05/26/2015 05:53 EDT | Updated 05/26/2016 05:59 EDT

My Husband Had a Seizure in Public and No One Wanted to Help Him

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When my husband began having seizures several years ago, one of the things that struck me was the reaction of people around him. Certainly there were almost always people who wanted to help, but there were many more who were horrified by what was happening. Their fear inserted itself into the situation like a physical presence.

During his last seizure, it was almost overwhelming. I felt so alone, advocating for my unconscious husband within a crowd of very fearful people. Writing about the experience not only helped me to release the jumble of emotions that I was carrying, but will hopefully allow me to reach others with a message: sometimes the simplest act of compassion can be the greatest help to someone in crisis.

I can easily imagine now that we have changed the course of your day at least, and, just maybe, the course of your life. You sat down behind your little window, or you turned on your computer, or you filled your mop pail, or you stopped in to make a deposit. You did not expect anything extraordinary to happen. Actually, neither did we; not at first.

I've learned over the years to keep alert, to watch for tiny changes, and to begin to make a plan. By the time we sat down to wait our turn at the counter, I already knew what was coming. You didn't. I'm sorry for that, even though being sorry doesn't make sense.

We tried to get out before it hit, but we didn't make it. By the time I got myself organized, my husband was on the floor in the throes of a full-on epileptic seizure. Too late. Again, too late. I couldn't turn his thrashing body on its side, and I knew he would begin choking on the blood from the tongue he had already cut to ribbons.

I looked up. I met your eyes. I said "Please help".

Your eyes answered, "Not me. Not my problem. I don't know how."

In that moment, when your eyes said it all, I have never felt more alone. Finally, after my second plea, three of you stood, reluctant, and helped turn him. Someone called the ambulance before I could tell them that it wouldn't do any good.

All at once my husband stopped breathing and two of you told me he was dying. I couldn't answer. He wasn't, I knew this, but an ugly fear whispered that you were right, that this time would be the last time, and that I would be going home alone.

Then came the moment that he began to draw air in great gulps and I knew we were on the downside of the seizure. Time and my heart began to move again and that's when I saw you all.

Some of you stepped around the scene, making a wide circle, determined to finish making that bank deposit.

Some of you stood back, shaking your heads over what was, to you, something self-inflicted.

Some of you were bank workers, arms crossed, hovering near the door, desperate for this to become someone else's problem.

Some of you who had come forward to help started to shrink away from us, one by one, heading for the nearest exit.

Some of you even knew me and your eyes slid away. You pretended that you didn't notice a man lying in the middle of the bank floor, bloody towel beside him, and a friend of a friend of yours stroking his hair and whispering in his ear, easing him out of his confusion.

Because you had already answered "Not me. Not my problem. I don't know how."

I can't blame you, really. You couldn't possibly know about the 3 a.m. phone calls, the tears, the tests, the medication, the aftermath and exhaustion of every single seizure. You didn't see our children's faces when they witnessed this same event in a hotel lobby. You are so right. It's not you. It's not your problem.

I'd like to tell you that he's a human being like every last one of you; that he is your brother, your uncle, your son, your husband. But it wouldn't be the whole truth, because he's not like you in many ways. He's not like me either.

He's the one who gave your children one of our best blankets because you said you had nowhere to sleep that night. He's the one who took you to the taco stand when you had nothing left to eat. He's the one who bought your pan dulce, your fruit, and your candy because he couldn't bear to turn you away from our door. And he's the one who stayed with you when you fell, when you needed help, when you were all alone.

This isn't your problem. That is true. You probably really don't know how to respond. Today it isn't you, but someday it could be. I pray with my whole heart that when it is, there's someone just like him in the crowd so that you are not alone.

By Leza Warkentin, a Canadian expat living on the beautiful Pacific coast in Mexico with her family. Her musician husband was diagnosed with epilepsy earlier this year.

This post first appeared on Leza's blog


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