The Unseen Side of Epilepsy
Morrell says in one recent case, an epileptic who had been working a cash register was let go because her employer feared if she had a seizure, thieves would have access to an open drawer. This occurred despite the fact that the worker got a one-minute "aura," or warning sensation, before the seizure kicked in -- giving her plenty of time to shut the drawer and get to a back room.
"For many epileptics, getting a job is very difficult," says Siegel. "One client I had lost a day care job because they were afraid she'd drop a baby. So one of the big things that comes up is vocation. What am I going to do now?"
And the truth is, epileptics can't do just anything -- even if they wanted to. Aside from the obvious "high-wire" occupations -- such as pilot, truck driver, and steel girder worker -- some epileptics have to avoid situations in which they might be under a lot of stress, since stress can trigger a seizure. Drugs help keep seizures under control, but they can still happen -- and with sometimes embarrassing results. Carmen says epileptics who suffer "generalized" seizures, involving the entire brain, may not only flail about, but also lose control of their bladder and bowel.
Morrell says the best course of action for co-workers of a seizing epileptic is to move away objects that might cause harm if hit or knocked down, and to not create a scene. She says it's upsetting when epileptics awaken from a seizure to find the entire office jumping around.
As for a common myth: "You cannot swallow your tongue," she says -- so don't try to prevent that from happening. "In fact, the best action is to put absolutely nothing in an individual's mouth." Just lay the person on his or her side, keep things calm, and do not try to restrain the person in any way. The power of a seizure is such that restraints could cause injury.
And even though epilepsy may sometimes cause complications, Siegel stresses perspective for all concerned, especially young epileptics. "There's so much of life before you not affected by seizures. It's a challenge to find what is out there for you that can provide you with pleasure and direction."