How to Bring your Wife out of a Full Blown Grand Mal Epileptic Seizure


The first time I witnessed anyone having a grand mal epileptic seizure must have been around seventh or eighth grade. One of the boys a couple of years ahead ouf our class had epilepsy.

Say what? Never heard of it.

Well, if you haven’t, please trust me on this: Watching somebody in the throes of a grand mal is a bit like seeing the vulture already on the ground, ready to rip away at a lifeless corpse. Buzzard lunch. Many an epileptic individual survives an untold number of seizures, but any seizure can also be final and fatal.

This older boy who had epilepsy had also experienced seizures in gym class on two separate occasions, once on the basketball court and once rounding the bases after hitting a home run in an intramural baseball game. In the latter case, running at full tilt, he’d suddenly realized a seizure was coming on. Rounding third, he barreled for home, hoping to reach the inhaler he kept in the dugout before collapsing unconscious, twithcing and jerking like a downed marionette on strings.

He almost made it.

That was in the fifities.

Fast forward to early 1997.

My wife and I have been pretty much hooked at the hip since first we met in late 1996. As we continued to get to know each other better and better, she told me that she was–among other things–epileptic. Some of her horror stories were epic: Twenty minutes of drop-and-flopping, unconsciously slamming her little punkin head over and over on the terra cotta tiles at Taco Bell, with no one lifting a finger to help. Hospital personnel refusing to heed her warning that she couldn’t take the dye in a CAT scan, followed by multiple seizures that kept her in the sick people place for quite some time thereafter.

Over time, I would later “enjoy” the scary opportunity to see her seizures “up close and personal”.

Now, trust me on this, I loved this woman from Day One, and I had no intention of seeing her go through any twenty minutes of jerking herself apart like that. Wasn’t happening on my watch. And, I’m happy to be able to say, I’ve made good on that promise to myself and to her.

Here’s how I do it.

CAVEAT: I’ve had no formal medical training per se other than standard First Aid classes and cannot in any way tell you the reader that my method for helping an epileptic through a seizure should or even could work for you. Nor am I about to say, like so many snake oil salesmen do, that, “If I can do it, so can you.” Maybe you can’t. I certainly have no way to know. And finally, if you do decide my intuitively developed technique is worth trying, please be sure to only use it with your lover.

You’ll see why in a moment.

I’m the one who first diagnosed her seizures as strictly stress triggered….every time.

Now for Ghost’s seizure amelioration technique:

1. The first line of defense against any seizure in our household is Pam herself. Like many epileptics (or so I’ve been told), she gets an “aura” shortly before the electrical brain storm we know as a grand mal seizure actually strikes. If she picks up on that (on a bad day, she may not) and lets me know, we can often avert the seizure altogether. Generally speaking, with that bit of warning, we work to calm her down (if she’s been either upset or too happily excited, hyper), I talk calmly to her, we check her blood sugar and blood pressure…and go from there.

I’m the one who first diagnosed her seizures as strictly stress triggered….every time.

2. Next line of defense: Me. On occasion–not always; I’ve missed a few times–I’ll pick up warning signals. Pam’s speech may start to slur a bit, as if she’d had a mini-stroke or was maybe drunk or on drugs. The mini-stroke definitely has to be eliminated from consideration first (she’s had a number of those), but she doesn’t drink, doesn’t use recreational drugs, and takes her prescription meds the way they’re prescribed. I’ve long since gotten to the point that I can say,

“Let me see your eyes.”

If she’s about to have a seizure, the pupils will have shrunk to pinpoints and it will also be clear she’s “not all there”. Whether or not this is true of other epilepitics, I have no idea.

3. The seizure itself. There are two parts to the Amelioration Technique that are executed simultaneously, but to avoid confusion they’re listed separately here. First, the physical positioning.

I “slide into” Pam frontally, hugging her closely–firmly but not tightly enough to cause damage–with my right leg between her two legs and both arms wrapped around behind her body. My right hand, palm splayed (I’ve got sizeable hands and long fingers), cushions her lower spine, covering the tailbone area. My left hand cups the base of her skull and upper cervical area.

Her arms are “hugged under” my arms, leaving me theoretically open to damage (which has never happened). In a full-body epileptic jerk, the legs can really get going, but her left thigh is gripped and cushioned by my two thighs while her “free” left leg is at least well anchored.

