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Migraines Printable Version PRINTABLE VERSION
by Alexander Tothill-Brown, Canada Feb 19, 2006
Health   Interviews


Migraines A friend of mine has been attending high school in Osaka, Japan since August 2005 and living with a series of host families. Before leaving her home in Ottawa, Canada, she took a complete medical. Her doctor filled out a declaration stating all existing health concerns she was suffering.

My friend has been suffering from migraines since she was about ten years old. Her doctor detailed the history of her headaches as well as the various medicines she has taken and currently takes. She left nothing out so that her new school and host families would not be surprised when she would go to her bedroom, draw the curtains and wait out the migraine.

In North America, migraines are commonly discussed. Even if they are not thoroughly understood, most people empathize with those afflicted by them. My friend arrived in Japan with enough migraine medication to last for one year, so that she would avoid having to find a local doctor willing to extend her prescription.

In mid-October one afternoon, her first migraine hit while she was at school. Instead of allowing her to excuse herself and find sanctuary in a darkened room away from the bright lights of the classroom, everyone (including the teacher) crowded around her, demanding to know what the matter was with her head. Her school counsellor, who was aware that she was prone to migraines, was called in. He informed her classmates that she was not contagious, but that she had a “head problem.” She remembers thinking that this was a strange way to describe a migraine, but she was in no condition to argue.

The next day she returned to school headache-free, but noticed that girls who had been friendly with her before were now noticeably distant when they talked to her. Instead of being asked to eat at their table during lunch period, she was left sitting by herself at a large table. All around her, students were crowded onto benches that were full to overflowing. Within a week of her first migraine, her counsellor told her that her host family had requested that she be removed from their home, and that a new family be found for her. No explanation was given as to their reasons for not allowing her to stay. But she had her suspicions.

A migraine in November and another one in early December resulted in two more moves from the homes of host families. They were no longer willing to keep her. As well, social isolation at her school increased. During Christmas Break, her school counsellor informed her that he was unable to convince any families at the school to take her. She would be sent home to Canada in January.

She reminded her counsellor that nothing warranted her expulsion from the program. Her health form had been translated into Japanese, so there were no misunderstandings about her medical condition. He told her that the school principal felt he could no longer accommodate a student who was “sick in the head.” It took several e-mails and phone calls between Canada and Japan to convince the counsellor to find another school for her to attend.

In early January, she was told to pack her bags once again. She was relocated to Kobe, where she is currently living with a family who has an epileptic child. Epilepsy is also considered a ‘head problem’ –perhaps that is why she has been welcomed into this family. This move out of Osaka has resulted in her having to change schools but so far, the students, teachers and principal have accepted her. Now that she knows the Japanese foods that trigger her migraines, she hopes she will not have many before returning home in late June.

This is just one person’s experience in Japan and it may be unique to the circumstances my friend has found herself in; but it is interesting to realize that not everyone in this world understands or appreciates the fact that people with disabilities need understandng - and not our fear of the unknown.



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Alexander Tothill-Brown

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Anna Hort | Apr 3rd, 2006
Thank you for sharing this amazing story with all of us. I think that your friend is so brave to continue fighting for all of her rights. It's interesting how everyone reacts differently to migranes because normally if anyone i know has a migrane they just go and lie down in a dark space, take some medicine and are left alone by everyone else. Weird..........

Deb Livingston | Mar 25th, 2006
Thank you for sharing this story. I hope your friend is feeling well. She was very strong in her fight to be able to continue her studies in Japan.

palak | Mar 26th, 2006
well as a medical student i would let all people know that migraine is due to 5-HTexcess(its a local hormone). it has got nothing to do with patients behaviour .its just a headache and not at all contagious so i wud request ppl 2 pay 4 treatment rather than sympathy

Sarah | Mar 9th, 2006
I just read your article and have to say that I am amazed by this! It is interesting to think about how different cultures react and deal with different forms of illnesses.

John Alva Kay | May 31st, 2006
I suffer from migraines all the time, on and off, and sometimes it's just blurred vision, I don't need medication for them usually, and I've never thought much about it. I find it very strange that a migraine could get that kind of reaction, the only dehabilitating thing I can think of is pain and vision loss for a period of time, but it's not like you're unstable, or don't function like a normal human being... it's just an extra heavy headache.

Huynh My Ngoc | Aug 18th, 2007
would like to share with your friend:(

your story reminds me of my friend
Huynh My Ngoc | Aug 18th, 2007
she's suffering from Migraine, too. but she has proved to be a great leader. What admirable people!

Mirja Lillan McLean-Engstrom | Oct 19th, 2007
She was very strong to have been able to fight all that. I don't get migranies, but I do get bad headaches and even that's hard. I can't imagine what it would have been like for her.

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