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My Coworker is Having a Seizure—What do I do?

January 27, 2020

We all hope that we’ll never have to deal with a coworker’s medical emergency at work, but sometimes it happens. Some individuals have medical conditions, and accidents happen. You may be wondering how you can help them, and the information you’ve been provided in the past could be outdated.


Seizures can be incredibly frightening to witness, but they aren’t always an emergency. If your coworker has epilepsy, seizures are probably not uncommon for them, and the seizure will stop on its own. There are two types of seizures: focal onset seizures and generalized seizures. A focal onset seizure takes place in one part of the brain, and only their face or arm may twitch as they zone out. A generalized seizure happens when multiple areas of the brain are affected, and it is often an emergency. This type of seizure can be intense. Most sufferers will not know what’s happening.


Seizures follow a series of events. The sufferer becomes unresponsive and may collapse. What follows is the tonic phase, where they will become rigid. Then they will begin to jerk or convulse; this is the clonic phase. The clonic phase may last several seconds or several minutes. Eventually the convulsing will stop, and they will regain consciousness. They may be confused and disoriented following the seizure.


One of the reasons a seizure can be so damaging is because the individual is unaware of their surroundings, and may hit the objects around them as they convulse. They can also hit their head when their body goes rigid and they collapse. As a bystander, therefore, your job will be to take precautions and time the length of the seizure. Move people out of the way and give the seizure sufferer some privacy away from prying eyes. Move any potentially hazardous objects out of the way. It’s important not to try to stop the movements by holding the individual down, but you will want to move them onto their side to keep their airway clear. There is a chance they may vomit. That old trick you learned about putting something in their mouth to bite down on so they don’t bite their tongue off or swallow it? It’s not true. Putting an object in their mouth can cause them to bite you.


Milder seizures are most likely not emergencies, but you still need to keep them out of harm’s way. If you don’t know what kind of condition your coworker has, or they’ve never had a seizure before, you need to call an ambulance. The only time you wouldn’t need to call the ambulance is if they tell you they have seizures often and they don’t require immediate medical attention.