Seizure Alert Dogs are quite the rage now among the epileptic set. You get the whole aura thing happening and Fido (Phydeaux on the Westside) picks up on it and barks or whatever he does and you’re saved. Something like that. But I shouldn’t be poking fun. The pooches are quite useful. Even life saving. Sort of a real life Lassie thing. But then again a Seizure Alert Dog is a dog, not someone you can hold a conversation with. Or make the scene with. Or hang on your epileptic arm like some gorgeous eye candy. I mean Lassie is great for kids, but baby, I live in Hollywood. I make the scene. So why not have Seizure Alert Babes? They could even wear nurses uniforms. Yeah, definitely wear nurse uniforms. The dress, the little hat, the stiletto heels. OK, the stiletto heels were my idea. Second idea. The first was thigh high leather boots. But that’s more like a Seizure Alert Dominatrix, and that ain’t my scene. I mean I’m not a freak, just epileptic.
Actually, I’ve had Seizure Alert Nurses before, with the nurses uniform and little nurses hat and everything. Well,not the heels, but the rest. That was twenty years ago, back when they had me in the epilepsy ward for a week. They’d taken me off my meds, because they wanted to actually see a seizure, record it, get it on the EEG (the electroencephalograph machine…sort of an EKG for the brain), so they could pinpoint where in the brain it originated. They knew from CAT scans about where the little hole in my brain was, but they needed more specifics, and the more they know, the more effective the treatment. So I was all wired up, my head a mess of electrodes–some stuck right into the jaw socket–and held together with a turban of bandages, and my every second being filmed and monitored by an unblinking camera. My daytime epilepsy attendant that week was a darling little Filipina nurse. Everyday with the electrodes and the EEG’s and the letting me get out of the damn bed for a minute. Cute as she was, I hated the idea of her standing outside while I took a leak in the tiny bathroom. What was I gonna do, drown? Well, yeah, theoretically speaking, drowning is a leading cause of death for epileptics. (We’re nearly twenty times as likely to drown as non-epileptics.) So showers are OK, but no taking a bath–I believe John Travolta’s kid died that way, in the bath–and no swimming alone. But not even epileptics drown in toilet bowls. Urination should not be an issue. So when she wasn’t around I found the alarm under the bed and switched it off. Pissed at will without my Pinay helper. That worked for a couple days. Till one day I came out of the john and there she was, all four feet of her, angry. We must have the alarm on! They were afraid I would hurt myself, she said. There went my freedom. I was drinking coffee like crazy–part of my seizure inducement strategy, keeping myself edgy and sleepless and miserable–and having to go a lot. So from then on I’d buzz her, she’d come in. Yes Mr. Wahl, you need to pee? (I hate that word pee–real men piss.) And she’d turn the alarm off. OK, Mr. Wahl, let’s go, and she’d help me up. I didn’t need help. I was three times her size. I could pick her up with one hand and hold her over my head. But still, she helped me up. She walked me to the bathroom door four feet away. I squeezed in. The toilet was tiny, and I had to aim carefully. Halfway through she’d ask are you OK in there Mr. Wahl? As if I’d never pissed by myself before. I’m fine, I said. I’d flush the toilet. Are you done, Mr. Wahl? No, I’m all tangled up. It’s got itself wrapped around my wrist and won’t let go. I need help. I never said that though. It was a neurology ward. They make note of those things. So I would just come out of the bathroom and she would put me back to bed and turn the alarm back on. That was the day shift.
The nurse on the night shift was a hot little Thai number, slim and perfect. Barely said anything. She’d wander in, smile, check the gauges and dials, make sure the bed alarm was on and slip out again. If I had to pee she’d turn off the alarm–it made a helluva racket otherwise–and let me do what I had to do. Take as long as I wanted. Never said anything through the door. Who knows what she thought I was doing (I wasn’t), but I appreciated the privacy. I’d emerge and she’d slip out the door and leave me alone in my room. I’d get under the covers. She’d come in later, look at the dials, turn my alarm on, and slip back out again, soundlessly. Even her footsteps made no noise.
The epilepsy ward was eerily quiet at night. Sometimes there’d be some muffled sounds from down the hall and the nurse and orderlies would head that way till the sounds abated. There was an old African-American patient down the hall who would seize every couple hours. He’d make sounds, thrashing around the bed, and let out a blues wail. A fragment of a song, very deep south, very delta, very black. I can still hear it in my head, two decades later, and it’s as eerie as it was when it would break the nighttime silence. A plaintive cry, some notes stretched and blue, lingering, unresolved. Then it faded. Silence again.
I heard it all–the blues, the muffled conversations between the nurses, the electronic beeps and buzzes that are a constant backdrop in a hospital–because while the other patients were asleep I stayed awake on coffee and little else, trying to bring about a seizure. They needed a seizure, a real seizure. They kept telling me that, as if I could will one. Something that would set the EEG crazy and let the doctors discover just where and why and how all this epilepsy was happening. That’s what the camera was for. They could watch me 24/7 and look for symptoms. And if a big one came, they could watch my head turn in one direction and know which side it emanated from, that is from the other side. Seizure on the left, head turns right. On the right, head turns left. Like an epileptic compass. UCLA medical school students manned the remote monitor, watching. They watched every minute. It made me self conscious at first. Things I never even thought about before, like what would my hands be doing while I slept? I imagined a room full of coed neurology students, giggling.
