Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Kill ignorance about epilepsy


I applaud those on the Minnesota Gophers team, those in the sports world, and those in the media who have challenged some of the comments made about Coach Jerry Kill.

Those who question Kill’s ability to serve as coach because he has epilepsy, also call into question of the ability three million Americans—including reporters, politicians, executives, educators, health professionals, and veterans—who live with the unpredictability of seizures. Many don’t mention that they have epilepsy because of events like the most recent media firestorm that has shined the spotlight on the medical timeout that Coach Kill needed at his most recent game.

When people question whether Coach Kill is qualified to do his job, they reinforce the silence of others who deal with seizures.  Who wants to compete against public misunderstanding? It takes a lot of stamina to tackle antiquated attitudes.  Ninety-nine percent of the time, qualified people who experience an occasional seizure are perfectly capable of doing their job and doing it well.

When a football player gets hurt, no one writes him off as incapable of playing again. The game doesn’t stop when he limps off the field. Another team member is called in and the next play is called. Players don’t rely on only one person to coach them. When one of the coaching team members is “on the bench,” the team still has others to advise them on their next play.

How often does a coach lose his temper during a football game? How often does the media question whether he should continue to coach whenever he displays this “out of control” behavior? Loss of control due to a seizure is just as temporary. And more excusable than emotional outbursts.

At times like this, it seems our society hasn’t advanced much beyond the archaic thinking that once associated epilepsy with demons and witchcraft. It’s no wonder that many of the three million Americans with epilepsy are reluctant to step out of the shadows and explain that epilepsy is only part of their lives, when some people treat seizures—and the people who suffer from them—with suspicion, doubt, and misunderstanding.

This incident will blow over as interest wanes.  This story will be replaced by the next event deemed newsworthy.  But thoughtless comments that have been tossed around will linger in the minds of adults, college students, and children affected by epilepsy. It will reinforce the silence of some. It will initiate that silence in others.

The competition between ignorance and enlightenment is stiff.  We need to push through the line of ignorance; tackle each thoughtless comment; crush each misconception; and pass on facts about epilepsy, the way Coach Kill is doing. With the help of others cheering on, we get closer to the goal of public education and score one more touchdown for public understanding.

Tracy Gulliver

Author, Speaker, Instructor, and one of the three million