Epilepsy Sparks

Epilepsy From The Perspective of a Manager

Epilepsy From The Perspective of a Manager

A quick intro to Emma:

She's 50, originally from South Wales and now lives in London, UK. She works with businesses as a virtual operational director; managing their people and processes more efficiently.

Her favourite foods:           Spaghetti Carbonara, Cheesecake and Gin & Tonic (yes, we thought it sounded like her dinner order too!)

Her favourite activities:    Walking, bird watching, reading and watching films and programmes from the Nordic Noir genre

Her favourite book:            The Alchemist

Her favourite singer:          That’s impossible to answer with just one name!

Her greatest inspiration:   Her daughter

Additional fact:                     Emma turned down a RADA audition

Emma’s quote:                      “There's always another way!”

My first experience of epilepsy was in the playground at primary school when I was about seven.

You can picture the scene, just like a fight would draw a crowd, this incident did. The girl in question was younger than myself and by the time I ran to also see what was going on, she was completely surrounded by a large crowd of children all baying and pushing to get a better view.

After what seemed like an age the teachers arrived and broke up the crowd to deal with the girl.

The incident raised questions for me, especially as the only thing my class teacher said was that she was ill and was having a fit.

I distinctly remember going home and speaking to my Mum about it. She knew the mother of the girl and was able to explain to me that what I witnessed was a tonic-clonic seizure caused by Epilepsy. Sometimes it was useful to have a Mum who was an ex-Nursing Sister of an A&E department, as I would get the truth and a full explanation.

After that, I didn't come across epilepsy for some considerable time; until I trained via work to be a First Aider.

I’d learnt to time the seizure, not call an ambulance unless the seizure lasted more than 5 minutes and ensure the patient was safe so they didn't cause themselves further harm. Little did I know how useful this training would come in later, in a rather unusual place.

There I was, part of a team of six paddling a homemade raft made from barrels, wood and rope, in a charity raft race, on a flooded gravel pit off the River Lea in East London.

We were doing well, I think we might have been in the lead when the guy behind me thumped me on the back and shouted in my ear, that within the next 20 minutes he would have a seizure.

I can tell you, there's nothing like this sort of statement to focus the mind to get to the bank quickly! With the assistance of the St John's Ambulance volunteers, all was well. I stayed with him the entire time and made sure he got home afterwards to rest. I also realised how vulnerable we were as an organisation to have a member with a serious condition that we were not only unaware of but also wholly unprepared to deal with.

The scariest thing for me about Epilepsy is the suddenness of a seizure. On the raft, we were lucky, as the guy could feel when his seizures were due to happen. This was not the case when I was speaking to someone in the office who had a seizure in front of me. Perhaps I should be honest here… they were getting some severe feedback from me on a mistake they made. So I might have been loud, so I might have been firm... so yes, for a while I did think I might have triggered it.

At the time I was a manager of a large department with responsibilities for the people in the department, including their wellbeing. I had no idea this member of staff had Epilepsy. In fact, I realised that actually not only did I not know about this person, but I also didn't know any of the medical conditions of any staff in my department.

This one trigger was enough for me to force a change in the entire way that a whole group of people management leaders were trained across the organisation I worked in.

You saw medical information was the remit of HR and that's where it stayed unless you specifically asked for it. It was never given freely or provided when staff were discussed. That changed thanks to the openness policies I insisted were implemented.

As managers of people, we have a responsibility to those people to ensure their wellbeing at all times within the organisation’s where we work.

If you are a manager too, here are my top tips on managing staff wellbeing particularly around Epilepsy:

1. Find out

When you are recruiting encourage new joiners to be open and share their medical history by explaining how important their personal wellbeing is. For an internal transferee, ask your HR department if they declared any medical conditions or disabilities previously;

2. Talk

This is my most important tip! Talk to the staff member. Get to know how the illness affects them and how they handle it. Find out what they would like done if they have a seizure in the office, and not just medically either. Ask them how you can ensure they are treated with respect as a human, both during and after the incident;

3. Research

Get to understand their condition. Start with Google or the NHS website. Learn its triggers and treatments so you can be prepared;

4. Know whom to call

They may not need an ambulance, but your organisation's policies may require it. Have the details of their doctor and an emergency contact so you don't have to waste time finding it out when it might be too late;

5. Strength

Remember that you must remain strong for your staff member and the others in your team or department. It could be their first time witnessing a seizure, so you will need to deal with their worries too. Remember you are managing the entire situation and that means everyone within the environment.

The more we talk openly about illnesses like Epilepsy, the more we can learn from sufferers and those with experience of handing or treating it. I believe that with increasing knowledge we can serve each other better.


  Emma Chard-Cumming

    Manager of Employer Relations/Industry Adviser