Monday 27 February 2012

The Kindness of Strangers

I have a strange request. I had a seizure today, and I need to say thank you. The trouble is, I don't know who I need to thank.

You see, I was on my own in town, and I felt a seizure coming on. Since it had addled my brain a little, the only thing I could co-ordinate myself to do was to grab my epilepsy card out of my bag, and head towards a place I could sit down. I was sat slumped on a bench for a minute or so before the seizure took hold, and I flopped forward. My eyes were open, but I couldn't focus, so I could only see vague shapes walking past some way off. I remember wondering how many people would walk straight by.

Then I heard voices coming closer. Someone put their hand on my arm and asked if I was okay; a question I couldn't answer. They got more concerned - a man and a woman, it sounded like. More people approached. Someone found my epilepsy card. Immediately I heard a woman call 999. Meanwhile, the man was telling people I needed to be put in the recovery position. I was lifted from the bench, and lain on the floor. Someone said: "She's so young." (Now that I'm back to normal, I'm flattered, let me tell you that!) A man's hand came into view, and gently squeezed my wrist - taking my pulse, which was faint, as he said to the others.

He was worried; I could tell that much. My eyes were open and glazed, he kept saying my pulse was faint, and asked me to stay with them. In the background, someone was talking to the emergency services. The man rubbed my hands to keep them warm - he kept saying how cold they were, and checking my temperature on my forehead. Someone laid a coat over me. I finally got enough control over my eyes to blink a little, and I could hear relief in people's voices.

The paramedic arrived, and reassured the crowd that I was okay. They went on their way, after being told I would be fine. I wasn't back to normal at the point they left though, which means I never got to see what the people who helped me looked like, or to say thank you for what they did.

They were unaware that I could hear everything that was going on - or that I had a vague, fuzzy window on the whole sequence of events, and that I was touched by their concern and their kindness.

This is why I'm going to take a leap of faith, and ask for the internet's help. All I have to go on was that the man's hair was greying slightly, and he was wearing a waterproof coat, with (I think) red and black sleeves, but I'd like to try and track them down. So if you know (or you were!) the people who helped a woman having a seizure at around midday today in the Fremlin Walk, Maidstone - on the bandstand opposite the museum - please let them know that the woman in question is indeed okay now, and wants to say a heartfelt thank you for that kindness; the kindness of strangers.

Saturday 14 January 2012


I don't like thinking of myself as disabled. I try not to, as far as possible. So the times where it's unavoidable prickle all the more. I don't like the fact that, some days, I have to go and have a lie down just four hours after getting up because I'm having an aura and bed's the safest place.

I don't like the fact that M misses out on going to groups, just as O often did. I don't like the fact that I often injure myself while shaking and thrashing (I had a nice red mark on my forearm the other day). I hate (with a fiery passion) the fact that W spends his days watching me for the moment when I start acting differently.

I can live with the seizures. Well, I have to. No one's found a way to make them stop yet, and even the CBT guy said they couldn't guarantee it would put an end to them, only that it was very likely to help. I can even live with occasionally beating myself up; pulling my own hair, scratching myself, throwing limbs into furniture, you know. I managed to wrench my arm yesterday, which was a new one. For one brief, painful moment it felt like I was dislocating my shoulder. I tell you what, that really hurt.

Still, it's not a lingering thing, like the guilt. Guilt's a funny old thing really. Rationally - of course - I know it's not my fault and that there's no need for it, but then rationality doesn't really feature much in any human emotions. When my seizures affect W, O, or M directly, I feel guilty.

It was one of those brief windows in which I was alone with O that I feel most guilty about at the moment. I started having a seizure. W was upstairs with M, and it came on fast enough that I couldn't call up. I staggered over to the sofa and slumped onto it. I think my arm fell over my face a little. I could see, but not very well. Now, the amount of time this took is still very hazy, but I do know that for a while, O didn't notice. The TV was on, he's normal child, of course he didn't.

When he did, he came over, and I think he told me to get up. He told me something, at least, and of course, I couldn't reply. I remember him peering at me, looking into the gap I could see out of, and frowning. Then he said, quite casually, I must add: "Maybe she's dead." He repeated his opinion that I was dead a few times, with different variations. I can't remember it particularly clearly, but I do recall that at one point he remarked that daddy would have to take me away and make me not dead any more. So I take comfort in the fact that his idea of "dead" and mine don't match entirely. Eventually, he held my hand and sat in front of me. (Not the safest place for him to be, but I wasn't able to tell him that.) I managed to squeeze his hand, much in the same way that I signal to W that I'm okay. I'm still not sure how much he understood, and how soon, but he did let go in the end, and after another effort in which I managed to point upwards, ran to the bottom of the stairs and called for W, saying that I was having a seizure.

Now, for a boy not yet four years old, I don't think he did badly. In this situation the crap one was, let's face it, me. I can see the funny side of it, of course. I mean, he didn't at any point seem particularly traumatised by it. At one point, in a complete monotone, he said: "Oh no, she's dead," and promptly prodded me in the arm. (After all, what are dead people for?)

Still, much as I am comforted by the fact that he hasn't been traumatised by it all, I really wish that sort of thing didn't happen. Ever.

