March 16, 2012
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.