Once, as I was travelling by road, still a gawky teenager, I saw a man lying on the pavement. Most of us tend to have preconceived and prejudiced notions about several things, so I assumed that the person was dead drunk. As I muttered under my breath, I observed that the man was not exactly drunk. There was froth coming out of his mouth and his whole body was jerking in spasms. I was petrified. I had never seen anything like this before. My first reaction was ‘Oh! My God. What’s this?’ My teenage mind could not understand such a state. Then, I felt sympathy. From somewhere deep inside, I realized that what the person was going through had not been in his control. I still did not fully understand what was happening yet, I prayed for the man and passed him by. I did not stop to help because I was travelling with my parents. I did not stop because I did not know what to do!
Years later, I understood that such a state was called a seizure or ‘fits’ as the common man knows it. In medical terms, it is called epilepsy, a condition brought about by a disturbance in the rhythm of the brain whereby a person could lose consciousness briefly, go blank, fall down or even have the spasmodic movements that I saw in that man years ago. Unfortunately, not many people know that there are several types of seizures triggered by several activities. Even watching television for long can cause seizures for some. Apart from that, injuries during birth or after an accident can also cause epilepsy. I was not aware of this earlier. Not many know that one in 150 people suffer from epilepsy in the whole world. Just imagine that! The sad part is that many people are unaware that it can be treated successfully with medication.
To date, people are ignorant of the fact that epilepsy is only a neurological disorder, not a disability, not even a brief spell of ‘madness’ as many people make it out to be. Did you know? Many men have got their marriages dissolved on grounds that their wives were epileptic and so, were insane! It was only in the year 1999 that the Hindu Marriage Act was amended to enable a person with epilepsy to have a legally valid marriage.
Most of us equate epilepsy/fits/seizures with ideas deas that have been fed to us at home, on television or in the movies. People with epilepsy have been ridiculed and made to smell an onion or a shoe because the ‘aam aadmi’ knows nothing better. The stigma attached to this disorder is deplorable and when a woman goes through this, it becomes downright disgusting. I should know because I saw a woman having a seizure right before my eyes!
While coming back home from work some time many months back, I saw a young woman coming out of a restaurant. Even as I scanned her dress and began to judge how good she was looking, I saw her falter in her steps, her until then confident gaze grow blank and she held on to the arm of her male friend/husband/brother/whoever. She fell on the road. Immediately, as if a siren had started, people crowded up to see the woman lying on the road, her body jerking. Some jeered, some commented. Fortunately for the woman, her male aide seemed to be aware of her condition. Even as the crowd gathered, he shooed them away, let the woman breathe properly and freely and, just let her be in that state for a while. The woman recovered soon and was back on her feet albeit with some help. This time, I did not shudder with disgust when I saw it all happen. This time I did not pass her by. I was in a hurry but waited. I helped the man get the young woman lie down on the ground. I helped put her dress in order. And then, when she recovered I left.
Maybe, I would not even recognize the woman if I saw her again. Of course, she would not even remember me. I am not looking for gratitude mind you! I have the woman to thank. At last, my soul is free from a guilt I had been tagging along from my teenage years when I had seen a helpless man at the mercy of nature and society. And I had done nothing then!