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Looking back, a stadium concert maybe wasn’t the best place to be as a recently diagnosed epileptic. All I can say in my defense is that photosensitivity -- reactions to flashing lights -- had never been an issue for me. Stress, lack of sleep, my period (ask me about the time PMS brought on three grand mals in one day)? Sure. But not flashing lights.
I’d somehow conned my high school boyfriend and my mom into attending a Bon Jovi concert despite the fact that the former was more of a Pink Floyd fan and the latter remains a Garth Brooks devotee.
It had been a rough few months, what with my newfound penchant for public displays of neurological wonkiness. In under a calendar year I had managed to have grand mal seizures in a packed computer lab, a car, during a math exam, and in a hospital waiting room. I was trialing a carousel of medications with impossible to pronounce names alongside a sedative and sleeping pills.
There was The One That Made Me Stupid. The One That Fucked With My Eyesight. Boyfriend and I met while I was taking The One That Made Me So Dizzy I Couldn’t Walk For Two Months. In the meantime, I was trying not to develop whiplash from the unevenness with which my private school was handling the matter; faculty vacillated on a case-by-case basis from amazing kindness to sheer cluelessness, leaving comments like “inconsistent effort” on my report cards.
Really, I can only assume that going with me to my favorite band’s concert was viewed as a favor to the less fortunate at this point.
The first three songs passed uneventfully. I can’t even remember what track Bon Jovi was on when it all went wrong -- just that the projection screen was doing some really weird twisty, spiraling things and my brain really, really didn’t enjoy it. I slowly turned to my mom. She must’ve seen the warning signs in the look on my face.
“Do you want to go?” she demanded.
My boyfriend had his arm around my waist as I was trying to rush-stumble up the stairs. Have you ever taken a good look at just how many steps there are in a stadium? It’s a lot. I don’t remember a lot with much clarity in the run-up before a seizure -- things get muddled -- but in this instance I do remember a distinct sinking feeling as I realized there was no way in hell I was getting up those stairs. And then I passed out.
In a twitching heap on top of my boyfriend, of course, who promptly, quietly freaked the fuck out. According to family lore, it only took about three or four repetitions on my mom’s part for her insistent “Go get help!” to sink in.
You know what makes this story even better? It gets worse.
I woke up a minute or two later between two EMTs hustling me into triage. In their haste to move me, one accidentally hitched my shirt up around my collarbones, letting all and sundry know what Victoria’s Secret bra I chose to wear that evening. I dazedly tried to collect myself while Mom argued with a nurse about the impossibility of me being drunk. My boyfriend was standing off to one side, pale and looking a little nauseous. As bewildered as I was, I started to feel a suspiciously localized chill around my rear.
“Mom, did I fall in a puddle when I passed out?”
Mom glanced at me, my pants, and whispered in my ear. If someone ever discovers a dainty, unobtrusive way to wrap a blanket around themselves post-soiling, let me know. Especially when said blanket is one of those crinkly ones used to warm up football fans who’ve been snowed in. There really was no hiding what had just happened.
My mom, ever the pragmatist, arranged for the stadium to give us a ride back to our car on a golf cart -- my post-seizure sense of balance was not up to trekking through 15 parking lots to find our vehicle. I was confused and exhausted, feeling horrible that my boyfriend continued to be so nice, letting me lean on him for stability while we left. The stupid space blanket was far from attractive, never mind the way it was trapping an unpleasant urine smell. I was not, however, so confused that I didn’t notice people staring at what they thought was an inebriated high school student getting preferential treatment. The heckling from concertgoers on our cart ride ranged from entertaining to deeply misguided. Even my boyfriend came under fire, a tipsy attendee exhorting him to “have some personality and smile!”
Anticipating a late return, my family had arranged for him to spend the night crashing on the basement pullout. Given this turn of events in all of its seizing, pee-drenched glory, I asked if he’d rather go home.
He stayed. He stayed that night, took care of me the following day while my parents went to work, and had to be practically shoved out the door the next evening. My father, probably thinking about how he or his brother would have reacted as teenagers, commented on how bizarre that was. He’s not a swearing man, but he came as close as politely possible to reminding me that 16-year-old boys kind of suck and don’t really do bodily fluids well.
Believe it or not, this is one of my favorite stories, and not just because I’m writing this piece from our shared apartment 10 years later. I honestly don’t know if my partner likes it as much as I do -- people have a tendency to hear it and assume he’s a saint, which is a whole separate piece on attitudes about disability -- but I love this story because, even though it was so incredibly horrible at the time, in a lot of ways it saved me from years of worrying about how someone could see me have a seizure and still think I was pretty or charming or sexy.
When we broke up a year later to grow up a little, collect some degrees, and wander on back to each other, my brain’s fun electricity problems were never even mentioned.
I’m much more discriminating about my concert venues now (indoors only, small venues preferred, but I still bend the rules for my beloved Bon Jovi). I’m also unapologetic about talking about being epileptic -- how it impacts me, why I don’t drive or stay out late, matter-of-factly running through first aid steps if asked -- because the worst case scenario for being quiet about it socially has already happened. The one guy I peed on mid-seizure still thinks I’m the prettiest thing in the room. Certainly everyone else can manage to be polite if I take my meds in public.