those cinder block walls live through the same debility of my sickest days? When my migraines were at their most severe, I lived in a comfortable apartment, I had excellent medical care, my husband had a good job, and my friends and family came to help. It was still horrible beyond all imagining. If I’d been that sick while in prison, I don’t think I would have survived.

Some people may dismiss these musings as my bleeding heart, saying imprisoned migraineurs are getting the punishment they deserve. No one “deserves” migraine and no one deserves to be forced to endure it in such a harsh, discomfiting place. My heart aches for anyone who must.

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