Wednesday, January 20, 2010

My Summer Seizures

Around 5:00 am on Saturday July, 18, 2009, I had a grand mal seizure. My wife Courtney woke because the bed was shaking and she looked over to see my body contorted, seizing uncontrollably. She called 911. Apparently, the seizure lasted about 20 seconds, but I was out for another 20 minutes. When I woke, the paramedics had arrived, and five men in blue surrounded the bed. My tongue hurt because I had bit it, but otherwise I felt ok, though tired. We went to the hospital and they checked me out to make sure the seizure wasn’t caused by a brain tumor or stroke or anything else obvious. The doctors didn’t find anything—whew!—and sent me home that morning. At home, I made some phone calls, and because Courtney wanted to go for a run, we called Harold, Courtney’s godfather to keep me company. I was falling asleep on the couch and around 10:15 am, I had another seizure. Harold called 911, and when I came to, a new bunch of strangers in blue surrounded me, but also a good friend, ultra running mentor, and fireman/paramedic, John Ticer. A quick Ticer side story: Before Western States, I was getting ready to paint the house and had taken the address numbers off the house. We hosted a pre-race party and John said: “You better get some temporary numbers up in case the paramedics have to come looking for you!” Sure, I thought, but what are the chances? After 37 years of living, I’ve never called 911. Luckily the first ambulance found us early that morning through Courtney’s descriptions to the 911-operator, but John, in on the second call, knew right where to go. After you’ve had 2 grand mal seizures doctors technically classify you as having a “seizure disorder” or as it used to be known, epilepsy. The two weeks that followed the episodes were a whirlwind of doctor’s appointments, discussions with friends, a lot of reading, and a lot of thinking. This is what the Mayo Clinic website has to say about grand mal seizures: Because I had just attempted Western States a few weeks before, I thought a logical link between the issues I experience there—Rhabdomyolysis and two days in the Auburn hospital—might be connected. However, the neurologist and the other doctors I saw all thought that there was no link between Western States and the seizures, though they all admitted they couldn’t really know for certain. The neurologist was more interested in what I described to him as déjà-vu experiences—about two years ago I had moments in time while washing dishes, brushing my teeth, or walking the dog when I felt as though I was living what I had just dreamed the night before. If I let these times go very long—because I always felt I could stop them—I would eventually start to feel sick to my stomach and dizzy. I almost didn’t mention this, but the neurologist said that these were probably “mini seizures”. A short time after the grand mal seizure, I had an Electroencephalogram (EEG). In this procedure, you are sleep deprived and the technician flashes lights at you to stress your brain while they measure the electrical activity. This also didn’t yield any problems… or answers. I am now on an anti-seizure medication, Dilantin, for two years. Initially Dilantin made me a little dizzy and unmotivated. I haven’t had any more problems and the side effects are largely gone, although I often still feel unmotivated to take out the trash. Aside from the pragmatic downside of the very real health issue, all this has given me another “wake-up-this-is-your-life” kick in the pants, for which I’m always grateful. Overall, I’m feeling a less invincible and a little more excited about life.