Is It All On A Chip?

Sue Chehrenegar

© Copyright 2003 by Sue Chehrenegar

Photo of a computer chip.
This story was in development for more than thirty years. Its body was complete in 1994. Its beginning and ending awaited the occurrence of other events.

 Wedged into one compartment of my Twentieth Century wallet is a Twenty-first Century medical emergency card, a card that holds on a computer chip the essential information regarding my medical history. That card indicates that I have had a history of seizures. During my fifty-two plus years on this earth, I have exhibited the classical symptoms of a seizure exactly four times. While the total number of my seizures is small, the circumstances surrounding each seizure provide information that would be of value to collectors of facts for the Guinness Book of World Records. The uniqueness of these four seizures does not arise from their length or their severity, but rather from the time and place at which each occurred.

My first seizure presented to medical authorities the original manifestation of the fact that I suffered from a neurological problem. Until the appearance of that seizure the only symptoms had been an occasional late afternoon headache and equally infrequent episodes of mildly blurred vision. In fact, two weeks before that seizure I had had a physical examination, and my doctor had declared that I was "sound as a rock."

Unbeknownst to anyone, including both that doctor and me, his patient, I had developed the condition known as hydrocephalus. That condition, also referred to as "water on the brain,"develops when the normal absorption of spinal fluid, a liquid produced steadily within the healthy brain, becomes disrupted. The resulting build-up of spinal fluid inside my skull had created undue pressure on my brain, causing the infrequent headaches and blurred vision. By the grace of God, the consequences of such a pressure build-up failed to present themselves before the last Monday in the month of June 1969. This was a day that followed by approximately three weeks my graduation from high school. It was also the second day of a summer program held at Hahnemann Hospital in Philadelphia. Having been accepted to Mount Holyoke College, and hoping to pursue the course of study called for in a pre-med program, I had signed up for Hahnemann's summer introduction to the world of medicine. Hahnemann offered two programs, one that had been designed expressly for high school students, and another to satisfy the needs of recent high school graduates.

Prior to embarking on what my mother felt to be an overly ambitious summer plan, I spent two weeks enjoying afternoons at the country club pool. As the sun tanned my skin, I felt daily more and more healthy. Little did I suspect that each day brought me closer to a long stay in the hospital. Finally, on the last Monday in June, following a Friday full of orientation activities, I participated in a scheduled tour of the Hospital labs, a tour planned exclusively for the recent high school graduates. By mid-morning our group had arrived at the EEG lab, the facility in which the hospital performed its electroencephalograms. The tall, thin doctor in charge of the lab explained to us, her visiting students, that the EEG is used to measure brainwaves. She elaborated on how the headmust first be measured and marked, thus expediting the placement of the electrical probes that carryout the measurement of the brain waves.

Believing then that she had spent sufficient time on details of the EEG, this physician and tour guide then began to speak about various neurological conditions that might demand that the patient's doctor make use of an EEG. I listened attentively as she spoke about a condition called hydrocephalus, a condition about which I had never before heard or read any information.

As she moved on to address another condition, I found my ability to concentrate diminished by a sudden, unexplained sensation. Her voice faded, and I had somehow abandoned the confines of the laboratory. The next thing I knew, I was on the floor,with the doctor and students hovering over me. The doctor was giving me a cup of sweetened coffee, and inquiring as to whether or not I had eaten breakfast. I learned then that I had just experienced the first of my four seizures. Because the EEG can provide clues as to the cause of a seizure, some attempt was made that morning to carryout a spur-of-the-moment EEG. This proved unsuccessful, and the EEG needed to be rescheduled for later in the week.

In less than an hour's time I had been transformed from a student into a patient. I was wheeled on a stretcher into the private room where I would spend the next seven weeks, a room equipped with the evidence of my recent seizure. There above the head of my bed the Hospital had attached to the wall a wide, wooden stick, the sort of implement placed into the mouth of someone who is undergoing a seizure and is, therefore, in danger of biting his or her tongue.

That afternoon an amazed Elliot Mancall, MD, stood beside my hospital bed. Several residents stood by the side of the doctor. Doctor Mancall's amazement explained itself soon after he had introduced himself, stating that he was a neurologist. As a neurologist, Dr.Mancall could not help but be amazed that someone would have a seizure in, of all places, an EEG lab. It is to such a laboratory that a seizure patient must eventually be taken, if a thorough analysis of the problem is to be achieved. Later, after the excess spinal fluid had been shunted into my heart, and Dr. Mancall hadl earned that I would be attending Mount Holyoke College, the doctor generously gave to my parents and me the name of a neurologist in Springfield,Massachusetts. This physician was a man who had once shared with Dr. Mancall the experiences of medical training. Little did Dr. Mancall suspect that his friend would be privy to information about the unusual circumstances surrounding my second seizure.

