Thursday, April 17, 2008

Old Favorite From November 2007

Mother won’t let epilepsy take over her son’s life
by Amy L. Cornell Community columnist |
November 8, 2007

My My son, before an epileptic seizure, receives an aura. An aura is a feeling or a premonition that a seizure is about to begin. My son’s auras take many forms: Usually a sensation washes over him, but he has also talked of a taste or a smell.

Once when I pressed him to describe what was happening in his head when he had a seizure, he said, “Sometimes, I hear them coming.” I want to know what sound he hears, but he cannot describe it to me.

If only I could share his experience and hear the seizure coming myself, I could help him by describing it for him. Naming the aura might help him master these charges which take over his whole mind and body. I read somewhere that an aura is simply the brain creating a hallucination. People with epilepsy learn to heed these warnings as if they were smoke alarms alerting them to fire in an unseen place.

When a seizure begins, his left arm bends at the elbow and he makes a kind of half backwards fist with his left hand, which stays at about shoulder level. His head and eyeballs twitch and slowly turn left as well. He often loses muscle tone and falls to the floor. The seizures last 10, 20, 30 eternal seconds. Sometimes it feels as if I am watching them in slow motion on a television screen.

Auras have brought a message of imminent seizure to my son as many as five times a day. He’s had them in school, in his sleep, at summer camp, at the dinner table, on the playground. I often think they frighten those of us around him more than they frighten him. My son has no memory of them when they are over. He often needs to take a nap.

If I am lucky enough to be near him while he is having a seizure, I talk to him. He can sometimes respond with a word or two, but he cannot control the leftward twitching. I tell him I love him, and I hold his hand through his seizures. I want him to be aware of me even though he has entered this other world. If his young misfiring brain is filled with nightmares and demons, I want him to hear one friendly voice. If he is scared in there, I want him to know I am out here holding his hand and waiting for him to come back. I am the trail of breadcrumbs.

Once upon a time, people were put in asylums or colonies when they had epilepsy. At another point in time, seizures were thought to exist in the minds of the prophet, the one who could predict the future.

Medieval churches believed people with epilepsy were possessed by demons. Napoleon, Van Gogh, Socrates: Artists, thinkers, leaders all had auras and went into this other realm.

Epilepsy is a peculiar malady, one which stops my heart every time my boy rides a bike or gets in a swimming pool. I am determined though, to allow him to live as normal a boy’s life as possible. One doctor told me, “You can’t let the disease rule your life.”

My son wears a helmet when he rides. He is always closely guarded while he is in the pool. When he turns 16, he may have trouble getting a driver’s license, if he is able to get one at all.

I am happy to report that with advances in pharmaceutical science and the diligence of an excellent pediatric neurologist, my son has been seizure-free for five months. In honor of Epilepsy Awareness Month, November, I wanted to share this small miracle.

Amy Cornell’s column appears every other Thursday in The Herald-Times. You can reach her at

Monday, April 14, 2008

Last Column April 10, 2008

Collecting unwanted items better than finding them on roadside

Amy L. Cornell Community columnist |
April 10, 2008

I spent last Saturday at the Monroe County Fairgrounds volunteering for the Monroe County Solid Waste Management District’s bulky item drop off day. In addition to enjoying the sun and answering questions as people arrived with trucks and cars loaded down, I got an excellent education on what goes into our landfills besides household trash. The district encourages people to donate items to organizations that reuse and resell them, but also offers this means of getting rid of unwanted large items.

Of all the thousands of items I saw brought into the dump site on Saturday, what amazed me most was the quantity of mattresses. I tried to figure out if there was a sensible way to reuse or recycle mattresses and could not.

A friend who volunteered thought he might have been able to start a couple of laundromats and lawn mowing services with the number of washing machines and lawn cutting devices he saw tossed. Another friend said that what struck him was the number of grills and toilets being thrown away.

No matter what, it was a humbling experience to watch so many consumer items get thrown into the dump and know that scenes like this are replicated everywhere in the U.S. Big items that with a little repair work or reupholstering could be used by someone else are thrown away every day and in every city. I threw away a broken dehumidifier.

My husband, who is knowledgeable about solid waste management issues, told me that if the district did not offer this bulky item drop off day, these items would end up thrown out of trucks on the side of the road or piling up in people’s yards.

It is better for the county to offer a safe and effective means of disposal even if it means the sad reality of watching hundreds of dumpsters full of furniture and construction waste and appliances being hauled off to the landfill.

Many people with trucks full of items turned around when they saw the long line to get to the dumpsters. A few people were stopped at 4:05 p.m. when they shut the gate and would not accept any more items.

As I drove home down my familiar stretch of Ind. 45, I could not help but notice a huge mattress, discarded by the side of the road, that had not been there that morning.

A personal note

Because this is my last community column, I wanted to say a few words of thanks to Bob Zaltsberg and The Herald-Times for giving me this unique forum. Thanks also to the many members of this community who wrote me, commented on-line, met with me or stopped me on the street to talk about a column. This bi-weekly essay has afforded me a unique opportunity to participate in a conversation with neighbors and fellow citizens that has been invaluable.

Special notes of thanks to my circle of friends: Alice, John, Nicole, Dimitri, Kim, Keith, Ellie, Vance and Mary, all of whom let me take over many dinner conversations while mining for ideas for this article. They all offered valuable editing and community expertise.

Many thanks also go to Beth and fellow writers from Women Writing for (a) Change-Bloomington. I have also written much in the company of the incarcerated women of the Monroe County Corrections Center who may one day be telling their unique stories in this forum.

Thanks to my co-workers in the Department of Communication and Culture who encouraged me and to the teachers at University Elementary School who said kind words and invited me into their classrooms.

Above all, thanks to my parents, Richard and Janet, and my sister-in-law Anoopa who read this column without fail every two weeks, and my son, who will hopefully not rebel when he grows up and begins to understand that I have been writing about him.

Last, but never least, nothing ever went to the H-T without a conversation with Geoff, my husband and best friend in this crazy life.

You can reach Amy Cornell at