I'll never forget the first time I saw my sister have a grand mal seizure. We were on vacation so my sister and I were sharing a room. I was sleeping on a couch, she was in a sleeping bag on the floor, and our parents were in another room. I had recently gone through lifeguard training in order to be able to start working that summer. I was half-awake on the couch and everyone else was sleeping. My sister was asleep but I heard her make a noise. I thought she was trying to talk to me, so I looked over and said, "What?". She sat up, made another sound, and then started convulsing.
I knew immediately what was happening and got up from the couch and ran into the room my parents were sleeping in. I shook them awake and told them my sister was having a seizure. But when my parents ran into the room, my sister was back asleep, laying down peacefully. Even though I kept insisting I knew what I had seen, my parents were doubtful because they had nothing to go off of. For a period of time, that was the end of that.
A few weeks later, my sister had another seizure while using the bathroom. I was home in my bedroom and I heard my parents shouting at each other. I came out of my room and my dad confirmed she was having a seizure. "I think you were right," he told me.
Thus began the series of testing and medications being tried out. Unfortunately, during this process, I did witness her have a few seizures, including one afternoon while we were playing a game together on our PS2. I've always wondered if the graphics of the game triggered it. Eventually, she was diagnosed with epilepsy and we learned that she had had seizures all throughout her life up until that point. There are many different kinds of seizure events and the grand mal, or tonic-clonic, that most people associate with seizures is just one of them.
We discovered that prior to the onset of the grand mals, she had experienced absence (or petit-mal) seizures. These are nonconvulsive, however, a person may become unaware of his or her surroundings and may stare off in space or freeze, lasting only 5-30 seconds. When the doctor confirmed this, we felt frustrated having never noticed it before. I had seen her in the past "zone-out", where her eyes would slide out of focus for a few moments. We had always associated this with her other disabilities and never thought it was a sign of another problem.
Even though her epilepsy has proven to be quite treatable with a daily pill, there are many people who have yet to find a treatment that helps them. My sister has other issues that prevent her from being able to work or drive, but many people who live with epilepsy live in fear of experiencing an event while driving, working, or while with family. Watching someone you love have a seizure can be a heart-wrenching experience because there's often not much more you can do but watch and wait for it to end. I've seen my mom have to inject my sister during a really awful one. I don't live with her anymore, but when I visit with her I often worry if she's remembering to take her daily pill.
One in 26 people will be diagnosed with epilepsy, but it doesn't just affect humans. My dog is also epileptic. The first time I ever saw him have a seizure, I thought he had injured his leg because it happened right after he had jumped off the bed. I thought he had broken his legs by his scared, spastic movements. Again, after the episode, I didn't think much of it because he was back to his normal self after a few moments. Until it happened again. My dog is my best friend and it's really difficult to watch him experience a seizure. I am still looking for the best treatment option for him.
According to the Epilepsy Foundation, there are 3.4 million people in the U.S. living with active epilepsy - that's more than Autism Spectrum Disorders, Parkinson's, Multiple Sclerosis and Cerebral Palsy combined. Yet, Epilepsy receives one-tenth the research funding than any one of those neurological disorders. November is National Epilepsy Awareness Month so consider doing something to help the cause this month. Find out some things you can do to help on the Epilepsy Foundation's website!