One year ago, I bit into a chicken biscuit and had a seizure.
The day began the same as any other day, except that it was a Thursday. That meant M went to the bakery down the street for chicken biscuits and donuts per our weekly tradition. They left around 8:30, and I started my morning as usual: took care of the animals, turned on my work computer, got dressed, poured coffee, etc. Absolutely nothing out of the ordinary was going on.
Before I went upstairs to work with my cup of coffee, I opened the windows in the kitchen to let it some fresh air. That was probably the most out of the ordinary action of all because it was going to be a hot day.
Around 9:10, M came home with the bakery goodies that we had enjoyed before. Upstairs, we unwrapped the chicken biscuits first.
I took a bite. I didn’t chew. Immediate, violent nausea hit my stomach.
I thundered to the upstairs bathroom next to our office. What I didn’t know at the time was that M watched my exit and spit their biscuit (thoroughly chewed, however) into a napkin, thinking there was something in the biscuits like a bug or a human finger. But in the bathroom, I bypassed the toilet and went to the garbage can next to it and just spat out the unchewed bite of chicken and biscuit.
I was already kneeling at this time, but I recall a sense of tunnel vision and yellow light around my eyes (likely because the lights in the bathroom reflect off the wall paint). Then I just laid down onto my side and...passed out.
That’s when the memories start breaking down, because that was when the first seizure started.
I promise this story gets funny in a moment, but right now it’s pretty scary. So if you don’t want to read this next paragraph, that’s ok: I had what is called a tonic clonic seizure — also, a grand mal seizure. The tonic phase is when your body goes stiff. Your shoulders roll in, your arms stick out, and then you make a loud groan because your chest compresses. That noise is when M heard me, and thought I fell and hurt myself. They ran in, saw me, and of course freaked the fuck out. But then came the clonic phase, which is somehow even scarier. That’s when your body begins to shake uncontrollably. Imagine the one you love and who loves you the most witnessing this apropos of nothing, and then suddenly it all comes to an end after just a few minutes and then your body goes limp and you fall sound asleep — like, snoring, unshakable sleep. It was all an absolutely horrifying sight — even my little dog ran and hid.
M called 911, and I woke up from my sleep. But I wasn’t all there and I wasn’t responsive. My expression, they said, was one of fear. Like a lost little girl in a country whose language she didn’t speak.
The EMTs arrived in almost no time and hurried upstairs to check on me. They gave me the awareness test (“What’s your name? How old are you? What year is it? Who is the president?”) Apparently, I failed the first set really badly. I gave my age of 16, the year of 1999, and the president of Bill Clinton. So yeah — I was a lost little girl. My mind was rebooting.
The EMTs pricked my finger to test my blood sugar (normal) and looked at my eyes to see if I fell and hit my head on the tub. At this time I started coming around, but still wasn't all there. They carried me downstairs and sat me on the chaise lounge. I vaguely remember being asked the awareness questions again and this time passing. (“Who’s the president?” “Arrgggg…”) My reaction time was delayed and tipsy, as if I had been drinking a lot. I remember apologizing to the EMTs and telling them how embarrassed I was about them having to carry me, as I cannot stand being carried anywhere.
At some point M decided it would be best to take me to the emergency room to check me out. Here’s where I start losing memory again, but I have a vague recollection of telling them to call my boss and team lead that I was going to be out for the day. (I worry about my own Kafkaesque existence wherein I collapse with convulsions and, once conscious, worry about what work is going to think.) So for the first time in my 34 years of life, I get to be carried off on a stretcher and into an awaiting ambulance to the local hospital for processing.
It was about 9:45am.
It was a good idea that I went to the hospital. Because the first thing that happened after the EMTs and nurse picked me off the stretcher was that I had another seizure.
Same thing as before: tonic than clonic. Just as my arms raised for the tensing, my eyes widened and I yelped “Oh nooo!” and then started seizing.
This is sort of weird, but I’m glad this second seizure happened so everyone could see that there was something wrong with me. And I’m also glad it happened in front of medical professionals, too. EMTs and nurses are incredible people and during my seizure they made sure I laid on my side, cleared my airway, and gave me an oxygen mask to breathe. While I slept through the recovery, M wiped the gross phlegm off my face because, well, seizures can be gross. Because I didn’t seem to stop having seizures, the on-call emergency room attendant started me on an IV drip of Ativan, an anti-anxiety medication, that also works as an anti-seizure medication.
