Epilepsy, inside and out

The New York Times has an inspiring piece about neurologist and epilepsy specialist Brien Smith who has just become chairman of the Epilepsy Foundation. Unusually, his interest is more than just professional as he has epilepsy himself.

I was really struck by this part, as it shows how even trained medical professionals can unnecessarily freak out when they see someone having a seizure:

One day during medical school, my classmates and I learned that one of the most well-liked doctors-in-training in the hospital had had a seizure while leading morning work rounds.

The sight of him writhing had caused the other doctors and nurses on the ward to panic. Some stood mute, frozen with fear. An intern, believing that the seizure arose from low blood sugar levels, took his half-eaten jelly doughnut and held it against the mouth of his seizing colleague. Others yelled to the ward secretary to “call a code,” and continued to do so even after another dozen doctors and nurses had already arrived on the floor.

The young doctor eventually recovered. But for many of the medical students and doctors who heard about the episode or were on the wards that day, the dread of that morning would linger long beyond our years of training. Epilepsy was, and remains, a frightening and mysterious malady.

Time and again, I have seen this happen. People call ambulances unnecessarily. People risk the life of the person having a seizure by trying to put something in their mouth (to stop them ‘biting their tongue’). People risk injury to the person by trying to hold them down.

If you want to be one of the few people who don’t freak out when someone has a seizure and if you want to be genuinely helpful, read this brief page on first aid for epilepsy.

And if you have a couple more minutes, check out The New York Times piece on neurologist Brien Smith and his unique insight into the condition. Highly recommended.

Link to NYT piece on Brien Smith (via @mocost).

2 thoughts on “Epilepsy, inside and out”

  1. Read it this morning (good thing it’s almost July, NY Times is ready to kick me out after using up my alloted free articles this month). A very honest piece, quite good. It is hard to stay calm when it’s someone we know, it’s exactly why (in my former profession) vets and vet techs are discoraged from doing medical procedures on their own animals.

    Terrible how people try to interfere based on what they see in the movies, although it’s never wrong to call 911 if one is in doubt – as is evidenced by the fact that one of the neurologist’s seizures was actually caused by a brain tumor. Another striking aspect of the article. Easily missed in someone with epilepsy, I bet.

  2. “Terrible how people try to interfere based on what they see in the movies,”….indeed – who can forget George Cole wrestling a bar between Rex Harrison’s teeth in “Cleopatra”? Stopping a person in a seizure from “biting their tongue” is a real meme – although it used to be “swallowing their tongue”, which is an interesting bit of change over time/place in itself.
    There must be lots of these media/tradition-inspired treatment ideas floating around which would be worth collecting.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: