You should know this! First aid for seizures

At a support hearing the other day, I represented a client who couldn’t work because she had seizures. We talked about the situation for half an hour or so, her journey to be certified unable to work or drive or do many things because of the seizures, which tended to come on under stress.

Then she had one. Right there. Just melted down off her chair onto the floor in a heap, twitching and banging her forehead on the floor.

Four adults in the room with her, me included, and we all stared for several seconds, stunned.  I’d had first aid training in college, some 25 years ago, and couldn’t remember anything, faced with the crisis.  Something about swallowing a tongue.  But then I thought I remembered they’d decided that was a bad idea.

The soon to be ex-husband was a jackass, starting with the cracks about how he always thought she was faking it, etc. He totally failed to help any of us. backing out the door and watching, with a huge smirk on his face. I came close to smacking him upside the head.

I finally turned her on her side, holding her steady so she didn’t hurt herself, and someone from the office brought a pillow from the break room so she didn’t hurt her head. She kept seizing, and the staff called 911. Within five minutes an experienced team was there and took her off to the hospital. But I didn’t forget that helpless feeling–and I didn’t like it.

SO. In the event you see someone experience a seizure, here’s what you should do, from the Foundation for Better Health Care:

  1. Roll the person on his or her side to prevent choking on any fluids or vomit.
  2. Cushion the person’s head.
  3. Loosen any tight clothing around the neck.
  4. Keep the person’s airway open. If necessary, grip the person’s jaw gently and tilt his or her head back.
  5. Do NOT restrict the person from moving unless he or she is in danger.
  6. Do NOT put anything into the person’s mouth, not even medicine or liquid. These can cause choking or damage to the person’s jaw, tongue, or teeth. Contrary to widespread belief, people cannot swallow their tongues during a seizure or any other time.
  7. Remove any sharp or solid objects that the person might hit during the seizure.
  8. Note how long the seizure lasts and what symptoms occurred so you can tell a doctor or emergency personnel if necessary.
  9. Stay with the person until the seizure ends.

Call 911 if:

  • The person is pregnant or has diabetes.
  • The seizure happened in water.
  • The seizure lasts longer than 5 minutes.
  • The person does not begin breathing again and return to consciousness after the seizure stops.
  • Another seizure starts before the person regains consciousness.
  • The person injures himself or herself during the seizure.
  • This is a first seizure or you think it might be. If in doubt, check to see if the person has a medical identification card or jewelry stating that they have epilepsy or a seizure disorder.

After the seizure ends, the person will probably be groggy and tired. He or she also may have a headache and be confused or embarrassed. Be patient with the person and try to help him or her find a place to rest if he or she is tired or doesn’t feel well. If necessary, offer to call a taxi, a friend, or a relative to help the person get home safely.

Now you know. Hopefully, you won’t have to confront this situation. But there’s nothing that feels as bad as seeing someone in the throes of this and being helpless.

4 thoughts on “You should know this! First aid for seizures

  1. Excellent post! And it sounds like your group did very well for the lady you were with.

    After living for 30 years with a lady with epilepsy, I can affirm that your advise is exactly what she would want you to say, with one small added note:

    Everyone’s seizures are different, and they may be different for one person, one time to the next. Do not assume, just because the person going through the seizure is not responsive to you in any fashion, that they are unconscious, or that they cannot hear.

    As improving medical control changed her seizures, my wife began to experience them in a way that was perhaps more difficult than before. As the seizure became “lighter” it would no longer take over the conscious area of her mind (although it did disrupt it mightily), so she got to experience what seemed to her the horror of her body, and to some extent her mind, slipping out of her control, and into the control of this disorder. She always found the effect terrifying.

    But she was often aware of touch, at least on one hand, and always aware of speech. And that is my “addendum.” Please talk soothingly to the person seizing. If they are aware of the sound (and you can’t know unless they tell you), they may not show any reaction. But the sound of a caring, supportive voice may be the only lifeline to sanity they can hang on to in the midst of that swirling blackness.

    • Thanks for the shout-out, Eric! If it was frightening for us to watch, I can only imagine how scary it must be to be the one having the seizure, like you said, everything out of control. Thank you for adding what is surely the most comforting suggestion of all.

  2. i just completed my CPR training. gave me a tiny amount of confidence… nothing about seizures, though. not even in the last first aid class i took (years ago). appreciate that you shared this, and agree that your group instinctively got it right…

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