Here’s where this story starts getting funny. The super concentrated dosage of Ativan made me HIGH AS FUCK. Normally, I’m a tightly-wound, neurotic, stubborn, uncompromising, smug, asshole. But for the next couple of hours on a steady drip of Ativan I was the most pleasant, accommodating, polite person you would have ever met. I should probably be on Ativan all the time. While on Ativan, I took off my shorts without hesitation when the nurse asked me because they needed me to pee in a bed pan (to make sure I wasn’t pregnant). I then sat on this bed pan for a long while, not having to pee, even under threat of catheterization. At that, I turned to M and begged them, “Don’t let them cath me. Just keep telling the doctors that I can’t get pregnant.” Eventually, they believed me because they gave me a prescription for another anti-convulsant which can cause birth defects. I stayed on that medication for about six months before switching to my current medication.
I stress again that I barely remember any of this. My memories from that hospital visit are fragmented, but not unpleasant thanks to the Ativan. I do remember the following:
- The aloof but respectful member of the armed forces (don’t know which branch) visiting the guest in the bed next to me. I remember him standing between the curtain. Even though we pulled the curtain for privacy, he left the room when I shucked off my shorts. I probably would have done it in full view of the entire marine corps because I did not give a fuuuuuck. (Maybe I shouldn’t be on Ativan, actually.)
- The nurse named Yvonne. She approached my bed as I sat there, completely out of it. I looked at her badge and smiled, “That’s pretty.” Yvonne is indeed a pretty name.
- Seriously, I didn’t have to piss the entire time. Not a single drop. And I was there for six hours.
- M went into an absolute panic when this happened to me, and I can’t blame them. I would have, too. They texted family and friends, letting them know that they may be getting sick too if it was something we both ate. The first to show up, because they lived in the area, was our dear friend Eric, who took time off work to drive across town and wait in the lobby for us since we didn’t have our car. He then drove us home from the hospital when I was released. I remember seeing him in the lobby as the nurse was helping me practice walking in the hallway. I think I said something like, “Hey, Eric’s here!”
- Before I saw Eric, M said, “Hey, Eric’s here!” Only then did I realize I didn't have my shorts on and THEN did I get self-conscious.
Once home, I laid down on the couch and fell asleep with all three animals curled around me.
I woke up about 2 hours later to my sister-in-law’s dog, Kaia, licking my face.
They were the first to arrive and stayed overnight with us. The next day, my father-in-law with his dog arrived and they stayed for two days. Both provided incredible support during that time while I recovered and M got their bearings back.
As it turns out, convulsive seizures are painful. The tonic phase makes every muscle in your body hurt for days on end. Nearly two weeks went by before I didn’t wince or groan when I stepped or reached for something. I bit my tongue during the clonic phase which both hurt and tasted gross for three days. Finally, my poor right finger where the EMTs took my blood sugar bruised over, swelled, and ached for a week because I’m right-handed and type a lot for work and pleasure. My physical form was a mess for the entire month of August 2018.
All other aspects were a garbage fire for the better part of a year, too. I started seeing a neurologist, and we determined that while this was my first tonic-clonic seizure, it wasn’t the first seizure I had ever had (which is a story for another time). So then began the year-long bouts of EEGs, MRIs, and pills, pills, pills. Then came therapy. Then came dosage changes. Then came more pills.
My lifestyle had to change, which meant our lifestyle had to change. I can’t legally drive if I have seizures (even the non tonic-clonic ones). Also, no bodies of water, so no baths, swimming pools, or oceans. I suppose I could rock climb with M, but I couldn’t belay them because I might drop them and send myself shooting up into the air. Once I’m sure I’m on the right medication dosage, I’m sure I can resume my previous life’s activities. But it has been hard on both of us.
What a downer. Let’s end this on a fun note.
One thing that hasn’t changed? The chicken biscuits. While I was sleeping off the Ativan on the couch, M threw away everything they bought at the bakery, thinking they had been poisoned. It was a valiant deed, but unneeded since I didn’t really eat anything the day before. In fact, I wanted another go at the food I didn’t get to eat! So while my sister-in-law was here and out for a run, she sent a text afterward that said, “I’m at [name of same bakery]. What do y’all want?”
I sent back, “A chicken biscuit.”
She brought me home one and I devoured it.
And I didn’t another seizure.