The Surrealism of a Seizure
I had just turned 20 years old and had transferred colleges, moving from a tiny liberal arts school in sunny St. Petersburg, FL, to the massive system that is UNC, Chapel Hill. It was a big endeavor for me, leaving behind the classroom of 12 to one of 250, saying good-bye to friends I had made freshman and sophomore years. I thought I was ready for the transition and looked forward to challenges and the expanded horizons my new university would offer me.
I’d been in my new classes about three weeks when disaster hit, and I had one of the most strange and frightening experiences of my young life. For no discernible reason, I had the first of two grand-mal seizures. The second piggy-backing on the first by two weeks or so. I was out on the soccer field running about in shorts and cleats as Phys Ed was still a requirement at that time. I recall the day in vivid detail because it was if time stopped for a moment and I saw everything with acute clarity.
I was still so new to the campus and had not yet made any real friends. I felt anxious and often confused trying to navigate the expansive network of buildings and quads. In that gym class, I wanted to desperately to do well, to connect with other students who looked to be so at home in themselves. On this particular day, the sun was shining hotly and the field was crowded with bodies all vying for the black and white ball. The instructor, a small British man, blew his whistle and yelled instructions to those on the turf. Even though I’m athletic, I was not too graceful at soccer and my feet got tangled frequently. In my mind I can still see the scene. A ball was kicked my way and it was my job to play defense, to try and stop the ball from moving further down the field. I saw this object hurtling toward me in space and that’s when time froze.
I went up to attempt to head the ball, to change its trajectory. The world suddenly split into fragments, shards of light and color, that were splintering all around me. The ball hung in the air, inching its way slowly toward my head. It was encircled in a powerful white light, a light that radiated outward in a larger and larger circle. I could hear people calling, screaming for the ball, but the voices sounded light-years away. My body leaped in the air and hung for what felt like minutes, suspending in space and time, waiting to connect with the ball that glowed brightly with a dazzling white light. And that’s the last thing I remember.
I was later told, when I regained consciousness in an ambulance, that I had suffered a grand mal seizure. My body, and the ball that hurtled toward me in slow motion, had come crashing to the ground. Convulsing, I lost total consciousness and all bodily controls. I seized and passed out and only came to en route to the hospital where I was to spend several days as the doctors ran tests to determine the cause of the seizure. The entire experience was coated in an air of strangeness, where I had no idea why my body was acting the way that it was, and I still did not know how this event would affect my future for so many years.
As I lay in a hospital bed and allowed doctors to poke and prod me, ever anxious for another vial of blood, another EKG and CAT scan, I thought back to that moment where time split open and stood still. I often think I entered another kind of dimension that day and have read that many people who suffer seizures see a white halo of light. I was unconscious for many minutes and wonder where my mind might have journeyed, how it tried to make sense of the electrical currents surging through it.
I was released from the hospital after a few days; no doctor could find cause for the seizure. I was told it was, most likely, a singular occurence – that it often happened to people in their early twenties….I resumed normal activities, hopeful, until it happened again two weeks later. This time I didn’t have a foreshadowing of the seizure and was told I bounced like a pinball down the corridor in my dorm until I fell in shudders on the concrete floor. Out cold I resurfaced in the hospital where I was to spend a week with doctors trying to figure out was wrong.
While in that room, alone, I thought about what was happening to my mind and body and how little control I really had. The doctors connected me to machines, slid my body into metal cylinders to image my brain and ultimately pumped me full of phenobarbitol, which I was to stay on for over a year until another drug could be found. Luckily, I never experienced another seizure, but I was to be on meds and classified as an epileptic for almost three years; my daily actions grossly restricted in case I seized again.
If I think back to that sunny day in North Caroline, I can picture the scene, I can feel the strangeness course through my body. Before the first seizure I experienced a bizarre, surreal sensation, like I could almost see the particles of matter and light that comprise all earthly things. The halo of light was beautiful in some ways and I still ponder where my mind traveled, what I may have been experiencing internally, during and after the seizure took control.