What To Do When Someone Has a Seizure on the Trail

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Most people know I’m epileptic and if you didn’t, now you do. There are many different types of epilepsy disorders and there is no known cure for it. I suffer from gran mal also known as clonic-tonic seizures. It’s the type of seizure where the individual will loose consciousness and fall to the floor while all of their muscles contract causing them to shake and jerk uncontrollably. This is exactly what happened to me on Friday while on the Appalachian Trail.

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This was my first seizure in nearly 2 years and it occurred just after crossing over the New Jersey New York border. Luckily, I had already scrambled up all of the mountains and was on my way down to NY17A where the trail flattens out and is less rocky. I wasn’t seriously injured and only suffered a few scratches and bruises but it could have ended a lot worse. My seizure didn’t last that long to my knowledge but it left me feeling incredibly weak and disoriented. It took all of my strength to hike the last .5 mile down to the road.

 

After making it down to the road, I laid down resting for nearly 2 hours trying to recover my strength after the ordeal. Thankfully there was a trail angel looking out for me. Someone had set out a cooler containing snacks and gallon water jugs in it. I drank half a gallon of water while resting and ate several bags of M&M’s trying to get my strength back. What was supposed to be a 26 mile day, which quickly became apparent wasn’t going to happen anymore, became a 15 mile day. I set up my tent just past the Wild Cat shelter and have been resting ever since.

I’m not sure what caused me to have my seizure that day. I’m taking medicine to help control them and it seemed to be working over the years. My neurologist even upped my dosage for my trip. I do know over exhaustion, dehydration, light stimulation and heat exhaustion could cause me to have seizures and I’m speculating that the climbs and heat did me in on Friday

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There was no one around to help me today so I want people to know what to do if they come across someone having a seizure on the trail or in everyday life.

What to do:
• If you notice someone having a seizure and your next to them, ease them to the floor.
• Place the person on their side to help them breath easier.
• If there is anything hard or sharp near them move it away from them so they don’t get injured by it.
• If your there when the seizure starts, time it. Call 911 if the seizure lasts more than 4 minuets.
• Stay with the person until they regain consciousness and speak calmly to them.
• Keep yourself and others calm around you. After coming out of a seizure it can be really scary for that person when the see everybody else freaking out beside them.

Only call 911 if:
• The seizure lasts more than 4 minuets.
• The person has a seizure soon after the first one.
• If the seizure happens in water or the person is pregnant or has a known heart disorder.
• If the person is injured during the seizure.

Do NOT do any of these:
• Do not hold the person down or try to stop his or her movements.
• Do not put anything in the person’s mouth. This can injure teeth or the jaw. A person having a seizure cannot swallow his or her tongue.
• Do not try to give mouth-to-mouth breaths (like CPR). People having seizures usually start breathing again on their own. If they don’t call 911.
• Do not offer the person water or food until they are fully alert and conscious.

I used to believe my epilepsy was a disability and a weakness. I now know that it gives me strength. I came out here to complete one of my dreams and to show others that they can complete their dreams too. It’s difficult to complete dreams that’s why they usually stay a dream but I know now that if I can continue hiking even after having a seizure out here, that I can turn this dream into a reality. The journey will continue to be difficult but everyday I get a little bit closer to that magical destination that calls us to it. Katahdin is within my grasp.

Update: I’m doing better. I’m recovering and regaining my strength at my friend Cricket’s home today just outside of Fort Montgomery, NY. She has been amazingly kind to me and I can’t express enough how thankful I am to her. I’ve been able to do laundry, take a real shower  and get a good nights rest. She even made me chicken and vegetables for dinner and brownies for dessert! I’m planning to get back on trail tomorrow after getting my food drop sorted at the Fort Montgomery post office.

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Comments 4

  • Avatar
    Jeanne Church : Aug 17th

    Good to know. Best of luck to you!

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Jennifer : Jan 10th

      I am also an epileptic that likes to hike. I’m glad to see there are others out there! I’m just getting into it, but I’ve done many times over 10 miles in a day on a trail and it doesn’t bother me (I haven’t gotten into the camping yet ?). My last grand mal was in June. I also have absence seizures. I wear a medical ID and keep two GPS systems on me. I usually go out alone so I am going to get a spot beacon soon too. Sometimes I take a dog, but it can be a hassle. I just make sure to know let multiple people know where I am going, when I get there, communicate on the trail if I can, tell them when I finish, tell them when I am leaving, and tell them when I get home. I really don’t worry. I know the likelihood of something serious with my epilepsy happening to me is slim. Good luck with your hiking and your epilepsy! It’s probably the heat that did it.

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Sydne Bartlett-Gladding : Aug 17th

    Great advice. As a retired paramedic, the only thing I can think of to add is lay the person on their left side. This is a precaution for aspiration.

    Good luck on the rest of your hike!

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Gregory Taylor : Aug 21st

    As a paramedic I would also add that 911 should be called if someone has a seizure without a history. If you don’t know the person you may need to wait out the postictal period (time after a seizure featuring confusion and weakness) in order to ask them their medical history.

    Reply

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