Would you marry an epileptic girl?
Sarah was a quiet, pretty girl whose brother had forbidden her from getting married. Why? She had epilepsy.
When I was younger, a pretty girl named Sarah* used to live in my neighborhood. I would often notice her on my way to school. Sarah was like any other girl, but a little quiet. I did not know much about her.
Then, a few years back, her family moved away from our neighborhood.
A few days before they left, the girl’s sister came to my house to meet my mother. She told my mother that her brother, an educated web developer, was not allowing Sarah to get married because she suffered from epilepsy.
Her brother thought that after marriage, her husband and in-laws would not be able to take care of her like Sarah's own family.
I could not believe that Sarah was suffering from epilepsy. Perhaps my disbelief was natural, because I didn't know what epilepsy was at the time. Then her sister told me that epilepsy is a hereditary illness sometimes caused by a shock to the brain during childhood.
When I saw Sarah, I could not tell she had such an illness. She seemed like everyone else.
Sarah had been suffering from epilepsy since her childhood, but her brother's fears had little to do with the actual disease. Sarah’s quiet behavior and her brother’s unwillingness to let her marry had more to do with awareness about epilepsy, than the condition itself.
What is epilepsy?
Epilepsy is a neurological disorder which, in Pakistan, is mainly caused due to difficulties during home birth deliveries that are conducted by untrained women. In some cases, during the delivery, oxygen does not reach the brain of the child, due to which his/her brain becomes weak, which causes epilepsy.
A CT scan is needed to figure out which part of the brain is affected. If it does not show in the CT scan, then doctors suggest medicines according to symptoms.
Observing a seizure of an epileptic patient is frightening and confusing. This may be the reason for the many myths and beliefs surrounding epilepsy in the world.
Below are listed some of the misconceptions that surround epilepsy and the truth behind them:
Misconception: A person with epilepsy cannot go to school. This may be due to parental over-protection, or discriminatory attitude of classmates and teachers having little knowledge about the disease.
Fact: Children with epilepsy should get educated in the standard educational system. Tennyson, Byron and Charles Dickens are a few of the famous people who had epilepsy.
Misconception: An person with epilepsy should not get married. The person may feel that he/she will be unable to cope with the commitment of a married life. The family may conceal the disease and get the person married. In-laws may abuse an epileptic daughter-in-law.
Fact: These attitudes are mostly due to lack of awareness of epilepsy. People with this medical condition can lead happy and healthy married lives.
Misconception: A person with epilepsy cannot be employed. The family and the person may think that he is unable to work because he has an illness and is unable to cope with stress.
Fact: An epileptic person should be optimally employed. His work should not require that he drive or go near moving machinery.
Misconception: A person having a seizure should be made to smell a shoe. This will stop the seizure.
Fact: This is a demeaning practice. A person having a seizure should be gently made to lie on his side. Hard and sharp objects should not be put in his/her mouth. If the seizure lasts more than five minutes, he should be taken to a hospital.
Misconception: A person with epilepsy is possessed by a djinn or an evil spirit.
Fact: This is not true. epilepsy is a treatable disease. Seizures are controlled by medication or in a few extreme cases, surgery.
There are many highly placed people who have epilepsy but due to sheer fear they have never come forth to reveal their condition.
Humanitarian Abdul Sattar Edhi's open declaration of having epilepsy has been a morale booster for the people with the condition and an eye-opener for the majority of Pakistanis. He has had epilepsy since more than four decades ago and functions at par, rather beyond, the capabilities of a normal person. epilepsy has not hampered his enthusiasm, love and drive to serve humanity.
*Name has been changed
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: July 7
An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that hard and sharp objects should be put in the mouth of an epileptic patient during a seizure. The sentence has been corrected.