In other words, she’s the precious cargo and I’m the bubble wrap.

Nobody told me how to do this. It just felt right. And–for us at least–it works.

4. Part Two of the technique involves my voice. I literally talk her out of the seizure, telling her (with absolute confidence) that she’s in a seizure, she needs to come back out, I know she can hear me, and I know she can do it. “Come back to me, Pam!” is probably the most often repeated statement in the entire process.

You’ve heard all those experts who say, “Oh, she’s unconscious; she can’t hear you!” Yeah? Me too. Guess what? They’re wrong. We humans have the ability to communicate at far deeper levels than most realize.

How Well Does It Work?

That’s the real question, isn’t it? Well, I can’t say how well it might or might not work for anybody else, but here are our results:

    –The longest grand mal seizure Pam has ever experienced while wrapped up in my arms (and legs) lasted for roughly 90 seconds.

    –She’s never injured any part of her body during such an event. (Which is not true for those seizures she’s had when I wasn’t physically present.)

    –As the years have passed (we’ll have 17 years together this coming November, in 2013), both the frequency and the intensity of her seizures have been steadily reduced. It’s seldom that she even goes far enough to have a single spasm now, and most of the time, I’m also able to keep her from losing consciousness.

As it happened, the Universe did once provide us with the opportunity to “test” the technique on a total stranger. In 2003, Pam and I were taking a break at a local casino in Anaconcda, Montana, where for a glorious total of four years, I actually thought I was retired (until the money ran out). Pam was playing a bit of video poker on the nickel machines; I was enjoying the coffee bar and reading a book.

An elderly lady playing on the other side of the bank of machines from Pam…went into seizure. Her adult daughter was there, the attendant called the ambulance…and I (at Pam’s instant urging) went into action. We quickly assured the daughter I knew what I was doing (always room for doubt there, but hey) and I cradled the lady in crisis much as I would have cradled Pam–minus, I assure you, the leg thing.

And I talked her out of it. In sixty seconds at most. Which of course felt like a lot more than that, waiting for the guys in uniform to come barreling through the door and get me tossed in jail for practicing medicine.

Fortunately for all of us, the lady was clearly out of seizure and recovering, her daughter was highly relieved, and I was well away from her chair before the boys in blue got there. Not that Pam and I were done just yet; we then ran interference, demanding that they not transport her to the hospital–a place she definitely did not care to visit, and a trip that would have cost not only time and discomfort but enough copay dollars to make her life just that much harder.

That’s about it. If memory serves, the last time we realized Pam was looking seizure-prone was…last week, I think. Maybe the week before. We got it stopped in time; I know that.

She’s not needed to take any anti-seizure medication–which destroys the bones, never good for a gal with osteoporosis–for the last couple of years.

4 thoughts on “How to Bring your Wife out of a Full Blown Grand Mal Epileptic Seizure

  1. Hello ghost23,

    I am glad to read you amd your wifes story. I am currently dating someone who has epilepsy. I admire her being straight upfront and telling me of her condition. Currently this has me taken aback a bit. Of course i dont know what to do. Something moves me to go out with her even more despite her condition.

    Do you and pam.have children? I would love to read more of your stories. Thanks

  2. Hi, Rj, and thanks for stopping by.

    Pam and I met 20 years ago when she was 45 and I was 53, so we were done having children by that time. My adult children from previous marriages (yes, plural) and I are not in frequent contact, so there’s no issue there. We’ve had much more interaction with Pam’s adult children, however, and as it happens, she’s going to stay for a while with her eldest daughter in Utah pretty soon; she and that daughter’s family want some together time with Pam before my wife passes from this world.

    Which probably isn’t that far in the future, but Pam’s failing health has little or nothing to do with her “brain storm” seizures. Fibromyalgia first hit her when she was 47, and at present the three biggest challenges are Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and an inability to hold her weight much above 82 pounds. (She’s 5′ 1″ in height and weighed 92 pounds when we met.)

    All that is my way of beating around the bush a bit to say: Epilepsy in and of itself does not have to be a scary thing. Before long with my redhead, I learned to know when she was close to a seizure just by looking at her and listening to her. If her blood sugar is too low, that can head her toward a seizure (she’s pre-diabetic at this point but NOT on insulin), at which point a quick hit of sugar in the form of orange juice or some such will be enough to stave off the problem until she can get some food down–because that low sugar thing usually happens when she hasn’t eaten like she should. That may OR MAY NOT be the case for the lady you’re dating.

