March 16, 2012

Our Bodies, Our Flock: seizures

File this one under “things I wish I had known three hours ago.”

If you are having a tonic-clonic (formerly known as “gran mal”) seizure, there’s not much you can do about it at that time. An observer will see you stiffen suddenly, usually drawing limbs tight to the body or extending them. If you are standing, you will fall. You may vocalize. This is known as the tonic phase. Shortly thereafter your muscles will begin relaxing and contracting rapidly, which may result in small twitches or wild flailing. This can last for seconds to minutes and is known as the clonic phase. You may stop breathing during either phase. Afterwards you will experience disorientation, amnesia to the event, and severe exhaustion. If you are alone, this is the time to call 911.

If you are observing a person having a tonic-clonic seizure, you can help. If you observe a known epileptic seeming incoherent, disoriented, or dizzy, encourage them to sit down on the ground and be prepared to call first responders. They may be pre-ictal (about to have a seizure) and not have their full mental capacity. If you find someone already having a seizure you should remove any objects that might harm them. If they are flailing, you may gently restrain (but not immobilize) the person if it is safe for you to do so. When the seizure ends the person should be rolled onto their side with their knees and hips partly bent. During the post-ictal phase, the person will likely be disoriented. If they are coherent you should reassure them and encourage them to stay on their side in the recovery position until help arrives.


  1. Sheila Ryan on March 16th, 2012 at 9:03 pm

    I remember sitting on the sidewalk in Chicago cradling a woman whom I’d seen collapse and suffer a tonic-clonic seizure as I was getting out of my car. I held her in my lap and stroked her hair and waited for the paramedics I’d told a neighbor to call. The woman’s foofy little rat-dog would not leave her side and growled when big men approached his mistress. They praised him for his bravery and loyalty, calling him a good dog.

  2. Deron Bauman on March 16th, 2012 at 9:17 pm

    Dave, who had one?

  3. Erica Braverman on March 16th, 2012 at 9:32 pm

    Dave, thank you. I had a friend in art school who experienced one as we were leaving class and he had given me advance notice. He is still grateful that myself and another were willing to remain calm. We told him jokes the entire time until medics arrived.

  4. Sheila Ryan on March 16th, 2012 at 10:04 pm

    I also worked with a woman who had the occasional seizure. It’s good when people understand what is going on and don’t get frightened.

  5. Erica Braverman on March 16th, 2012 at 10:18 pm

    It is always good when people understand and don’t get frightened. That can be applied to many things.

  6. Sheila Ryan on March 16th, 2012 at 10:49 pm

    Even if they don’t understand, it is good not to be frightened.

  7. Sheila Ryan on March 16th, 2012 at 10:50 pm

    Dave? To repeat Deron, what happened?

  8. Dave Vogt on March 17th, 2012 at 7:33 pm

    Sorry for not responding sooner. I came upon a coworker friend at work having a seizure while we were cleaning up to go home. 15 minutes later and she would’ve been driving. Instincts were call 911 and limit the chances of collateral damage. That’s not far off from the correct response, but it’s nice to know these things in advance.