Patients with severe epilepsy are giving scientists the chance to see the human brain in action, a view they could never get with an MRI or other high-tech tools.
By applying small jolts of electricity to the brain, they’re able to wipe out a person’s ability to recognize faces, spark hallucinations, or even induce a will to persevere, as researchers reported last week.
None of this would be possible without patients like 41-year-old Nate Bennett of Santa Cruz, Calif. He’s had epilepsy since he was a teenager and it’s getting worse, to the point where he worries that he’ll lose his job as a restaurant manager.
In his back pocket, Bennett carries around a black leather wallet about the size of an envelope, attached to a keychain. He made it himself. His teeth have left deep scars in the leather.
“If I’m conscious and I feel the seizure starting, I warn people around me what’s going on,” he says. “I lay down on the floor and I put this in my mouth. That way when I wake up, I may not have bitten my tongue.”
Bennett has one or two grand mal seizures a month, sometimes in the middle of the work day. He’s unable to drive, and worries about having to go on disability and losing his health insurance. Medication isn’t helping.
(NOTE: We, The Epilepsy Network, do not condone the action of placing ANYTHING in your mouth when you have a seizure!)