Epilepsy: Living with a Faulty Transformer


The following is not a technical look at epilepsy, but rather a practical and sometimes humorous approach to the disorder by one who has waged a lifelong battle against the affliction.

My little brother and I were shooting buckets in the backyard when suddenly the electric transformer on the power pole across the yard made a loud honking sound.  A bacon-frying sound followed that in quick order.  Then all was quiet.  We went back to our important ball game.  Suddenly it happened again and then in short order once more.  Then boom, sparks flew, flames shot up and the power to our entire neighborhood went out.  The electric company came, turned the power off, and replaced the old transformer with a new one, as far as I know it lasted many years. 

Epilepsy causes problems something like that transformer, but because it takes place in the brain there is no replacing what goes wrong.  My brain works fine; it just sparks off at times when it shouldn't.  It flashes electrical impulses around and tries to short out.  These impulses or currents build up over time if not treated, such as when my body is sick, under unusual stress or for some other unknown reason.  Then things just go boom like that transformer—well not literally, but you get the picture.  And then the lights either go very dim or totally go out after flashes of very bright colors are displayed.  That is when I use to tell my parents: “It K. O.ed me!”  By the way in case you are wondering, unlike that transformer, no flames have shot out of my head, yet!

There are several types of epilepsy and many things that can cause the seizures it brings: childhood diseases such as encephalitis [I had that at 20 months] , a severe blow to the head, a brain tumor, a childhood high fever left untreated, and too much alcohol or drugs.  Sometimes seizures begin with no known cause.

Remember those Christmas tree lights you try to straighten out each year?  You do your best to lay them out straight so you can string them on your tree, but they manage to bundle themselves up in wads and tangles.  Epilepsy is caused when nerves or nerve cells get bunched up and impulses jump around where they shouldn't.  Just like the electric power that tries to arc and jump out of its assigned path on your tree, these brain charges do the same thing if there is a weakness or abnormality present.  They also try to engage the entire brain in a sort of electrical storm unless brought under check with medication(s).

There is no total cure but there are many medicines to keep all this under “lock and key” most of the time.  These usually wear out and are not effective after years of use and changes have to be made.  Doctors in recent years have also had some success in very severe cases in which medication do not work clipping the actual brain nerves which are causing the trouble.  In my own case, until August of 2006 I had been on basically the same meds for almost 50 years.  Then suddenly without warning one Sunday evening while leading a church service, they decided to stop working.  What followed was a two to three year journey down a rather lonely and scary road called “Let's Try This Then Avenue.”  The end of that avenue finely did come and since then all has been well.  I can tell you that it is wonderful to be off that side street and on the main highway once more, even though the ride might stop at any moment!

Regarding a seizure and finding the right medicine, one lives with the spectrum that another seizure might happen again.  Let me be honest and change that—will happen again if I live long enough.  So, I do not do some of the things I use to do regularly such as rock climbing and rappelling, cleaning out the home gutters alone.  I do not do much driving and hardly ever alone.  My wife has always been a better driver anyway.  With every bane there is a blessing.

Finally, from one who is a good practical source, I am not demon possessed, just a full-fledged sinner.  And one serious word of advice: If you ever see anyone having a seizure and you want to help as I know you would, just keep them from hurting themselves.  Do not put your fingers in our mouth to keep our airway clear no matter how necessary it looks!  We all just love fresh meat right off the bone!  I know you won't forget that point!  

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