Wednesday 4 January 2012

Ripple Effect

Yesterday, I was supposed to have my second CBT appointment; the first one in which I would be receiving active help, rather than going over my medical history. Unfortunately, it was cancelled, and even more unfortunately, because I was getting a lift there with W's dad, we had stayed at their house, and weren't at home to get the call telling me that it was cancelled, meaning I found out about 20 minutes before I was due to see him, a short while after I'd arrived at the hospital. I also had a fairly serious seizure an hour or so after we got back, which I'm assuming was related.

It was frustrating, certainly, but these things happen. I would assume it was down to the specialist being ill, and it certainly wasn't the fault of his secretary that I wasn't at home, and that my mobile is shortly to be consigned to the bin for not picking up her second attempt to get hold of me (damned thing).

However, it did leave me in something of a worry. Maybe it's silly - very probably it's silly, in fact - but I can't help wondering how long this absence will go on for, and whether I'll actually get to have my rescheduled appointment in a couple of weeks. After all, this isn't the first time I've had appointments cancelled. Or even the second. We're getting on for double digits here. I haven't seen an epilepsy specialist in over a year now - and no, I haven't been forgotten; I got a letter a few weeks ago explaining she was still unwell, and I would be notified when she returned to work. (How helpful to all the people in the rather large section of the county she covers.)

Absences happen. It's a fact of life. The fact that I seem have encountered a whole sequence of these in the last few years is most likely some sort of miserable coincidence, too. But part of me can't help wondering if it is in part the enormous workload these specialists face. My neurologists see patients with problems ranging from tumours and trauma to epilepsy, Parkinson's disease and dementia. Their workload is immense, and there are too few of them. My first epilepsy nurse told me we in the UK have about 30% of the neurologists that are really needed for everyone to have appropriate access. Now, that's an old anecdote now, but I would imagine there are still far too few. Neurology is a wide field, and they are expected to both specialise in one area, and give appropriate advice to the full range of patients their department sees.

Likewise, Epilepsy Nurses must fill the gap for patients with epilepsy, which is, after all, the most common neurological condition in the UK. I don't know how many patients are currently waiting on the books of each epilepsy nurse in the country, but I would expect the number to be substantial. How many people can keep up that kind of workload forever? My epilepsy nurse would always go over time with her patients. It meant that if you had an appointment at the end of the day, you could go in an hour to so after the appointment was supposed to start, but it also meant that she worked past the time she should have been going home, pretty much every day. And she happily gave patients an email address to contact her if they had a problem. She also covered four or five major towns in a week; a different one each day.

According to my latest specialist, non-epileptic seizures are more common that epileptic ones. They are harder to control, too. How large is his workload? Is it so strange that I worry about him going sick long-term too, when this is the enormous burden of patients that people such as himself have to work with every day? Admittedly, my health condition is related to stress, so I'm possibly not the best person to say this, but honestly? That kind of pressure is something I couldn't even conceive of coping with. Isn't it time that neurology got more attention and funding?

Sunday 1 January 2012

Welcome to 2012, Year of 366 Days!

So, here we are. It's a Sunday afternoon and the rain is falling, welcoming the New Year in a particularly British fashion. It's not that cold, not at all warm, just damp and a bit grotty.

I'm not here to write an obligatory "It's a New Year, so I promise to do Better this time" post. For starters, I'm a realist, and I've started too many diaries with the best of intentions, and then by the time February rolls around, not only have I stopped writing every day, I've gone and lost the dratted things. Heck, I could say the same for about halfway through January. And then, to be honest, I don't know that there are all that many things I could say I got wrong in the last year. 

Okay, so my organisation could stand to improve (heck, it could always stand to improve), and there are things I want to achieve this year that I had put on the back burner last year (there's only so much you can get done with two children under the age of four around), but overall I don't think I did that badly. 

I had surgery twice, made a wedding dress, got married, and completed NaNo (even if the story still needs major work). That's nothing to be ashamed of, especially when you add up all the little things that get done on the side. Actually, there are a lot of little things on the side. Maybe I should have a New Year's Resolution to not start too many things. But then, where's the fun in that?

I start the year one e-reader the richer, so I think that by the time the next January rolls around I'd like to have taken at least one step towards publication in some form. I tend to stick my head in the sand a little, and have spent the last few days discovering what is rapidly turning into an epiphany about e-publishing. Still not completely sold on that one, but I could give it a go for some of the things I've written, if not all. 

And of course, my CBT rolls on, too. Next appointment is on Tuesday, so we'll see how it goes. Having seizures around big family holidays is a real drag (and I had a fair few, so I know from experience), so that would be a good thing to get under control. I'm not going to set myself a "goal" with seizures though. My inner realist knows it's too much to hope that I'll be seizure-free within a year, and yet, aiming for anything less seems a little pessimistic. 

Plus, setting goals for health sets you up to fail, and then, not only are you more ill than you wanted to be, you're down about it too, because you promised yourself in a cloud of hope and optimism that it wouldn't happen. The way I see it, making promises about things you only have a finite amount of control over is setting yourself up for disappointment when circumstances beyond your control intervene. If something stressful happens to me, I will probably have more seizures. If I'm then stressing about the stress, and the fact that I wasn't "supposed" to have any more seizures that month, I don't think it's really going to help much. 

And, in other news, O and I decorated snowflake-shaped gingerbread biscuits today. They were delicious. Biscuits and sugar are a good start to anything. That's a new family tradition, right there.