Controlling the controllables
“Oops! If you’re reading this, I am having a seizure…”
Those are the first words on a series of notecards Clare Kavanagh, marketing specialist at UCHealth, shares with those around her.
Diagnosed with epilepsy almost a decade ago, Kavanagh has been proactively preparing the people around her in the event of a medical emergency.
“I’ve been extremely fortunate to be supported by family that empowers me to understand the diagnosis and learn to accept it,” Kavanagh said. “And also learn that it’s not something I can control but there are things I can do to prepare.”
“I can’t control that I have epilepsy. And I can’t control when I have a seizure. But there are a lot of other things I can control up until that point.”
Adapted from the Epilepsy Foundation, Kavanagh created a series of 12 notecards that walks someone through what to do if she is having a seizure.
Kavanagh remains light-hearted in her instruction, breaking down the steps slowly. She knows those can be very intense moments, so she incorporates cues like “take a breath” and “it’s OK” on the notecards.
“It certainly makes me feel safe to know that the people around me are prepared,” Kavanagh said. “And I believe, at least from the response I’ve heard from my coworkers, that they ended up feeling safe, being prepared.”
On September 13, those instructions were put to the test when Kavanagh had a medical emergency at work, her first seizure in over two years.
Kavanagh’s coworkers valiantly stepped in and followed her instructions “to the tee.” When paramedics arrived on the scene, they were impressed with how her coworkers responded.
“It’s moments like those when you realize that the people you’re around every day, you can literally trust them with your life,” she said. “That’s something that not everyone can say. I’m certainly grateful for that.”
Kavanagh’s gratitude extends to her physician, Dr. Mark Spitz, neurologist and head of the adult comprehensive epilepsy program at UCHealth Neurosciences Center – Anschutz Medical Campus.
“I recognize that I’m super fortunate, I’d even say privileged, to have some of the best physicians on my care team who are able to get me back to work,” Kavanagh said.
One week after her seizure, Kavanagh returned to the office. She was welcomed back with arms wide open, returning to a cadence of normalcy.
“I think that’s one of the best things you can hope for as someone who has a chronic health condition,” she said. “You want to be seen as an individual before you’re seen as your diagnosis.”
Kavanagh often connects with young adults who are newly diagnosed, offering advice. She advocates for disclosing medical status, so long as it doesn’t impact their safety in any way. She shares resources that have helped in her journey living with epilepsy, including the ample resources available on the Epilepsy Foundation and discrete emergency accessories and medical condition indicators, such as ROAD iD.
“There’s a lot about having epilepsy that I cannot control. But there’s a lot that I can,” Kavanagh said. “I choose to take good care of my body. I choose to take the advice of the excellent health professionals. I have an exceptional family, an unbelievable support system and focusing on those controllables gives me a sense of calm.”