When it comes to seizures, most people automatically think of the worst type -- the kind that causes eyes to roll to the back of the head, tightens muscles so that they twitch and spasm, and leads to an unconscious flailing about of the body under assault. I used to conjure the same image of a seizure -- until I learned that scar tissue on the parietal lobe of my brain indicated that seizures had long been a part of my life without me even realizing it.
I have complex partial seizures that occur on the right side of my brain, in the parietal lobe, and seldom cause me to lose consciousness. It may look as if I have mindlessly drifted off into an alternate universe, but I remain very much aware of what goes on around me during a seizure. I do, however, lose the power to respond while neurons perform the jive across the stage of grey matter in my head. The seizures often occur in flurries or clusters, meaning that the first one acts a trigger for others. My husband describes them like an earthquake and aftershocks; those of us who live in Southern California know that after an earthquake, aftershocks are a given. My seizures act the same way.
So, what happens when I have a seizure? Some people who deal with seizures have an "aura," or a way of knowing that one is coming. I am one of those lucky folks. In fact I'm doubly blessed because I have two signals to alert me that my brain is about to experience an electrical overload. The first aura is a burning smell. When I start sniffing the air, checking out the stove and appliances, examining electrical outlets, and asking if anyone else smells something burning, look out -- a seizure is on the way. With this aura, I never know when the event will happen, just that it will. The second way that I know to prepare myself for a seizure happens very quickly and when it does, I know that a seizure will hit me in a hurry. This is the most frequent beginning to a seizure for me.
A gentle tingling sensation at the bottom of my feet is the first signal. I'm not ticklish (except between my toes), but I can imagine that the feeling must be similar to what those who do have ticklish feet feel. In a matter of a second or two, the tingling in the feet is followed by the strongest feeling of nausea I have ever experienced without actually barfing my guts up. As soon as the nausea happens, I know what to expect and sit down if I'm not already seated. I've only gone down twice during a seizure, but those two experiences seriously traumatized me. Lying in a heap on the floor and drooling all over oneself is not very pleasant, nor is it particularly graceful looking!
After the aura pays me a visit, a light film of sweat will break out on my upper lip, saliva will begin to fill my mouth more quickly than normal, I may feel hot or flushed, then the right arm will begin feeling numb. At about the same time that the arm goes numb, I just drift off. To those who see me when it happens, I appear to be daydreaming or staring off into space. When the electrical activity in the brain starts to settle down, I will begin to cough -- sometimes quite violently, especially if the seizure has lasted longer than 30 seconds -- and shake my arm to relieve the numbness. The coughing spell sometimes lasts 5 or 10 minutes, during which time I am coming out of the seizure.
The length of the seizure determines the amount of time it takes me to come out of it. On the days when I have clusters, the seizures themselves don't last any more than 30-45 seconds but with each one, coming out gets increasingly difficult. No matter whether the seizures occur in clusters or not, I am compelled to sleep afterward. I've tried to fight off the need to sleep but doing so only exacerbates the problem and often triggers additional seizures.My neurologist assures me that once we find the right medicine in the proper dosage, the seizures will be fully controlled. I can't wait until that happens!