What My Epilepsy Taught Me About the Value of Time – The New York Times

It isnt advised and I wouldnt necessarily advise it but for me, the occasional trauma of seizures is preferable to the daily misery of headaches, nausea and incoherent drowsiness. I doubt most epileptics would be willing to go so far, especially those with catastrophic forms of the disease. If my condition were much worse, I would most likely find the viselike press of a permanent headache preferable to the alternative. Neurologists tend to be impatient with pickiness about medications, and perhaps they have a point. Things used to be much worse, and we ought to be grateful. But one at least imagines the saints to be sympathetic.

Which is not to say that premodern societies were especially solicitous regarding the welfare of epileptics. The historical record indicates that civilizations dating back to antiquity were aware of people who had seizures chronically and that they struggled to figure out what to make of them. Around 400 B.C., an anonymous physician compiled a monograph on the subject titled On the Sacred Disease, which was meant to dispel the apparently widespread belief that epilepsy had some magical aspect.

His effort to establish epilepsy as an ordinary medical phenomenon was valiant, but long in the vindication. By the Middle Ages, seizures had become associated less with prophetic insight and more with demonic activity, though some physicians held to the ancient idea of epilepsy as a natural disease. Supernatural explanations for seizures lasted through the Enlightenment, and then modernity bestowed its own strange gifts upon epileptics.

In the proceedings of the first annual meeting of the National Association for the Study of Epilepsy and the Care and Treatment of Epileptics, in Washington in May of 1901, a philanthropist listed only by the name I.F. Mack wondered how many such hopeless, helpless, unfortunate creatures there must have been in the United States, all in want of internment in residential colonies for their kind. By his count, thousands were already locked away in such centers, and thousands more would be over time.

In fact, Buck v. Bell, the 1927 Supreme Court decision that enshrined involuntary, eugenic sterilization in law, regarded a woman who was held at the Virginia State Colony of Epileptics and Feebleminded, though she herself was neither. Nevertheless, untold numbers of epileptics were sterilized against their will under the ruling, which has never been overturned, though forced sterilizations declined significantly in the second half of the 20th century.

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What My Epilepsy Taught Me About the Value of Time - The New York Times

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