Once upon a time there was this girl named Ellen.
She had epilepsy and she hated the world.
So the world hated her back.
She had no friends and didn’t speak to anybody.
In turn, nobody spoke to her. Except the occasional bully.
One time, she got knocked over in the school yard and her glasses broke.
She didn’t tell on the boy, because no one would care anyway.
Then one day, a new girl came to school named Linda.
She was the same age and was in the same class as Ellen.
And she wondered why Ellen never spoke to her.
A few days later, Ellen passed out at lunch and seemed to go stiff all over.
And then her right arm and leg started moving, which was sort of scary.
Everybody looked in another direction. They whispered and that was it.
It was almost as if Ellen has leprosy and it was catching.
Linda was scared, too. But she didn’t know what to do.
She asked the lunch monitors and they didn’t know either.
No one in charge seemed to know what to do.
So Linda sat by Ellen and put her cardigan under Ellen’s head,
because she was shaking so badly.
A few minutes later, Ellen woke up, looking a little confused.
Susan asked Ellen what had just happened and Ellen sighed:
“I just had a seizure.”
“A WHAT?” blurted out Linda.
And then Ellen explained.
About epilepsy and what happened when she had a seizure.
How often she had them and how awful everybody acted.
Like she was some kind of freak.
Linda couldn’t understand it. Why didn’t anyone come and help Ellen?
Then she put one and one together and realized everybody was just as scared as her.
The difference was, they had seen it before and just thought Ellen was very, very weird.
That’s all they knew. And that’s all they wanted to know.
By now, Linda had built up a good head of steam.
Here was this girl who had this horrible (embarrassing) illness and no one seem to care.
And they sure didn’t go out of their way to find out how to help her.
It was the just the opposite. They avoided her.
It wasn’t fair.
Linda went to the nurse’s office to find out more about epilepsy, but the nurse was kind of vague.
She went home and her mother admitted that she didn’t know much either.
So Linda sat down and looked it up on the internet.
Boy, it was even more awful than it seemed.
There were all different kinds of epilepsy and people did different things.
But there was one thing in common.
They all seemed to need the same kind of help — or first aid.
Ok. So what’s the big deal?
Just move some furniture away and all those gawkers.
Then stay with the person and try to make her comfortable.
Nothing much else. Unless it went on for a long time.
Anyway, she and Ellen started to hang out.
And then a few other girls got curious about the new girl and the girl who never spoke.
So, they began having lunch at their table.
Linda told her mother all this and her mother said: “Why don’t you get to know Ellen better?
Invite her over to dinner.”
Ellen was more than surprised.
I mean no one had even wanted to sit down next to her at lunch before.
Now she was being invited over to someone’s house for dinner!
It was almost as if she was getting popular. (Relatively speaking.)
Ellen’s mom thought it was a super idea that Ellen go over there for dinner.
She just called Linda’s mom to give her a heads-up, in case Ellen had a seizure.
Ellen continued coming over and suddenly other girls invited her over, too.
She explained about her seizures (no, they weren’t called “fits”) and what to do.
She sure didn’t want her mother calling around as if she was a baby and couldn’t talk for herself.
But she did go to the nurse and explained what to do in case she had a seizure.
Then she wondered why the nurse didn’t even know about epilepsy.
And she sighed, remembering how it was. No one seemed to care.
Or they were so freaked out, they didn’t know what to do. Even the nurse.
Meanwhile, Ellen’s mother had a small brainstorm.
How about if she got some first aid information and passed it out to the nurse, teachers, and even the principal, to explain about Ellen’s seizures and what to do.
Well that worked ok. Nobody seemed so scared of Ellen any more.
She had friends, was invited to meet other girls and was just about over-joyed.
But her mother wasn’t all that happy.
Why hadn’t anyone done anything with the information she had given them?
It was like a secret handshake or something.
So she suggested that she and Ellen give a little presentation to her class.
Ellen was reluctant, but at least her mother would be there.
The day came and Ellen was so nervous, she could barely take it.
But she had already promised, so she was stuck.
Well, you can guess what happened next.
Ellen and her mom got to school, gave all the kids in the classroom some hand-outs and started to explain basically what epilepsy was.
And then the worst thing you can imagine happened.
Ellen had a seizure. Right in front of the class. She was mortified.
Her mother was cool as a cucumber and explained to the kids how she was taking away anything that Ellen might bump into or anything that could hurt her.
She put something soft under her head, and when Ellen came out of her seizure, her mom told Ellen where she was (at which point Ellen wanted to dig a hole to China) asked her how she felt and explained what had just happened to the rest of the class.
Wow, thought one kid. She didn’t even die. She seemed a little dazed but that was all.
News about Ellen and the seizure and the presentation spread like wildfire.
Especially at lunch. People were real curious.
Why didn’t they have to put anything in Ellen’s mouth? Didn’t people say you should?
Could they catch it from her, if they hung around for too long?
She explained that she was just like them, but there were some things she couldn’t do.
She couldn’t swim. And it didn’t look likely that she would drive.
But she hung out at the mall, went other places and was asked out to the movies.
She was a real person. And she was special.
Everybody came to know about her. The principal even had an assembly.
And Ellen was one very happy 10th grader.
The end. (Well, sort of.)
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Phylis Feiner Johnson