Shakes on a Plane

I apologize if you find the title at all insensitive. I tried to resist—I really did—but alas: I’m a sucker for a pun. If it’s any comfort, all shaking to which I refer in this post is expressly my own.

We’re flying to North Carolina on Saturday for a week in the Outer Banks with my in-laws. Both my husband and I are very, very excited. Beach! Sun! Family!

Plane travel, however, brings with it certain epilepsy-related anxieties, particularly coming out of an episode requiring an emergency room visit.

I’ve had a few inflight seizures in my day, none of which were hugely traumatic. I attribute the fact that their impact on me, my seatmates, and the flight attendants was as minimal as it could have been to a few determinants: first and foremost that they were relatively standard, medically speaking; and second that I took the initiative, as much as it pained me, to tap my neighbour on the shoulder before takeoff and awkwardly mutter some version of “so yeah, I have epilepsy, so if I happen to have a seizure, but I mean it probably won’t happen, so don’t worry, but if it does it’ll probably stop on it’s own, so don’t panic, just wait or push the call button” then dutifully hand him/her and the flight attendant a seizure first aid pamphlet. Surprisingly, no one’s made a big deal of it. People can be pretty cool if you give them a chance.

The let-strangers-know-even-though-it-embarrasses-me routine is part of a set of guidelines that I attempt to follow when I need to fly during a period in which I don’t have especially good seizure control (and should maybe follow all the time but don’t). Since the vast majority of my seizures occur in the late evening, if traveling alone I book a morning or afternoon flight. I wear my MedicAlert bracelet and carry emergency contact and medication information. I do other things that I’m forgetting right now but should probably remember before this Saturday’s trip.

I’ll concede that if I’m having multiple tonic-clonic seizures a week, cross-Atlantic voyages are arguably not a fantastic idea, but, as always, it’s about striking a balance, making compromises, figuring out how to cope with the realities of chronic illness while not allowing them to restrict me more than is absolutely necessary. The key word here is “chronic”: not to be a pessimist, but this likely isn’t going away anytime soon, and I’m determined not to completely alter my lifestyle while I wait for surgery/for my drugs to start working like they’re supposed to/for a miracle. That said, there’s no point being delusional about what my limits are. Pushing them, or, as is my way, pushing past them, isn’t productive so far as my safety and the sanity of those around me are concerned. Being responsible sucks sometimes.

And to close: in the (albeit modified) words of Samuel L. Jackson, “I have had it with these @#$%&! shakes on this @#$%&! plane!”

Couldn’t help myself.


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