Dan

I didn’t know where I was or who any of my friends were standing over me; it was one of the scariest moments of my life.

Dan is a student nurse and ex-Royal Navy medic. He was diagnosed with epilepsy three years ago at the age of 21 after experiencing two tonic-clonic seizures. In this piece, Dan shares the story of his unexpected epilepsy diagnosis, the tough reality of having to leave his dream job due to his condition and starting on the path to a new career.

I was 21 years old and on deployment serving as a medic in the Royal Navy when I suffered my first tonic seizure in September 2018. It occurred the morning after a night out with friends which ended the same as any other night out.

I got home at 4am after about eight pints of beer and went straight to bed. I got up at 8am the next day for work and had the usual hangover but otherwise felt normal in myself. It was at about 10am when I was walking into the hanger of my ship. The next thing I knew I came around lying on the deck with blood pouring from my head and a throbbing right shoulder. I still have no recollection of what happened. When I regained consciousness, I threw up. I didn’t know where I was or who any of my friends were standing over me; it was one of the scariest moments of my life. I was taken to the nearest hospital in the country I was in, where they spoke very little English, and had a scan of my head and an X-ray of my shoulder, both of which came back seeming normal. I was given the all-clear and sent back to the ship with no answers as to what happened. This was until the doctor asked for eyewitness accounts from my crew, who all stated they saw me collapse and then heard loud thuds from my head hitting the deck. They then said I proceeded to have a seizure, which was very traumatic to witness.

I felt fine when I arrived back in the UK and continued life as normal, minus being able to drive for six months as per DR and DVLA instructions. I was referred to see a neurologist who carried out tests including an MRI, EEG and a sleep-deprived EEG. While waiting for the results I continued working and living as normal.

Four months after my initial seizure in 2018, I had another tonic-clonic in January 2019. Again, it happened after a night out at around 10am the next morning while I was at work. Luckily, I was working in the sickbay on camp so doctors and other medics were on the scene straight away. I came around lying on the floor with blood pouring from my mouth this time and my shoulder in agony once again. I was taken to hospital and seen again by my neurologist, who had been about to send the results of my scans and invite me for an appointment. I was diagnosed with epilepsy (primary generalised epilepsy syndrome) a week later.

Unfortunately, due to the epilepsy diagnosis, I was unable to remain in the Royal Navy and was medically discharged in 2020. I was devastated to lose my dream job that I had worked so hard for.

The results of my resting EEG showed small sharp in the left frontotemporal region and my sleep-deprived EEG showed bursts of frontal slow and spikes, which apparently increase the risk of further seizures. We also found out my shoulder was in agony because during my seizures it dislocated posteriorly; a rare dislocation only occurring due to seizures, electric shocks or trauma. This happened because of the contraction of my muscles and ligaments during my seizure. My shoulder has come out multiple times since due to the damage caused and I am due to have surgery on it later this year.

The diagnosis left me and my parents speechless. I couldn’t understand how this could randomly happen to a fit and healthy 21-year-old. I had always thought epilepsy was something you were born with, but I was told that it could occur at any age. I had many emotions at the time, but my main fear was of another seizure happening, on top of the worries I had of my career now being at risk.

I was immediately put on 750mg of Levetiracetam, to be taken twice a day. The neurologist told me my main triggers were sleep deprivation and alcohol. I quit drinking alcohol completely after my diagnosis and now always make sure I get a good night’s sleep. I haven’t had a seizure since my 2nd one in January 2019. Unfortunately, due to the epilepsy diagnosis, I was unable to remain in the Royal Navy and was medically discharged in 2020. I was devastated to lose my dream job that I had worked so hard for.

When I found out I was to be discharged from the navy, I applied and was fortunately accepted into university to study nursing. The course started in September 2021 and I’m very happy to have made progress and worked hard for this future career opportunity. I will not let epilepsy define me, my career, or my goals in life. I shared my story to recognise the journey I have been on and, hopefully, it can help others in the armed forces going through a similar situation.

– Dan, November 2021

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