It was bound to happen sooner or later. So when it did finally happen this afternoon, why was I so unprepared for it? Why do I feel so embarrassed, ashamed, and humiliated by it?

The inevitable happened in my afternoon class today. I had a seizure. It wasn't bad and didn't last long. The usual coughing fit that lets me know I'm coming out of the seizure was mild by comparison to what usually happens. I didn't drool this time, nor did I freeze up completely during the event. And although this seizure was really not a big deal, I was left feeling absolutely and utterly embarrassed and humiliated by it.

Class was about halfway through when I started feeling the all too familiar tingling sensation and nausea that are my body's way of announcing the onslaught of electrical hyperactivity in my head. Right in the middle of discussing John Stuart Mill's essay, On Liberty, and explaining the influence that Mill's "no harm" clause has had on our own incitement laws, I very calmly announced, mid-sentence, to my class, "Please don't be surprised if I start to drool and stare off into space because I'll be having a seizure in just a few seconds." Because the seizure was mild, I skipped only a couple of beats before regaining my composure and continuing the conversation while the electrical wiring in my head misfired for a few seconds. And when it had finished, I coughed and shook my right hand to rid it of the tingling sensation, and went on as if all were right in my world.

Thankfully, I warn my students at the start of each semester that the possibility of me having a seizure is quite real. But I also let them know that (1) it has never happened on campus before (it hadn't until today) and (2) I have two different auras to warn me a few seconds before the event happens. I explain what happens when I have a seizure, let them know that I will warn them before it happens, and reassure them that they don't need to do anything except wait until they see me shake my hand and cough as that is the signal that the seizure is mostly finished. Thus when I announced the impending seizure this afternoon, they remained cool, calm, and collected. Perhaps it helped that I didn't panic despite my embarrassment.

Having a seizure, no matter how mild, in front of my students is something that I had prayed would never happen. Now that it has, I need only to find a way to deal with the sense of shame that the experience has left behind.
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5 Responses
  1. Anonymous Says:

    There's absolutely no reason to feel embarrassed or humiliated. Warning your students and explaining to them ahead of time is a good idea. Have you given them a chance to express concern or ask questions? Depending on your level of comfort with the idea, this could be a "teachable" moment. What a wondeful role model you are by giving them the opportunity to learn about chronic illness and also to learn that no matter what challenges they may face, they can meet those challenges and work at a job they love to do. I say, good for you for facing that challenge every time you walk into the classroom.

  2. Carleen Says:

    Thanks for the encouraging words, they are just what I need before facing my class again this afternoon.

    At the first class meeting each semester, I explain to my students about Arnold Chiari Malformation and Epilepsy and how they impact my life. I go over the basics of the decompression surgery and tell them that although it has helped to curb several of the symptoms of the condition, I still have problems with things like balance, depth perception, remembering words, sleep, headaches, etc. And because I know that having a seizure is always a possibility, I explain the type of seizures I have, what I look like when they happen, and what to do if I have one. While I certainly don't see myself as brave or heroic in any way, the feedback I get from my students tells me that many of them see me as a positive role model because of my "deal with it" attitude. :)

  3. rickismom Says:

    I think that since you warned them in advance, they probably won't make too much of a deal of it. You certainly have nothing to be embarressed about. Let your students realize that life doesn't always come on a silver platter!

  4. Carleen,
    While I was looking at your profile, I stumbled upon a few of your other blogs. I'm not sure if you intended for your students to read some of your more personal posts. However, this post caught my eye, and you normally share some of this information in class.

    I missed the first day of class because of a schedule change, so I didn't get to hear you explain about Arnold Chiari Malformation and Epilepsy. Up until last week, I didn't notice anything different about you, except that you're FAR more interesting than any of the professors I've had at CSUF.

    I agree with the other responses- there is no need to be embarrassed. I think you handled the situation well, and the class responded appropriately. I admire you for being a great professor, and for helping me finally make a decision about my education. Now that I know this, I admire you for your strength. Now I feel like a little wimp for missing class over a silly cold!

  5. Carleen Says:

    Hi betruemydear! I don't mind if students stumble upon my personal blog. Heck, you guys hear a lot of this stuff anyway, LOL! Thank you so much for the compliments; you've made my otherwise not-off-to-such-a-good-start-day infinitely better. :)

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