That second seizure took place in October of 1971. By that time I had begun my junior year at Mount Holyoke College. One Friday night I paid a visit to my roommate, Margaret Flowers, who, because she was conducting independent research, had her own desk in the basement of Clapp, the building that housed the College's biology classes and laboratories. By a strange twist of fate, our conversation just before my seizure focused on certain medical problems, specifically problems resulting from a bone fracture. Someone who Margaret knew had experienced such problems. As I sat at Margaret's desk, listening to her elaborate on her friend's medical concerns, I sensed an aura much like the one I had experienced at Hahnemann.

The next thing I remember is regaining consciousness and finding the team from the South Hadley ambulance unit in the Clapp basement. Later I learned that one of those ambulance attendants lived on the same street as Mrs. Beeman, the lead instructor for the Comparative Anatomy class. I happened to be enrolled in that very class during that Fall semester. You can imagine Mrs. Beeman's surprise on Saturday morning, when she learned that one of her students had had a seizure in the basement of the biology building.

The occurrence of a second seizure led my mother to secure for me a medical alert bracelet. However, almost eight years after the purchase of that bracelet, I had begun to think that perhaps it was not really an essential accessory. Then in February of 1980, two days after I had begun a married life, I had my third seizure.

Like both seizures one and two, this third seizure took place within an institution of higher learning. In this case, I exhibited the classic seizure symptoms in a laboratory at the School of PublicHealth at The Johns Hopkins University. I had been admitted into one of the institution's graduate programs.

Fortunately,the recent changes regarding an emergency contact had been passed on to the Department office. Someone contacted my husband, who arrived on the scene more rapidly than anyone had anticipated. He drove me across the street to the Hospital Emergency Room.

Married and hoping to have a family, I was uncomfortable with the realization that I would need to continue taking my anti-seizure medication. I had to travel across the country before I met with a neurologist who agreed to remove me from the daily dose of two capsules of dilantin. Thanks to Dr.Sutherling of UCLA, I had come off of dilantin by the end of 1983. Then I went for another eleven years withouta seizure. In fact, my seizure-free period lasted exactly fourteen years and two days. The fourth seizure came after I had been called on to drive my two sons to the dentist. The seizure took place that night, after we had returned home and after we had eaten dinner. I collapsed on the floor in the doorway of one of the bedrooms, and I came to in the living room, lying on the sofa.

By this date in 1994 Dr. Sutherling had left UCLA, leading me to seek the counsel of Dr.Moosa Heikali, a neurologist who had been of help to me in 1988,the year that I suffered a broken shunt. He did not suggest that I resume taking medication. His only suggestion was that I avoid driving on the freeways, a reinforcement of the behavior I had already adopted.

The timing of my seizures continued to provide evidence of my good luck. In 1994 my older son was only three years shy of eligibility for a learner's permit. Therefore, it was not long before both of my sons could provide me with transportation on the fast-moving freeway system around Los Angeles. During one six month period my younger son even helped to furnish me with transportation to and from Amgen, where I held a temporary position in their Process Development labs.

The highlight of that assignment came one evening when my son arrived with my husband to take me home. At that time, those two drivers, whose own vehicle proved unsuitable for the long drive to Thousand Oaks, had secured their method of transport by renting a vehicle from Enterprise. My son had even acquired a coupon, which he had taken that day to one of the Enterprise locations.

Since that particular location did not have the type of vehicle mentioned on the coupon,the woman in charge had been forced to rent to them, at the discounted price,what she had on hand, a large, white pick-up truck. My son had stumbled onto a real deal. When I came out to get into the truck, the smile on my son's face extended from ear to ear. This was one of the rare times when my family reaped real benefits from my history of episodic bouts with a seizure.

Most of my writing has been done before now for the newspaper. I am the public relations representative for the Culver City Baha'i Community. In an effort to expand my area of writing expertise, I recently took a course on grant writing.

I have also provided the local schools with some free hours of teaching assistance. I have taught lessons on the Persian New Year at the elementary school, and I demonstrated how to test for bacteria at the Middle School. In addition, I perfomed some simple science experiments at a local enrichment program.

Contact Sue

(Messages are forwarded by The Preservation Foundation.
So, when you write to an author, please type his/her name
in the subject line of the message.)

Story List and Biography For Sue

Book Case

Home Page

The Preservation Foundation, Inc., A Nonprofit Book Publisher