When Marcel Allen began eating less and appeared confused at work in June, a colleague at the Ottawa Police Service knew immediately that something wasn’t right.
Her assumption was correct — Allen would have a major seizure a short time later. But the fact his colleague knew the symptoms people with epilepsy experience prior to a seizure and understood that Allen’s changing behaviour was a precursor to a seizure ensured someone was looking out for him.
While the seizure didn’t happen right away, Allen’s co-worker was able to provide him supports, for example, encouraging him to eat when she noticed he had gone without food all day.
This, Allen says, is why it’s important for people who have a seizure disorder to disclose their condition to their employer and colleagues. He understands that some employers are not as open-minded about staff members who have seizure disorders as the Ottawa Police Service has been.
However, everyone has the right to employment, and if people with epilepsy are forced to keep quiet about their condition it can risk their safety if co-workers don’t know how to respond, should a seizure occur at work, he says.
Allen says there have been positive aspects to disclosing his seizure condition to his employer.
“You can explain things to your colleagues and those who understand will be there to help you,” he says.
Given that police accompany ambulances to emergency calls, Allen estimates that most of his colleagues have responded to situations where a person is in seizure. As a result of knowing about his condition, Allen says his fellow officers are more cognizant of epilepsy and how to respond to a person who is having a seizure.
Another benefit of Allen disclosing his condition to co-workers is that many officers can now distinguish between responding to a person who is having a seizure and a person with mental-health issues. Sometimes, he notes, people who have just had a seizure will display characteristics similar to those seen in people with mental-health issues, but the two situations need to be handled differently.
Because he’s able to educate his co-workers, many of Allen’s colleagues are more empathetic to people affected by epilepsy.
“There are a lot of officers who have encountered people who have had seizures who are now saying, ‘I didn’t realize that you were going through all this.’ ” he says. “I am seeing a lot more empathy.”
Allen is also working on an epilepsy educational video with the Ottawa Police Service’s Professional Development Centre that will be used for officer training.
Writer: Deron Hamel
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