An epileptic watching Laura

Watching Laura for the zillionth time and Waldo Lydecker just had his seizure. I hope, says a recovered Clifton Webb to a radiantly overbit Gene Tierney, you’ll forgive my wee touch of epilepsy, my dear. Clifton Webb could sure say a my dear. He drops to a near whisper. It’s an old family custom he apologizes, but not really. There’s a touch of a boast to it. I grin. It’s my favorite line. Well, second favorite. You can’t top his I shall never forget the weekend Laura died. An opener, no less. And there’s a naked skinny epileptic Waldo typing in the bathtub. An epileptic in a bathtub. If he’d had his seizure then there’d have been no movie.


Most vile cup of coffee I ever made was in 1979  when my percolator went berzerk and reduced a whole pot to an an ounce or two of bitter meth. I downed it in a single gulp since I was cramming for a final in some ridiculously difficult class, and while catching a couple hours sleep in the wee hours of the morning had one helluva seizure and when I got to the class for the exam had amnesia and couldn’t remember a single thing. I turned in an empty paper and flunked the course. Never managed a cup of coffee like that again.

Lou Christie

I don’t recommend it, especially if you used to do a lot of acid or are prone to bouts of schizophrenia or maybe just missed a dose of your epilepsy meds, but it turns out that if you play Lightning Strikes five times simultaneously, beginning each about five seconds into the one before, it will build into this high pitched polyrhythmic cacophony somewhat reminiscent of the Shaggs backing the Four Seasons with Rashied Ali on drums. For maybe ten seconds it is out there heaven. Then it just gets stupid and you take your epilepsy meds and swear you’ll never mention this to anyone.

Great song, though.

Glass enclosure

Bud Powell backstage, Paris, 1959. Astonishing photograph. Jon Mayer posted this, sent to him by a fan who’d snapped the pic a half century before. Bud and Mayer shared the bill, Bud doing a set, then Jon, then Bud, then Jon. Now one of LA’s best jazz pianists, Jon Mayer was a young kid in from NYC and on top of his game, ideas coming at the speed of light, fingers flying. Bud Powell was good then too, but epileptic and post-electroshock therapy. He probably looked out on a world in two dimensions that never quite connected, un poco loco, wondering how much he had forgotten.



Epileptic eyes

One of my favorite epileptics. The swirls are the auras, and the tree and behind it the steeple seem forward, as if placed in front of a backdrop, because of the flattening effect of temporal lobe seizures. Van Gogh makes no sense at all unless you can look at his paintings with epileptic eyes. If I delay my next dose a couple hours I can sit out on the sundeck and the scenery begins to look like that. It’s gorgeous.

That they don’t teach you in art class.

Starry Night

The Starry Night

Andromeda Strain

Saw The Andromeda Strain again last night. One of my favorite science fiction flicks. Not only is it a helluva story with a hard science plot, but best of all one of the heroes is an epileptic. Probably the only time I have ever seen epilepsy genuine portrayed on the silver screen, or any screen:

Leavitt had a seizure.
What?  Why in the hell didn’t she tell us about it?
No top lab would have her if they knew. Insurance, prejudice, all that crap.
Sheesh….from the Middle Ages.

Those four lines nail it.

I remember seeing The Andromeda Strain in a movie theater when it came out. I was maybe thirteen and watched the lady scientist have a seizure and it was intense. Wow. There are people like that out there?

Little did I realize….

Anyway last night when Kate Reid, as Dr. Levitt, had her first spell–an absence seizure–I was asked what was happening to her. I don’t actually have absence seizures (and I am immune to flashing lights), hence I can drive. Absence seizures are called complex partial seizures. Simple partial seizures–most epileptics have simple partial seizures–are epilepsy without loss of consciousness. You’re still messed up in your own unique little way, strange symptoms and behaviors, you’re just wide awake messed up. I’ve had lots of those, nice and awake and aware. But with complex partial seizures you zone out of consciousness for a moment (or several moments). Or perhaps you are conscious, awake, but unaware of anything around you. No idea where you are. Lost. But in this first seizure scene, Levitt has obviously lost consciousness. She’s frozen, she’s out of it. She doesn’t fall down or anything, she just zones out and when she snaps back, she is momentarily disoriented. Kate Reid did a good job portraying a complex partial seizure, aka an absence seizure. Obviously Dr. Levitt didn’t drive.

An hour later into the plot, as all hell breaks loose, the flashing red alarm lights send Dr. Leavitt into a full seizure. I had several of those, at night, while sleeping, quite unsettling for somebody sleeping with me. Thankfully meds ended all that as they had seriously trashed my long term memory. Somebody asked me if Kate Reid’s was a realistic portrayal. I said I wouldn’t know, I wasn’t there to watch me. I was never conscious at the time. The brain is zapped all to hell during a tonic clonic seizure, which you probably know as grand mal (“big bad”) seizures. There’s no consciousness during a big bad seizure. The brain is having one hell of an electric storm. I was watching Forbidden Planet today for the zillionth time and when Robbie the Robot tried to take on the Monster of the Id his electronic brain goes white hot with electricity and shuts him down cold. Robbie had the robot equivalent of a big bad seizure. But if you’re flesh and blood (and brain), you only know you’ve had one because everyone around you is freaked out afterward. You wake up with no memory that anything happened at all, feeling quite blissful in fact, while everyone is staring at you like you’re Linda Blair in The Exorcist. And though it’s been years since my last big seizure, I’m so medicated, I still remember their expressions. So traumatized, so concerned, and I hadn’t a clue why. You had a huge seizure they’ll say. I look surprised. Invariably they’ll ask if I remember. Unepileptic people can ask the dumbest questions.

The next day, though, it feels like I pulled every muscle in my body. You never realize how many muscles you have until the day after a tonic clonic seizure. A lot of muscles. Muscles in ridiculous places, muscles that you can’t imagine have any purpose whatsoever but suddenly hurt like hell. But that’s the impression epileptics have of their own seizures. What my big bad fits actually look like I have no idea. So I asked my wife if Kate Reid’s portrayal looked like a tonic clonic seizure. She said yeah, that is what it looked like. Six and a half feet of me stiff as a board, shaking, making unearthly sounds. Then it ends.

Great movie, The Andromeda Strain. But sadly it remains the only film I know of that shows epilepsy exactly like it is.

A complex partial seizure.

A complex partial seizure.