It was exactly five months and 25 days since the MRI scan, three months and 19 days since the EEG test and six months and three days since it happened. As an untravelled freshman, when someone hands you the opportunity to visit a place as spectacular as New York City, given you had the needed funds, who would say no?
It started out as a simple invitation from a professor I volunteer with to attend a political conference that I would try to pitch to my parents. Expecting a firm, “No,” I was elated when instead, they said, “Yes.”
I packed a small suitcase with the essentials: shirts, shoes and most importantly, my medication. Upon arriving to Times Square, I was in awe of the enormous flashing advertisements, herds of crowds walking with purpose, faint wafting of cigarette smoke and the unmistakable experience of a stranger telling you to “Fuck off!” I was bewildered, to say the least. In turning around to take in the enormity of the city, the same expletive-dropping stranger saw my expression and apologized, talking distractedly into a phone, “Sorry, not you.”
I can’t remember if I said anything in response, but if I did, it was probably something along the lines of “Okay,” or, “Oh.” I waited with some of the people I travelled with as our bags were held until my professor, Dr. Omar Ali, checked us in.
He was running late, so we decided to explore Times Square and see what there was to eat. It had been a long flight from Charlotte to JFK, and most of the members of my travel group, myself included, had only eaten breakfast. We ended up eating at the Hard Rock Cafe; the food was great, and thanks to my water breaking and falling onto my lap, free.
The first night of the conference was a dinner. It was a wine and cheese sort of event; the room was small and swarming with people Dr. Ali knew, but most members of the group, myself included, did not. I met a lot of interesting people, a few strange ones, but for the most part, it was a good experience.
My first night in New York City wasn’t very restful, and the next morning after I took my medication, I felt distinctly nauseous. I brushed it off. It wasn’t exactly an uncommon side effect of most of my medications taken in combination with each other, so I ate breakfast at McDonalds with the rest of my friends.
We took the subway to NYU Skirball Performing Arts Center and sat through the panel discussions, one of which was, “Can Democracy Transform Social Crisis?” Joan Blades, Dr. Lenora Fulani, Tio Hardiman and Paul Johnson, were contributors. Just like the night before, it was an interesting experience; audience members were allowed to ask the panel questions and this facilitated discussion about topics related to Independent politics and young people.
After the conference was over, the group and I went out to dinner. It was a nice steakhouse in Soho— Dr. Ali’s favorite restaurant.
I ate a veggie wrap and put my money on the table. The last thing I remember was watching a video of myself asking a question at the conference when it happened.
I was unconscious and awoke in a gurney; everything was blurry and white, as I could barely distinguish a man from the white walls. Like in movies when people almost die, there was a blurry white light obscuring my vision. I was barely conscious, unable to speak coherently because I was hooked up to a breathing machine.
I was very confused. My initial thought was that I had actually died, and instead of Morgan Freeman greeting me in the great beyond, it was a man with glasses and a white medical coat. For some reason, I was still wearing my wool coat and dress shirt. If I was dead, why was I still wearing the clothes I wore to the conference?
I reached into my pocket and found a small piece of paper that had a brand name of some kind of medical equipment. My dad
professionally, so I wondered aloud how a paper that probably belonged to one of his machines ended up in my pocket. That was when I slowly started to realize something bad had happened.
I started shouting at the man, suddenly gaining a semblance of awareness, aware of the machine helping me breathe and that the man in the white coat was a paramedic. He slowly and calmly began explaining to me that I had, had a seizure. I likely continued shouting at him, in disbelief, as I didn’t remember what happened but was distinctly horrified that he could be right.
As I scanned my surroundings, I noticed that Dr. Ali was looking at me in the back of the ambulance; I can only imagine that the look on my face was equally horrified. He walked up to me and handed me my phone; my parents were on speaker. I can’t remember what they said, but any parent would be hysterical if they found out their child had a seizure for the first time and couldn’t be in the hospital with them.
I think I lapsed back into unconsciousness when I was being wheeled into the hospital; I’m not entirely sure, as a lot of things about that night are still blurry for me. I remember being extremely groggy when I woke up. Dr. Ali handed me my phone again: my parents and sister were on the line, apparently they were out in a fancy restaurant celebrating my parents’ 25th-anniversary when I had the seizure. I’m fairly self-deprecating, so I think I said something along the lines of, “Sorry for ruining your night.” They were crying, and didn’t think it was particularly funny.
My phone was dying, and I was glad that a few days prior to the trip Dr. Ali and my mom had exchanged numbers when he gave her some information about the trip. I don’t think anyone anticipated a call that night, but it would be one of many.
After talking to my family I was put on an IV drip. The room was big and colorful; it even had a recliner. I think a doctor asked about my insurance and performed some tests that I can’t remember clearly. I was told that the test results would, at most, take 24 hours, and I was scared. I suddenly remembered that it was a Saturday and that I had an article due the next day.
I texted my editor rather nonchalantly about what happened; I imagine he was probably a lot more concerned about whether or not I was okay than I was. Relieved that I didn’t have to turn in an article for that week, I started to slowly process the situation.
Dr. Ali began telling me that I had been acting sort of excitedly in the restaurant before the seizure. When it happened, I started convulsing and was about to fall back in my chair when he caught my head, effectively, saving my life.
I think he could tell that I was considering that I actually could have died, so the conversation became a lot less heavy when he took out his ipad. We watched “Brain Games” on Netflix. In hindsight, I think this was sort of a test of cognition, or maybe just to distract me from the possibility of the tests coming back indicating that I had epilepsy.
I think seven hours passed when the test results arrived; it was about 1:00 in the morning. They revealed that it was likely caused by one of my medications. Grand mal seizures were a rare side effect, but not uncommon enough that they suspected epilepsy.
I was still scared and disoriented in the cab back to my hotel. I remember giving Dr. Ali $20 for the cab and returning to my hotel room to find the physical damage of the seizure. I had a bruise below my lip and the tip of my tongue had also been bitten. My friends were very concerned and had also spoken with my parents; they would ask me questions to see if I was okay to do certain tasks.
I’m a stubborn person, so I didn’t want to need help or accept that something like that had happened to me. I showered and brushed my teeth and laid down in my bed. I fell asleep easily and flew back to Charlotte the next day. My dad picked me up from the airport and seemed relieved that I was, compared to the night before, okay.
Six months and three days later, I revisit this and reflect that it would have been okay if I hadn’t been as composed. It would have been okay if I was an absolute mess. It would have been okay to be more vulnerable. It would have been okay even if I did have epilepsy.
It would have been okay because I’m only human.