Seizures in Fiction


I guess you might call this blog post a public service announcement. Here’s where I’m coming from. My oldest child has epilepsy. While this kind of sucks, particularly for her, it’s one of those things you have to accept and we’re just incredibly grateful that the magic of modern medicine seems to be working for our daughter and so far she’s getting to live a normal, pretty much seizure-free life.

The scary thing is that she’s a teenager and she’s getting damned near to being an adult. This means that she spends a fair percentage of her time not under our protective wings, but out in the world. This also means that the very real possibility exists that she may have a significant seizure one day while she’s out there and we’ll need to count on bystanders knowing what to do, or more to the point what not to do.

What prompted me to write about this is that twice this year, I’ve found myself reading a book that included a scene with a character having a seizure. In one case, another character thinks that someone should put something in the seizing character’s mouth to keep him from choking on his tongue (though the character does not actually take any action for reasons particular to the plot). In the other case (different book, different author), another character springs into action to hold the seizing character down.  Cringe. Both entirely wrong…and potentially dangerous.

Okay, let’s get the obligatory stuff out of the way. These are a couple of tiny scenes in good books by talented authors – two of my favorites as a matter of fact.  And these are not medical books, but works of fiction and we all know that characters in books often do the wrong things just like real people do. Obviously, these authors are not in the business of educating people about epilepsy. They’re in the business of telling stories, which they do well and I love them for it…but when books contain misinformation like this, I feel the need to spread the correct information as far as my little blog and my Twitter account can reach because my guess is that the authors of these books don’t realize that they’re perpetuating old wives tales that might actually get people like my child injured.

In real life, seizures are scary shit, and I read scenes like the ones described above and I picture some panicky, but well-meaning reader injuring someone because they “read in a book somewhere” that you’re supposed to put something in the person’s mouth or hold them down during a seizure. I find myself thinking I’d love it if the author would follow those scenes with some comment about needlessly broken teeth or torn muscles.

At this point, you may be wondering what exactly should be done in case of a seizure. And hey look, here’s a handy link with great advice on what to do and what not to do!

The vast majority of people come out of a seizure just fine. Maybe they’re a little dazed and confused, they’re probably fairly exhausted, but they’re okay…provided nobody did anything silly like shoving something in their mouth or holding them down. Ahem. 


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