Did you think of someone drooling in a dimly lit institution? Or someone so sedated on their seizure medicines that they aren't capable of working?
Yes, there are some patients who still fit that description. But they're rare. You want to know what most epilepsy patients look like? They look like YOU!
Yes, folks contrary to popular belief, epilepsy patients are out there living normal lives. And there's a lot of them. It's a disorder that affects 1% of humans. So imagine the Rose Bowl stadium in California. When sold out it holds roughly 90,000 football fans. And statistically speaking 900 of them have epilepsy. Some may even be playing on the field.
Current epilepsy patients in my practice include 7 teachers, 3 doctors, 5 nurses, 1 judge, 2 veterinarians, and a lot of other responsible professionals.
Very few diseases have been as maligned over time as this one has. The majority of early cultures attributed seizures to demonic possession. I'm sure many innocent epileptics were killed in horrible fashion because of this. Others saw it as an intentional punishment from the gods. The great Dr. Charcot, founder of modern neurology, reported that in 19th century France epilepsy patients were locked up in the same dark building used to house the criminally insane and mentally handicapped.
|Detail from "Transfiguration" by Raphael (1516) showing a child possessed by demons. The boy's posture and eye deviation are typical of partial-complex epilepsy.|
You don't have to look too far back in American history to find laws on the books that banned epilepsy patients from marrying or having children. In the mid-90's I even trained under a doctor who still believed that horseshit, and told young adults, just starting out in life, that they should never, ever marry or raise a family. That's a pretty damn devastating thing to do to someone.
Vilifying any person because of an illness is wrong, whether it's diabetes, hypertension, or cancer. But epilepsy is one in my specialty, and I'll make a stand for my patients.
I probably fight harder for the rights of my epilepsy patients than any other group. Several times a year I have to write a letter to a divorce attorney saying that a well-controlled seizure patient is perfectly capable of being a parent, because the ex is saying that it makes them a danger to kids. Or I have to reassure a family that a patient can drive, or work, or travel on a plane. Obviously, there are laws restricting some things, like driving, but the majority of patients follow them and are perfectly good drivers. Hell, they're likely a lot safer than many non-epileptic people behind the wheel.
So what brought on this rant?
Last week the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (AKA Obamacare). Now this post is NOT about the PPACA. I know a lot of people feel strongly about it in both directions, and if you want to fight about it, go to a website where you can. Because it's not what I'm talking about, or giving an opinion on.
What pissed me off was the reaction of a radio talk show host (who's not a medical doctor).
U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts has epilepsy and (under treatment guidelines) is likely on medication for this (I'm not his doctor). Big deal. So are a lot of other people.
But, as usual, there are some who'd rather smear than respect an opinion. Conservative commentator Michael Savage went on record last week as blaming Roberts' vote on - surprise - his epilepsy treatment (!) saying his writings showed "cognitive dissociation." He noted that drugs used for epilepsy "can introduce mental slowing, forgetfulness, and other cognitive problems."
Yes, Mr. Savage, they can cause these problems. You can also find similar side effects listed for most blood pressure medications, statins, and many other drugs (which, given your age of 70, I suspect you take at least one of) yet I'm not going to say your comments are due to medications. The side effect list of any drug is HUGE. But that doesn't mean everyone who takes it gets them. Quite the opposite.
My point is this: You're certainly entitled to your opinion. But just because you disagree with a man, don't go blaming it on his medications or health. It's a step backwards for all the epilepsy patients out there trying to lead responsible lives in the face of biases like yours. And, I suspect, if he'd ruled the other way you'd never have made such comments.
Since you apparently don't feel people being treated for seizures are capable of making rational decisions or serving in a responsible capacity, I'm leaving you with a list of people who have (or are highly suspected to have had) epilepsy. Perhaps you've heard of some.
Vincent van Gogh
Joan of Arc
Florence Griffith Joyner
Last, I should also mention former congressman Tony Coelho, who has the disorder. He was the primary sponsor of the Americans with Disabilities Act (1990). As a young man he wanted to be a priest, but was banned from such by his epilepsy. He also lost his driver's license and health insurance because of the diagnosis.
During his first run for congress (1978, which he won) his opponent tried to paint him with the same insulting brush, asking voters how they'd feel if their representative was at a White House meeting and had a seizure. Mr. Coelho responded, "I knew a lot of people who went to the White House and had fits. At least I’d have an excuse."