The Illusion Of Time

It’s 4 in the morning and I’m sitting on the couch across from the hospital bed where my son is sleeping. Sleeping, finally, after having a cluster of seizures. The first one happened while I was lying in bed next to him. A quiet grunt announced the oncoming episode; a sound that would otherwise have gone unnoticed except for my newly acquired hyperaware sleep where I listen for any sound out of the ordinary.

The first seizure lasted under a minute, followed by another, longer one. They repeated for the next two hours, various lengths with varying breaks for sleep in between. As each seizure started, I would focus on the digital screen showing an analog-style clock affixed to the wall trying to quickly find the thin seconds hand on its journey around the face of the display. As the seizure ended, I’d groggily make a mental note of the duration to pass along to the nurse. Just beyond, a team of doctors looked at the data.

epilepsy dad doctor hospital diagnosis

Robotic, calm, precise…all the things I wasn’t when he had his first seizure.

If you’ve never seen a seizure, especially happening to your child, the first few always stretch time. For me, there was a phase of not knowing what was happening. I thought he was playing a game until he wouldn’t respond for what felt like an eternity. Then the frantic 911 call, the waiting for the ambulance, the not knowing the different phases of a seizure and when it began and when, or if, it would end. When the paramedics and later the doctor asked us how long the seizure lasted, we didn’t know. We had no reference. Our initial estimate was 10 minutes, but time in those circumstances, time is stretched and bent and irrelevant to a panicking parent. We didn’t know we were supposed to know how long they lasted, and so we made an impossible guess.

Einstein said the “Time is an illusion”, that the passage of time is a psychological human condition, not a property of the universe. I don’t know about the universe. But as a parent, I know that sometimes time moves way too fast and, at other times like in the middle of a seizure or when you are waiting for an answer as to why this is happening at all, it moves too goddamn slow.