One day during medical school, my classmates and I learned that one of the most well-liked doctors-in-training in the hospital had had a seizure while leading morning work rounds.
The sight of him writhing had caused the other doctors and nurses on the ward to panic. Some stood mute, frozen with fear. An intern, believing that the seizure arose from low blood sugar levels, took his half-eaten jelly doughnut and held it against the mouth of his seizing colleague. Others yelled to the ward secretary to ”call a code,” and continued to do so even after another dozen doctors and nurses had already arrived on the floor.
The young doctor eventually recovered. But for many of the medical students and doctors who heard about the episode or were on the wards that day, the dread of that morning would linger long beyond our years of training. Epilepsy was, and remains, a frightening and mysterious malady.
For the last 20 years, Dr. Brien J. Smith has tried to change how doctors and patients view epilepsy. Earlier this year, Dr. Smith, chief of neurology at Spectrum Health in Michigan, became chairman of the Epilepsy Foundation. Being elected head of a national organization does not seem unusual for a doctor who is a well-recognized authority and advocate in his or her field. What is extraordinary is that Dr. Smith knows firsthand about the disease and what his patients experience: He learned he had epilepsy when he was in high school.