Pain at the Polls: Voting with Migraine

Picture this: you emerge from a restless sleep with your head pounding. Quickly assessing yourself head to toe you determine that yeah, this is a bad one. You're already at a 7. When you sit up a wave of nausea crashes over you; your skin feels tender and sore. The pain has increased just from moving to an upright position and the morning light shining in through your blinds hits you like daggers. Your thoughts move to what meds to take, what you have to do later... and then you remember. It's November 8, Election Day.

Polling sites on Election Day during a presidential year can be crowded. Often there is a line, and the buildings housing the voting tend to be places like schools and churches, which sometimes have fluorescent lighting. Being in close proximity to a lot of people can also cause exposure to perfumes and other odors. If there are children accompanying their parents, the noise of their high pitched laughter or whining or at worst, screaming and crying, would make the environment uncomfortable for anyone, but completely untenable for a person with migraine disease. Spending time in such a place could trigger an attack; entering when already in the throes of one? Impossible.

Yet, voting is so incredibly important, during presidential elections especially. Every four years we get to participate in the most important democratic process: choosing a person to lead our country, making our voices heard. For the chronically ill, there are a lot of issues at stake. The status of the Affordable Care Act and Social Security, particularly if you are on Disability. The CDC's new opioid guidelines, which have an effect on all pain patients. The Family Medical Leave Act, which has allowed many of us to have extended paid time off work. The cost of prescription drugs. The regulation of the Food and Drug Administration. All of these policies and programs impact our lives directly. How can we make sure we are actually able to cast our votes?

Fortunately, in most states, we have the opportunity to vote early, at our convenience. The states which currently DO NOT have early voting are: Missouri, Mississippi, Alabama, South Carolina, Kentucky, Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, Delaware, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island. Washington (state), Oregon, and Colorado have mail-in voting, which is also ideal for those of us with chronic illness. Even those who suffer from episodic migraine may better off voting early, since usually one never knows when a migraine will hit. Why take the chance?For those states without early voting, make sure you are prepared on November 8. The day before, avoid triggers, check your medication supply and get a good night's rest. If you are able to go vote during the business day rather than early in the morning or later in the evening, do so; it is likely to be less crowded. Bring sunglasses in case the lights bother you, a bottle of water and a snack, and something to do in case you have to wait; even earplugs would be a great idea. And make sure to have your identification with you; check the rules for your particular state so you know what is required.Picture this: on a beautiful fall day you have a fairly open schedule, and are feeling good. You are out running a few errands and decide to stop at your local Board of Elections office to vote early. You go through a metal detector, then approach a counter in the office, where you fill out a form with either the last four digits of your social security number or your driver's license number. The employee goes to prepare your ballot, then hands you a card which you insert into one of the several voting machines in the corner. Boom, boom, boom, you check over the printed ballot before it's rolled back up into the machine, remove your card, and hand it back to the staff. Slapping the “I voted” sticker on your jacket, you stride back out into the sunshine, having performed your civic duty in less than ten minutes in quiet, pleasant surroundings, at a time that worked for you.That was my voting experience here in Ohio, and frankly, in this unprecedented campaign season, I am relieved to have it over and done with. For those of you voting on Election Day, I wish you low pain and short lines. No matter who you support, exercising our right to vote is an American privilege. Make sure your voice is heard!

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