Well, this was a new problem we hadn’t encountered before. Brad and I were both looking down at Steve, one of our climbers, who was flopping around on the ground and twitching in a classic grand mal seizure. We knew Steve was an epileptic but he was usually pretty stable when on his medication so we needed to figure out what the hell was going on— this was his fifth seizure of the morning.
There’s two phases to a grand mal seizure; the tonic phase when the person loses consciousness and the muscles contract usually causing the person to fall over, followed by the Clonic phase that includes muscle contractions and convulsions. Steve was in the Clonic phase so we just squatted and watched. There are misconceptions about what to do when someone’s having a seizure. You don’t stick things in their mouth, because seizure victims aren't going to swallow their tongue, you also don’t try to restrain them. You simply roll them on their side, maybe place something under their head to protect it from the convulsions and wait, and that’s what we were doing.
There was still a lot of snow on the ground at higher elevations on this spring climb in the White Mountains, and we’d been encountering large snow fields all morning like the one we were on now. But snow wasn’t our problem, Steve was our problem. So we told everyone else to take a break while we put on our doctor’s hats and tried to figure out what to do, and our Doctor Dan and Doctor Brad consultation went something like this;
“What the hell? Did we miss his meds this morning?”
“Nope, I just checked.”
“Okay, so what’s the problem?”
“How do I know? Pull out his paperwork and see what it says.”
Okay, so now I’m reading all his medical info. We read it before the trip but only as a briefing so now it’s time to read it in earnest, and then we spot it. His seizures are triggered by lighting, like the “strobe” affect of fluorescent light cycles.
“Okay, so Brad, maybe it’s the sun reflecting off all this ice and snow.”
“I don’t know, maybe he’s burning his meds up too fast with all this exertion.”
“Yah, and maybe it’s both.”
"What do you think we need to do?"
"Shit, .................we could just sit here for the rest of the week."
"Yah, that would work."
"Well......whatever we do, we need to do it soon because we need to move."
"Okay, then let's be creative."
Long, long, long pause where neither of us say anything.
“Okay, how about we do this Brad. Let’s give him half a pill more. I just read the cautions and that’s not going to kill him, and hell, it can’t be any worse than having five seizures this morning.”
“Okay, but let’s have him wear your glacier glasses (the ones with the leather on the sides and around the bridge of the nose), and see if that helps block out some of the light.”
“Yah, and lets do this too. Let’s put his watch cap on and duct tape the glasses and the hat together and plug every gap we can find, at least until we get away from these snow fields or the sun goes in.”
"Yah, and lets stick his helmet on too just for the hell of it."
So that’s what we did. When Steve came out of his fog, we joked around with him a little. Asked him if he knew what was going on, and told him what we thought we’d do to solve his little problem. Steve was a quiet kid anyway so he just sort of nodded and after he had something to drink, took his half pill and ate something, we duct taped him up and continued on the climb. He looked a little like a giant ant-man but he didn’t have any more grand mal seizures on the trip. He may have had some petit mals but who knows. As a precaution during any questionable climbing sections we roped everyone together in ten foot intervals so Steve wouldn’t be taking a ride down the mountain on his own. He also finally got his nickname. Kids begged us for nicknames and we always told them the same thing. "You’ll get one when you get one." They were coveted prizes for anyone who went out with us. From that day forward Steve was never Steve to us again. After that day he would forever be known, as the Sundance Kid.