This past Monday evening I left the house for what was supposed to be a fun social evening, an officewarming for the new Intersect offices. Instead, I ended up in the hospital. After almost eight years of dormancy, my epilepsy returned with a vengeance.
I don’t talk about it much. I don’t consider myself a Person With Epilepsy, but rather someone who occasionally
had has epileptic seizures. I was diagnosed in the summer of 1998, more than a dozen years ago, but I’ve had only a handful of incidents in that entire time. For the first ten years, I was on medication to keep the seizures at bay (and it worked, for the most part) but when I got pregnant in 2008, it had been five years since any seizure activity and my neurologist OK’d me stopping the meds. Call me, she said, if you have any more incidents. We were both cautiously optimistic that we’d seen the last of them.
Everyone has a seizure threshold, the amount of stimuli needed to provoke a seizure. For certain people, myself included, that seizure threshold is more easily reached. The stereotypical trigger is flashing colors or lights, but only a small percentage of people who have seizures are actually triggered in that fashion. More common triggers are sleep deprivation, stress, and heavy alcohol consumption. For me, it’s generally a combination of factors. This is why I don’t drink much these days; unfortunately, the others are trickier to control.
Last Monday, I was coming off an extremely rough week at work that involved a lot of late nights. On top of that, a stomach flu bug was making the rounds in my family, and I hadn’t eaten much that day. I was feeling a little off when I got to the party, but wrote it off as merely an upset stomach even though every single seizure I’ve had has been preceded by dizziness and nausea. Frankly, it never occurred to me that I might be vulnerable, because I thought that my seizures were a thing of the past.
At the party I got to meet a few people I’d been hoping to talk to, but mid-conversation with one of the Intersect developers, I was hit with a wave of dizziness. I excused myself and slipped into an empty conference room, intending to sit down and collect myself before making a mad dash for the restroom. But the next thing I knew, I was on the floor coming out of fuzzy unconsciousness, trying to reply to someone nearby saying my name. When I finally was able to sit up, covered in blood and worse, I learned that I’d apparently fallen face-first onto the concrete floor. We thought at the time that I might have fractured my nose, but the consensus in the ER later was that I’d just “thumped” it. I’ve got some nice bruises to show for it. While in the Harborview emergency room, I had another seizure. I don’t have a clear memory of everything else that happened there–I’m told I was given Ativan a couple of times, and I was taken for x-rays (I remember them taking out my earrings) and a CT scan–so I’m very grateful that my husband was there to observe and to advocate for me. Four days later I’m still piecing things together.
Around 1:30 a.m. I was released, and with the help of a friend, we set out to pick up the car I’d driven to the Intersect offices that evening. We were almost there when my brain foiled that plan by misfiring again, and it was back to the hospital for us. This time they admitted me overnight. And from there on out, I really don’t remember much at all until the following morning. After a few more tests and some discussion with the on-call neurologists, they decided it was safe to let me go again, and this time we made it home without incident. Since then, I’ve been taking Keppra and resting, and have had no further seizure activity. Then again, it’s only been four days. It could be months before another one happens. It could be years. It could be never.
I’m surprised by how much this has thrown me. After all, thousands of people live happy, fulfilling lives in spite of an epilepsy diagnosis. Years ago, it was just a thing I dealt with, another pill to pop twice a day and a couple behavioral modifications. But this time it’s hitting me a little harder. Maybe it’s because the Keppra has depression listed as a common side effect, or maybe it’s annoyance at how much this disrupts our daily schedule (I’m not supposed to drive for six months) and the plans I’d roughed out for the next few years. But I think a lot of it is due to the fact that I truly believed that this was a demon that had gone away for good. I’d been seizure-free and off the meds with no ill effects, even through pregnancy and the sleep deprivation that comes standard with most newborns. I was convinced that whatever had gone awry in my brain at the age of 25 had somehow righted itself. It’s a bit of a blow to discover that instead, the demon was merely biding its time, waiting for the right (or rather, wrong) combination of factors.