Shocking, upsetting and more than a little frightening. Alison Brace discovers how teachers, first aiders and pupils cope with epilepsy
Epilepsy may be the world's most common severe neurological condition, affecting one in every 133 people, but it is still misunderstood. Not least because witnessing a classic seizure, known as a tonic-clonic, can be a shocking and upsetting experience.
So how do you cope if you are a teacher facing that daily possibility of losing total control of your body in front of your class?
"When I had my first seizure, the first aider who came to help gave up her role after seeing me," says maths teacher Janet Croucher, whose epilepsy was diagnosed six years ago. "It was the first thing she had ever been called out to and she was so shocked it frightened her off."
Janet, 48, who teaches at Filton College, Bristol, says she still worries about the chance of a seizure in front of her pupils although she has never had one in the classroom.
"I tell my students what might happen the first time I meet them. I'm quite graphic about it and I let them know what they have to do if I have a seizure," she says.
"It gives them a chance to ask questions and I make sure they also know that I am not suffering or ill and that when I'm having a seizure I am not aware of anything."
Three of her students have revealed they have epilepsy an indication of how widespread the condition is. This was further underlined by the furore surrounding a promotional video clip for the London 2012 Olympics, which had to be pulled after triggering seizures among epilepsy sufferers.
Janet had her last seizure in March, her first in three years, which meant that she had to give up her driving licence again. Her epilepsy entitles her to a free bus pass, but the journey can take up to two hours instead of half an hour by car. She can reapply for her licence if she is seizure-free for a year.
"According to the insurers, if you have epilepsy, you are less of a risk than a middle-aged man with high blood pressure," says Janet, who is married with three grown- up daughters.
Once Janet's epilepsy was diagnosed, her employers were very understanding and supportive, she says. But some teachers report prejudice in the workplace and that the condition has held them back on the promotion front.
Janet believes it is best to be open with employers and enlist the help of one of the epilepsy support groups.
"Epilepsy Action made more difference than anything else," says Janet, who wrestled with depression and anxiety when she was first diagnosed. "Even my college contacted them for advice when they were carrying out their risk assessment."
First aid tips
Protect them from injury.
Cushion their head.
Look for an epilepsy identity card or jewellery.
Aid breathing by gently placing them in the recovery position once the seizure has finished.
Be calmly reassuring.
Stay with the person until recovery is complete.
Restrain the person.
Put anything in their mouth.
Try to move them unless they are in danger.
Give them anything to eat or drink until they are fully recovered.
Attempt to bring them round.
Call an ambulance if:
It is their first seizure.
The seizure continues for more than five minutes.
One tonic-clonic seizure follows another without regaining consciousness.
The person is injured.
They need medical help.
Source: Epilepsy Action