A Tonic-Clonic (aka grand-mal) Seizure and a Fractured Spine: A Personal Take on Rehabilitation

In the early morning of April 27th, I woke up to use the bathroom. Waking up after five or six hours seems to be the norm after giving birth to two beautiful boys.

But something was different this time – I felt incredibly unwell. I have fainted in the past, and figured that maybe I got up too fast so I should get back to bed as soon as possible. The next thing I remember is wondering why my neck hurt so much, and why my pillow felt so hard. The panic set in when I saw I was in a pool of my own blood…

As it turns out, I didn’t make it back to bed. In fact, I lost consciousness as I stood up and face planted into the wall. My neck had felt so twisted because I was kinked up against the wall. It felt as if my whole face was split open. I instinctively wiped my nose with my forearm, and it left a huge spattering of blood from my elbow to wrist.

My husband happened to be sleeping in my son’s room that night. My son was 4 and a half, in a body cast from a recent surgery, and often woke up so my husband was there to reassure him. I ran into my son’s room and told my husband I don’t know what happened, but I woke up on the bathroom floor and there’s a lot of blood.

The ambulance came. One EMT was talking to my husband, and the other was attending to me. It was about 4:30am at this point, and I felt tired. I figured I’d close my eyes as he checked my vitals.

When I woke up, I felt that ‘coming to’ feeling where your hearing slowly fades in. It’s not the same as when you wake up for the day, it’s a feeling that I’ve only ever experienced when I’ve lost consciousness. The paramedic said to me, “Sacha, do you know what happened?”

I figured I fainted and told him so.

“No, you had a seizure.”

It was short lived, only 20-30 seconds. It didn’t have the traditional post-ictal phase. This is known as a clonic seizure. As a precaution, I transported to the hospital.

My blood pressure was low, so the nurse wanted to see what it was lying down, sitting up, and then standing. When I stood, I remember saying “I don’t feel good” and the nurse told me to sit down…

The next thing I remember is having horrid back pain. Turns out during this third loss of consciousness, I had a tonic-clonic, also known as grand mal, seizure. I seized so violently that the contractions in my back fractured two vertebrae.

The first loss of consciousness, which nobody witnessed and was presumably also a clonic seizure, left me with a concussion, broken nose, displaced tooth, and a very sore neck.

After two days in the neurology wing, I left the hospital with an otherwise clean bill of health, and no explanation as to why I had at least two seizures in less than a three hour period.

To say it put me in a state of shock would be an understatement. How can your brain just do that after 38 years of not doing that? I researched and postulated – if it wasn’t an aneurysm, embolism, stroke, problems with my heart, an ectopic pregnancy, etc…what was it? I learned about the brain, about seizures, and about diets that can prevent seizures (turns out that’s a fruitless attempt unless you have regular focal seizures).

I had already dealt with many blows in the medical realm with my kids. They both had a multitude of issues that required no less than 10 different specialists at different times, multiple surgeries, and a ton of anxiety on my part. It felt that I could never catch a break, and this seizure plus the resultant physical injuries were just icing on the shit cake.

To add to an already difficult situation, I had been determined to run a 5k in under 25 minutes this year and was actively training. A fractured spine means I couldn’t run for one year. As a runner my entire adult life, I was devasted.

But a peculiar thing happened. After about a week of feeling uneasy, depressed, and victimised even, it was like a moment of clarity suddenly hit me.

It didn’t matter. It simply is as it is.

I dealt with this new blow in better stride than I could have ever thought. It was sort of like that TikTok of the “bones” and “no bones” day dog, Noodle. If the dog was able to stand, it was like a forecast for viewers to seize the day. If it was a “no bones” day, take it easy. As it turns out, a broken back, broken nose, and concussion meant I had at least 12 weeks of “no bones” days.

I practiced mindfulness, found alternative exercise (spin bike), and just sat and enjoyed myself. I felt present for the first time in a while with my kids. Normally, I feel obligated to do something since there’s always something I can be doing like cleaning or cooking or folding laundry. But now I had a ‘pass’ because I was unable to perform these tasks.

It made me realise…I always had a pass to be present.