Sunday, May 16, 2010



SO you like to travel ... and you have epilepsy. That is no excuse for anyone to stay at home and avoid going to new places and meeting new people.

Serene Low, 49, from Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur, ought to know about these things. She has had nearly 100 episodes of epileptic attacks since she was a child. But that didn’t stop Serene and her family from visiting China last December.

A little slip-up made the trip an unforgettable nightmare for them.

“We were all excited about our holiday which we had been planning for months,” said Serene. “I went through our checklist twice to ensure that we had everything: passports, luggage labels, travelling itinerary, etc. “However, after breakfast on the plane, I realised to my horror that I had forgotten to bring my anti-epilepsy medication.”

All she could find was a bottle of new drug which she had never taken before. The drug was given to Serene by her neurologist who cautioned her to use it judiciously as a sudden change of medication could result in adverse side effects.

“I have not had any fits for over four years due to my daily medication. I was terrified that I might get one or several seizure attacks in China,” said Serene, an advocate for people with epilepsy. “I had no choice but to take the new drug to avoid having an attack,” said Serene.

Then it happened on the second last day of Serene’s holiday. Serene fell onto the ground at a tourist spot. Fortunately, her husband and her son were with her when it happened. They protected her head with her winter jacket and waited until the seizure had run its course. When Serene came to, she was taken to a nearby coffeeshop to rest whilst a small crowd of curious onlookers watched the whole drama. Serene later returned to her hotel room where she managed to get a good night’s rest.

Serene is thankful that she has a supportive family who are there for her all the time. Now all the wiser, Serene would like to offer the following tips to anyone who has epilepsy and likes to travel:

> Start first with your anti-epileptic medication before packing any item. And make sure you pack the right medication.

> Make an effort to recheck if someone has packed your medication for you.

> Never pack your medication into one bag to avoid not having them if your luggage gets misplaced at the airport. Have some available in your handbag and backpack as well for quick access. Carry extras in case you need them.

> Check the expiry dates of all medication.

> Always carry an identification card indicating you are a person with epilepsy, details of the type of medication you take, including dosage, who your doctor is, and important names and phone numbers to call in an emergency.

> Inform the travel guide that you are person with epilepsy so that he will be prepared to help you during an emergency.

> Mingle and get to know the people you are travelling with as a group. Share some simple information about epilepsy with them, particularly on how to help someone during a seizure.

> Stay close to your friends and family who are travelling with you.

> Keep a safe distance away from lakes, streams, fountains or waterfalls to avoid drowning during a seizure.

> Encourage your family or friends to take a video or photograph you during an attack as this provides useful material for your neurologist in treating you.

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