- written by Natalie Reilly and sourced from SMH.com.au
Imagine waking up from a blackout. You don’t know how long you’ve been out. It could be two days or it could be 15 years.
You don’t know where you are. You only know something horrible has occurred because everybody is hovering over you, speaking in slow, deliberate, loud tones, as if you’re a three-year-old without her hearing aid.
Waves of nausea crash through your body. You’d love to get up but you can’t. You feel as if you’ve just completed a marathon on a 35 degree day, complete with migraine. A paramedic snakes through and asks you your name. You tell him while he checks your blood pressure.
“What year is it?”
“Don’t patronise me!” you think, before replying “It’s … It’s …”
This is what it’s like to have a seizure.
Like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, a person is more likely to experience their firstseizure in late adolescence. Nobody knows why, exactly. It has something to do with brain growth and stress. And lack of sleep, which is the epileptic’s worst nightmare.
I was 18 when I had my first “tonic-clonic” seizure. It came with no warning. I had been trying to complete a university assignment at home in my room after 1am. I remember staring at the question. The next thing I knew my parents were standing over me, telling me I was “OK”, looking like they’d just seen my ghost. I was taken to hospital for observation. This is where the loud, patronising talk reaches its peak. Every ten minutes a medical professional swipes back the curtain and says:
“Now NATALIE I’M JUST GOING TO GET YOU TO SIT UP FOR ME AND TELL ME THE NAME OF THE PRIME MINISTER, YOUR AGE AND YOUR BIRTH DATE, OK?”
I was referred to a neurologist who diagnosed me with “mild epilepsy”. He put me on a bucket-load of medication that saw me gain over 25 kilograms and filled me with a fatigue so crushing I could barely walk. Yeah, I went off the medication. Surprise! I had another one. And then another, this time on a plane on my way to Italy. I remember the Italian airline steward reassuring himself by reassuring me I was “OK, Bella?” The English woman sitting next to me, who turned out to be – GET THIS – a neurologist specialising in epilepsy, waved him off.
I changed medication and stuck to it but I remained in denial (who wants to think aboutdeath in their 20s?) and still partied as heavily as my peers. I was on the phone to my best friend Jess in 2005 after one such party when I started repeating sentences. This is not unusual; I often do this for dramatic emphasis. So it wasn’t until Jess heard a big ‘Thwump’ and gargling noises that she hung up and called an ambulance.
The most dramatic was the one I had at work. It’s not as embarrassing as it sounds, especially because – bonus! – I didn’t wet myself. I was in the middle of telling my boss (and dear friend) a story when I moved my neck like something out of The Exorcist and dropped to the floor. “Well, this is new” she said, anticipating further theatrics. Again, this is what happens when you’re already the type of person who frequently performs contemporary dance moves at work. But her amusement soon turned to terror when she saw me, you know, ahmm… jerking and foaming at the mouth.
Imagine all the people who are normally filled with lukewarm contempt for your writing standing over you, pretending they’re now concerned for your welfare. Oh, not all of them. Some were straight-up scared shitless. As if watching someone literally ‘throw a fit’ isn’t enough, after an episode my pupils dilate to the size of a vampire’s.
I barely noticed because I’d entered the ‘postictal state‘. It lasts for roughly half an hour and is marked by aggression, confusion and an overall Memento feeling, that is to say you forget everything anyone says to you the second after they say it. This means the sentence “You’re OK, Nat, you just had a fit” is said approximately 100 times. It’s at this point an epileptic will act like a loose cannon, insulting everyone. So, um, yeah, I said a few things. Fortunately for me, I’m often saying things I shouldn’t, so staff members took it in their stride. That is, until I returned to work a week later.
“Are you Okaaaay?” people who could make eye-contact asked me, sotto voce.
See, this is why everyone hates pity. Because pity is just social discomfort in Spanx. Many staff members tried their best but most could not even say “seizure”, preferring instead to mime what looked like a knitting motion with their hands. One very senior female member of staff patted my arm with all the ease and warmth of a robot.
These days I’m fully medicated, although I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think about it. Like, right now in this cafe. I was seated underneath a ceiling fan but had to move because it was spinning below a light. Yah, the ‘strobe effect’.
Make sure you book into a Canberra Childcare First Aid Course (HLTAID004) if you plan on running your own childcare facility at home or working in a care setting. We will provide information on how to treat seizures and all other first aid situations.