But I got used to the camera. Went about my business there in that little bed. I read, and watched the inane local news. Read some more. Drank coffee. Drank more coffee. Horrible hospital coffee, whole pots worth. The food was awful and I stopped eating. My wife came in everyday, smiling, bearing gifts and snacks and kisses. I lived for those visits. Friends would show up, we’d talk and laugh and they’d flirt with the nurses until they were shooed out. Visiting hours are over. The ward grew very quiet. I would read–I’d brought a whole stack of books–and look for anything watchable on the TV. There was never anything. Pretty ladies reading off cue cards in infomercials mostly Those ladies seemed to be my primary interest after a while. All I could think about. Laying in bed for a week reading will do that. A lady friend called from the job I’d just left. She’d bought me a Playboy for a going way present, everyone signed it. Funny comments all over the pictures. Every time I see Jenny McCarthy in a commercial I think of her boobs with a knock knock joke on them. My friend asked if I’d brought it with me. I said no. She said so you poor thing, you must be so horny laying in bed for a week. The camera stared at me. I said can we change the subject?
The third person who popped into the room regularly was the epilepsy lab technician. She studied the EEG carefully for signs of something. She was a cute little Armenian number that came in a couple times a day to whirl knobs and read print outs and asked me if I’d had a seizure yet. It was so cute how she said it. Plus she was built. You tend to remember these things. Even if it’s about the only thing I do remember.
And I remember her because when I woke up, I saw her there whirling knobs and pressing buttons, and I said hello. She looked surprised. Oh hi….how do you feel? Fine, I said. She grinned. You don’t remember, do you? Remember? So you really don’t remember? Remember what? I couldn’t remember anything, actually. You had a giant seizure! People overheard us and came in. A nurse, a doctor, more nurses. They all asked me how I was. I said fine. They all told me about my giant seizure. My neurologist came in. Another neurologist. They excitedly told me about my seizure, that is was the biggest seizure they’d ever had in the epilepsy ward at Kaiser hospital. The mother of all seizures one said. My neurologist limned it out for me. I’d fallen asleep. I began seizing. The technician was in there all alone. She cried for help. I was seizing violently, rigid, thrashing, foaming, making crazy epileptic sounds. It went on and on. All the nurses rushed in. A doctor. They could do nothing but stand there watching, waiting for it to subside, trying to keep me from hurting myself. Then quickly as it came, it stopped. I sank back, motionless. The heart monitor still beeped time, I was breathing. The seizure was over.
Then came the post-ictal period, that is, after the seizure. My brain was zapped all to hell, a CAT scan, had it been taken during the seizure, would have shown my brain blazing white from ear to ear, the whole frontal lobe and beyond a mass of intense electro-chemical activity, a zillion neurons flashing simultaneously, annihilating all consciousness. Now, post-ictal, it would dim down to a lower level white as the electrical storm subsided and left a brain shocked, synapses flickering, exhausted, awash in the chemicals released by so much simultaneous activity. I was a zombie. The body, thoughtless, instinctual, began to stir. I was immensely strong. Many times stronger than my conscious self. I reached up and tore the electrodes off my head, ripping off the bandages, yanking the wires free, pulling them out of my jaw. I grabbed the wires and leads stuck into my arm and ripped them out. I began to rise. The tech tried to hold me down. The nurses. The doctors. The orderlies ran in, muscular athletes all of them, biceps like iron. Eight people in the room trying to hold me down. But slowly, irresistibly, I sat up, all their strength and effort to no avail. I was getting out of the bed. They screamed and yelled, alarms rang, everything in the room beeping and buzzing, it was anarchy. Someone yelled to the front desk to call security. They’re on their way.
Then, as sudden as it began, I went limp, laid down and fell fast asleep. That’s what they told me. I remembered absolutely none of it. Nothing. That’s the thing about grand mal (aka tonic clonic) seizures. The brain is so overloaded with electro-chemical energy that there’s no thought–let alone memory–whatsoever. I remember the room looked a hell of a mess. My neurologist said they had been afraid I’d go after the equipment, millions of dollars of sensitive machines and me, he said, a Frankenstein’s monster who could destroy it all. One of the orderlies on the floor–the biggest, buffest one–came into the room. Gave my biceps a squeeze. Man, you are strong. A whole room full of us was trying to hold you down, and you just sat up like it was nothing. I apologized. He grinned. Yeah, man, you are strong and he shook my hand. I felt meek as a lamb.
The doctor left and my little Filipina nurse, cute as ever, said you get some sleep now. You’re very tired. You can go home tomorrow. She had me lay back down, removed the wires and fragments of bandages from the bed, then saw the blood on my arm where I’d ripped out the wires and cleaned and dressed the wound with her tiny little fingers. You can get these sensations of intense warmth and gratitude after a seizure, you go numb all over and feel warm and loved. She cooed at me to fall asleep and I melted into the bed. The next day every single muscle in my body would hurt, as if I’d sprained them all simultaneously, but for now, my memory zapped all to hell and the world hazy and strange, I felt deliciously tired and slept for hours. I nodded off before she’d even left the room. A couple hours before she was among the crew frantically trying to keep me in the bed, tiny little her. I could have batted her away like a kitten. Now I was utterly harmless, and she laid an extra blanket across me so I wouldn’t get cold.
Of course a seizure alert babe wouldn’t have to do any of that. She would just be there to look gorgeous when I made the scene. No twirling dials and running reports, no listening to me pee, no trying to keep me from walking like a super zombie, destroying everything in my path. My seizure alert babe would be strictly for show. Hell, I don’t even need a seizure alert dog, I’m so medicated and controlled and safe. I suppose she could remind me to take my medicine. That way my health plan would cover it. Though I don’t know about Obamacare. Especially the stiletto heels.
Besides, my wife would kill me. So let’s just drop the whole thing.
Doris Day looks out for legendary pitcher Grover Cleveland Alexander (Ronald Reagan) during one of his epileptic spells in “the Winning Team” (1952).