John Edward Cooper’s Notes

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I witness a fit for the first time

Early Days

 1. As long as I’d known Chris Woodhead, or known of him, I’d been aware that he had epilepsy. People would refer to him as “the boy who has fits” (though some, less unkindly, might say, “the boy with the blond hair”). But it was now several months since I had started visiting him, and he me, and still I had not witnessed a fit.

 2. One day, I was at his house in Ascot Road, Thornton, in his bedroom. Chris occupied the small front bedroom, above the front door. If you went out of the bedroom onto the landing, to your left were two doors, the first to the large front bedroom (his Mum and Dad’s), the second to the medium-sized back bedroom (his younger brother David’s — the smaller boy got a bigger bedroom!). Ahead was the door to the bathroom. To your right was the rail — boxed in below, not balustraded — protecting you from falling into the stairwell. Beyond that was a step down to the right onto an intermediate landing — there was a small window in the outside wall giving light just there — then ninety degrees to the right was the staircase down to the ground floor. Directly ahead, after a small space, was the front door.
 3. As I say, I was in the small front bedroom; and I heard Chris call to me from the top of the stairs (perhaps he had just been to the bathroom), “I’m just going to put the kettle on…” — bump! bump! bump!

 4. Hearing the noise, I went to the top of the stairs to investigate — and there was Chris, lying face-down at the bottom of the stairs in the space before the front door! He lay perfectly still, which I may have perceived as “un-fit-like”, for my first reaction was to think he was kidding: “Come on, Chris, stop messing about!” By now I was standing over him. “Chris!” I persisted…. “Chris?” A feeling of panic and alarm started to come over me.

 5. That he was not kidding became evident when he started convulsing: arms and legs started shaking intensely, fists and feet beat on the floor, and he made a growling sound. I had never seen a fit before, but the fact that he was clearly having one made me feel almost relieved after my earlier shock. I don’t know how much I knew about epilepsy, but I supposed that Chris might be in danger of biting his tongue, so I went to the kitchen (located beneath the bathroom) and got something to put in his mouth to bite on. I can’t remember what it was; it was long enough to be held with two hands, one at each end. I presented it to his mouth, and for several seconds nothing happened other than the clenched-teeth growling; but then he bit on it.

 6. After the convulsing, Chris lay still again. Then after a minute or so, there was another episode of convulsing then lying still. There may have been three such cycles in all. After what seemed a long time he came round, rolled himself over, and sat up. I don’t think there was any injury from the fall downstairs, and suppose that he just felt worn out after what had just been happening. Oh, I think he had a headache as well.

 7. The plan to put the kettle on was resumed, and a cup of tea served not only as refreshment but as therapy.

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