Sara Brannan, an outpatient at the Quarriers Scottish Epilepsy Centre who lives in Glasgow with her 10-year-old daughter Mary-Jo and husband Paul, was mugged while having a severe seizure. The experience has had such a negative impact on her life that she no longer ventures out alone.
“I was lying unconscious during a seizure with my shopping bags on the ground,” said the 33-year-old. “A man, who I now think may have been a drug addict, must have been standing behind me and spotted an opportunity. He told the gathering crowd I was his girlfriend and had overdosed. He took my money and my shopping bags.”
Sara has experienced more than her fair share of horror stories related to her condition. She added: “People usually ignore me if I have a seizure in public because they think I’m drunk or have been taking drugs.
“I’ve been told people have stepped over me while I’ve been lying unconscious. I was once kicked out of a shop just before I was about to take a seizure after asking for a glass of water so I could take a tablet to try to prevent it coming on. I guess the shopkeeper thought I was an addict of some kind.”
Sara was diagnosed with epilepsy aged eight but the seizures she experiences have become progressively more severe and frequent.
She feels dependent on medication which she needs to take within five to 10 minutes of waking up or she will have a tonic-clonic seizure – one which affects the whole of the brain. A particularly violent seizure of this kind can leave her exhausted for up to eight hours.
These regular seizures, which include various other kinds such as drop attacks, began a few years after having her daughter, Mary-Jo. Before that, Sara worked in various reception, administration and retail roles during her teens and early twenties.
“I found it very difficult to keep a job after the three-month probation period,” she said. “I once was sacked for ‘scaring staff’. I had accident after accident at work, so for some places it was an insurance issue, but others just had stinking attitudes towards epilepsy – and these are adults I’m talking about, people who were older than me at the time.”
Sara now takes art therapy classes and hopes to do an evening class in the future, but says that living with epilepsy means taking one day at a time. This involves not only controlling the condition with medication, but also coping with injuries sustained during seizures. She has broken so many bones over the years that she now has joint problems and sport-type injuries, as well as severe pain in her tailbone.
“I’ve broken seven ribs, fractured my skull twice, broken my nose three times, broken my tailbone twice – once while pregnant,” she says. “I’ve broken fingers, my arm and my breastbone. Once I fell down a flight of stairs on a railway bridge; I already had a fractured skull, so it was re-fractured. I now have damage to the frontal lobe of my brain which means I get different types of epileptic seizures.”