    More than anything, STRESS triggers Pam’s seizures. She hasn’t had a grand mal seizure in years, in part from my improvement at early detection and in part from our mostly successful efforts to de-stress her life as much as possible. Additionally, having epilepsy is NOT a barrier to having children; we’re talking different kinds of stress here. It was long before we met, but Pam had all three of her kids without any help from the doctor whatsoever, and two of the three were anything but easy births.

    If you want to know what to do in your situation it’s simple: If you like this woman and want to keep moving forward, just ASK HER more about her condition–that is, what does she do to handle it? What do you need to know about it? What do you need to DO if she has a seizure right there in front of you? Does she have a problem with well meaning but essentially ignorant people who try to run her in to the hospital every time she has a seizure? (NOT necessarily the best option; Pam has been hospitalized 3 different times in our 20 years together, but none of those times was for a seizure.)

    A little bit of cheerleading on my part: It can be a great feeling, knowing you’ve helped a loved one with epilepsy by (a) helping head off a seizure that came close but didn’t get her, (b) keeping her safe during a seizure, (c) shortening the length of the seizure. Any or all of the above or more. And don’t underestimate the woman who has the epilepsy, either. Shortly after Pam and I first met, but before we hooked up, that tiny woman saved a six-foot-six drunken Irishman from dying during a seizure. Tom wasn’t epileptic, but he’d boldly gone where he shouldn’t have, mixing his alcoholism with a batch of stewed-down “tea” he’d made from wild mushrooms he’d picked himself. Whatever variety those shrooms were, they didn’t do him any good; a few hours later, he went into a full blown seizure, unconscious, thrashing like mad.

    Pam’s apartment at the time was next door to his. She heard the commotion through the paper thin walls and dashed over to find several people standing around Tom–who was on his bed–with not one of those “normal” people knowing what to do. She yelled at them to get out of her way (and when Pammie yells, you know it), got her back to the wall and used her powerful little legs (she was a world class gymnast in her day) to roll him over from his back to his side, then got hold of his tongue so he couldn’t swallow his own tongue. Most epileptic seizures are NOT of the tongue-swallowing variety–Pam’s never had one of those to my knowledge–but big unconscious Tom was certainly trying to off himself that way. Then she held him in the “safe” position and yelled at people some more, until somebody called 911 and the paramedics arrived.

    Bottom line: Feel free to ASK your lady for more information, and don’t for one second think she’s “limited” in any way by having epilepsy. Pam certainly is not. She even fought in karate tournaments, back in the day, although she certainly didn’t admit to the officials that she was prone to seizures. And she was so efficient in the tournaments that pretty soon women refused to fight her; she had to fight men–and beat most of those, too.

  3. Pam is indomitable. Dennis is too. Both have epilepsy and both have since before we met them. Dennis’ first around me was 1 week after we got married. We have gotten them down to none in 5 years. His was finally finding the ‘right’ medicine and dosage. His is mostly caused by stress too.

  4. Indomitable is definitely the right word.

    As for stress, I learned early on–in grade school, actually–that epileptic seizures could be triggered by “good” stress as well as “bad” stress. In our small school, we had one boy who was a known epileptic (this was in the 1950’s) and on medication for it, so they’ve had epilepsy meds of one sort or another around for a long time. Philip was a few years ahead of me in school, very athletic (I can remember him being the first guy I ever saw who could walk on his hands). The first time (that I saw) was in the gym, during gym class. Don’t remember the details…but the second time, also during P.E., stands out clearly. We were all playing baseball in a field out near the rodeo grounds when Philip blasted what I suppose must have been an inside-the-park home run.

    He was scooting around the bases, and that dude had some serious wheels. He felt the seizure coming on (he told the gym teacher later) as he was rounding third base. Didn’t slow down one bit, just charged for home, crossed the plate, pretty much crashed into what served for a dugout, and managed to grab his inhaler (I think it must have been, though at the time I had no clue) in time enough to stave off the worst of it. Didn’t look good for a few minutes there, but stayed out a grand mal.

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