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By Tom Hardesty | Assistant Sports Editor
I was diagnosed with epilepsy in the fall of 1986 during my first semester at the University of Akron.
I had a grand mal seizure while taking a test in Algebra (never did like math) and spent the weekend at Akron City Hospital enduring a battery of tests to determine the cause of the seizure.
The doctors’ fear was a brain tumor, but an EEG, CAT scan, X-rays and even a spinal tap thankfully revealed that it wasn’t a terminal illness. I was immediately put on anticonvulsant medication and, with the notable exception of near-daily jolts and shakes for years, did not have another major seizure until one Saturday night in January of 1996 while putting together the Record-Courier sports section at the old Ravenna office with the R-C’s Don Dreger.
It was just another Saturday night doing page production -- which is to say, hectic and stressful. I was sitting at the computer working on my pages, and Don was doing the same at his computer. We were fairly deep into the night and the deadline was rapidly approaching.
The next thing I knew, I was lying on my back on the floor behind my chair surrounded by paramedics. I had no idea what happened and was rather embarrassed to be stretched out on the floor for all to see. I was unable to focus and was extremely confused.
As I lay on the floor, someone -- I assume an EMT -- asked me my name. I thought for a few seconds and couldn’t come up with anything. I had no clue what my name was. More questions, more fog. I didn’t know my parents’ names, my wife’s name, where I lived or even where I was at that precise moment. The whole thing seemed like a dream sequence with everything and everyone moving in slow motion, and it occurred to me that I might be dead. If so, it actually wasn’t as bad as I had feared. I felt no pain or sadness, just major confusion.
After several minutes of questions I couldn’t answer and the paramedics taking my blood pressure, etc., they helped me to my feet and began to guide me out of the building and toward the waiting ambulance in the parking lot. With the help of the EMTs, I slowly walked past several people whom I assumed were R-C employees but I didn’t recognize any of them. I was placed on a stretcher and lifted into the back of the ambulance, where I promptly had a panic attack. I was unable to get any air into my lungs, which only worsened the panic. It became a vicious cycle, one feeding off the other.
As the paramedic tried to calm me down and forcefully implored me to breathe as he placed an oxygen mask on my face, I was convinced I was about to die in the Record-Courier parking lot. I absolutely could not breathe. Finally, I could feel the cool, soothing air from the mask coursing through my lungs as we made the short drive to Robinson Memorial Hospital in Ravenna. There, I was whisked to the emergency room, where I was told my parents and my wife were on their way. They weren’t the only visitors I had that night: Don stopped in to see how I was doing, and I apologized for making him finish the sports section on deadline by himself.
In typical Don fashion, he smiled and said I had a good excuse. I felt completely wrung out, but some of my memory was beginning to return. After a few hours at Robinson I was released to go home, the doctor determining that I had suffered my second grand mal seizure.
I was not allowed to leave the house for a week while the dosage of my epilepsy medication was adjusted and to get as much rest as possible. For several days my head felt as if I had slept for a month. I was groggy, unable to concentrate and very weak -- the “outside looking in” feeling -- but slowly my energy and strength began to come back. But my return to work wasn’t the end of the episode: my neurologist refused to allow me to drive for several months until I demonstrated that the new dosage of my medication was sufficient to prevent another seizure.
Considering I was a reporter, this presented a major problem. Driving was a big part of my job, and if I couldn’t drive, I couldn’t work at the R-C. But our sports editor, Tim Houser, kindly worked my schedule to coincide with my wife Kim’s work schedule, only having me work and cover sporting events when she would be able to drive me to them. And drive me she did, all over Portage County after working a full eight hours at her own job, for months. Finally, I was cleared to drive again -- and I took full advantage of this freedom, driving all the way to California for our vacation that summer.
I have been seizure-free ever since.
I rarely get shakes or jolts anymore and my medication allows me to lead a normal life. I will never forget the kindness, understanding and support of Tim Houser, Don Dreger, the R-C brass and most of all my wife throughout the entire ordeal.
There truly are good people in this world.