By Emily Rosenberg
One night during my junior year of high school, my father and I were bantering – me procrastinating on some APUSH assignment – when we heard a loud thump coming from the second Door.
My sister fell in the shower. She had a seizure.
I caught a glimpse of her drowning in water as my dad screamed her name, telling me to call 911.
All I remember is the fear that paralyzed my body when I heard those words. The blood-curdling scream that I released. I was so distraught, I told the 911 dispatchers the wrong address, but thankfully I caught myself. I thought my sister was going to die. My best friend. My “womb mate.”
I now dread the sound of things falling above my head. Even if it is just a picture frame, or a water bottle, my dad will come rushing upstairs to make sure the crash was benign. I have never felt a shock as terrifying as the moment when flashing red and blue lights appeared outside my house.
My twin sister and I were diagnosed with epilepsy when we were 10 years old. We are part of a long line of epileptic family members. My mother at age 12 was taken to the hospital for a traumatic seizure as was my grandmother, her grandmother, and many of my relatives.
The first time I had a seizure, I was eating oatmeal on the couch when a sudden sense of panic overwhelmed me until I didn’t know what happened after that. I woke up unable to speak and drenched in oatmeal.
Ever since, I have gone every six months to the neurologist to get my levels checked, and every so often to get an Electroencephalography (EEG) – a test where brain waves are monitored by sleep depriving the patient, and attaching magnetic electrodes to the scalp while one falls asleep in the doctor’s office. I have also had several ambulatory EEGs where the electrodes and gauges stay on my head for 48 hours, and I am sent home with a monitor.
The places I go are limited because as an epileptic person I am not allowed a driver’s license. I need to rely on others for transportation, which can be a lot to ask for.
There is very little that can be done to cure it other than to take medicine that has inhibiting side effects.
The medicine that controls my seizures makes me scramble for words, leaves me dehydrated, makes me lose my appetite, and I become short-tempered with people. It makes my anxiety worse, and my moods horrible. Sometimes this anxiety will be so bad I can’t read, write or speak.
According to the CDC, about 3.4 million people nationwide have epilepsy. About 3,000 people die every year from sudden traumatic seizures.
As well as being genetic, epilepsy can be caused by brain tumor, stroke, central nervous system infection, traumatic brain injury, and alcohol consumption.
It is important to be aware of what a seizure may look like and how to help someone if they are having one because epileptic people are all around you and seizures are not always what you were shown in the movies.
Focal seizures affect a small part of the brain and can cause a person to seem confused or dazed. It may also cause twitching or a strange taste or smell.
Tonic-clonic seizures are also called grand mal seizures and they may make someone lose
consciousness, have muscle jerks or spasms, fall to the ground, or cry out.
Absence seizures can cause rapid blinking and staring into space for several seconds.
If you think someone is having a seizure, make sure they are away from any sharp or harmful objects or furniture. If they lose consciousness, turn them on their side, keep their airway clear, and loosen any tight clothing around their neck.
Do not put any objects, water, or food in their mouth and do not restrain them.
Call 911 if the seizure lasts for longer than five minutes, if it is their first seizure, if they are having repeated seizures, or if they do not return to their normal state.
Along with educating yourself on how to respond to seizures, also know that they are not isolated incidents.
Those of us with epilepsy are constantly anxious about avoiding what will trigger their illness and the dreadful thought that one missed pill could result in death.
According to the Epilepsy Foundation, it is estimated that half of all adults with epilepsy will develop depression and anxiety due to living with a chronic health condition.
Check in on them. Be patient. Realize there may be a reason they skipped class, their presentation wasn’t up to snuff, or passed in an assignment late.
I am thankful to have people around me who have been supportive so that most of the time I forget that I have epilepsy.
Had I not known how to respond to my sister’s seizure, my life could have shattered into a million pieces.
To learn more about epilepsy you can go to the Epilepsy Foundation.