I was 19 years old when I had my first Grand Mal seizure. I was working in the Wisconsin Dells, staying at my Aunt’s house, doing laundry and the next thing I know I woke up next to the dryer with two EMTs looking down at me. I had no clue what happened, couldn’t answer any of the basic questions that the EMTs were asking me and my Aunt’s face was as white as a ghost. I had an MRI and the results showed I had epilepsy.
I was very confused and scared. I was 19 years old and never had a seizure before. I didn’t even know what epilepsy was and so my parents and I went and saw a neurologist. The first thing he asked us was if there was a history of epilepsy in the family. My older sister had a couple of Petite Mal seizures when she was very young but that was it. No history of anyone having Grand Mal seizures. The second question he asked me directly was “what you were doing the night before?” I reluctantly told him – I was out drinking the night before with friends. He asked me how much and I only told him it was a few beers, but it was a lot more than a few. The neurologist informed me that alcohol can trigger a seizure. Alcohol makes you dehydrated and alcohol withdrawal can trigger a seizure the next day. He told me that I can have one or two drinks when I’m out with friends, but that’s it. I told him I was from the Southside of Chicago and one or two drinks were not in our vocabulary. My friends & I were very close and we liked to “work hard” & “party hard.” I was young, dumb and arrogant. I actually thought I could “beat” or “control” epilepsy, and I didn’t think I had to change my lifestyle because of it. So, throughout college and into my twenties I continued to drink and I continued to have seizures. I would see my neurologist after every seizure and he would tell me the same thing, you have to change your lifestyle. My parents pleaded with me to stop drinking. I didn’t listen, I was too stubborn, I was selfish, and I didn’t want to change my lifestyle. My friends and I were having too much fun.
I was having seizures in front of my family, my friends and even at work. Finally, my neurologist got so mad that he said if I don’t stop drinking that he would take away my drivers license for good. One day, my boss called me in his office and told me point blank “you can’t drink anymore. It’s not in the cards for you because you have epilepsy.” He said “you have been very lucky that you haven’t seriously injured yourself or even worse someone else.” Finally, I slowing began to realize what my parents, my neurologist and friends were telling me was right. One seizure I had was at my sister’s house. I was supposed to drive me and my brother home and right before we were leaving, I had a seizure. What if I had that seizure 5 minutes later while we were driving on the street or highway? I could have seriously injured myself, my brother, and even worse, someone else.
Finally, at the age of 30 I grew up. I was married and my wife and I were starting a family. I decided it was time to stop being so damn selfish. I decided it was time to take epilepsy seriously. I decided to realize that people count on me and that I wouldn’t do them any good if I was dead. I decided it was time to change my lifestyle. I decided to stop drinking. I have been sober for 11 years. I have had 3 to 4 seizures but they haven’t been alcohol related. All my friends still drink and people ask me all the time if I miss it, sometimes I do, but it was the best decision I have made in my entire life. Life is to short, my only regret is that it took me so long to decide to change my lifestyle.