Dangerous convulsion practices.

man lying unconscious after convulsing

It was a regular day in the town for everybody else, but not for Sekina. Different ‘shouts of advice’ were being flung at her from people around while her seven year old son convulsed in her arms, foaming at the mouth, with arms and legs jerking like a robot in rapid motion.

 “Take him to the fire, burn his feet…”

Pour am water”

“Put onions in his mouth and eyes…”

“Let me bring pepper and razor blade…”

“…and don’t let his mouth close so he won’t swallow his tongue and die.”

“You better put a spoon inside his mouth…”

She clung tightly to him like a lioness defending her cubs. No one was going to hurt her son or even touch him. No, not today!

“Leave him alone!” she screamed. One look at her face made them retreat.

frustrated woman warning others to leave her convulsing child alone
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Left alone with her son, she sat wondering when it would all be over. But in a minute that seemed like forever, the jerky movements stopped. He became so still that he looked dead. She leaned closer and let out a sigh of relief to see that he was still breathing. Tears streamed down her face while she tried to give him the concoction they were given but he couldn’t take it; he was still unconscious. She decided to rub it on his heaving chest. Baba, as he was usually called, was the local medicine man who had been treating him since this strange movements started a year ago. He had administered a cocktail of traditional therapy, especially the popular cow’s urine concoction, but a cure was nowhere in sight. Instead, the movements had become more frequent. This was the third time in the same week that her son, would suddenly be ‘seized’ by this convulsion.

She sighed deeply as she remembered the first time she heard the word. Kamil was having a fit when a neighbour said, “He’ll transfer the convulsion to you if the foam from his mouth touches you!” The look of disgust on his face as he said so was etched in her memory. Little did she know that there was more to come. All sorts! Some said “Maybe he is an ogbanje, the spirits are disturbing him.” Others said she was obviously a witch and wanted to kill her son. Yet, others said the family had offended the gods and needed to appease them. Her husband was already threatening to throw them both out if Kamil continued this ‘madness’ as he called it.

Some of the earlier ‘shouts of advice’ filtered into her thoughts. Fire… spoon… razor blade… onions…water… She wondered if she should have let them… again. Dadi, her husband’s friend suggested that the boy was just seeking attention, and pain would make him stop jerking. They had been burning Kamil’s feet and inflicting all kinds of pain on him since then. She objected but her husband would not be dissuaded. He was tired of being the talk of the town and was determined to stop the convulsions by all means.

Confused mother of child with convulsions
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

“Am I wrong?” she asked herself. But the thought of inflicting any more pain on her child was just too much for her to bear. He did not deserve any of this. He was innocent! They had burnt and cut him several times already and he wasn’t getting any better. ‘No. I did the right thing.’ she said out loud, trying to convince herself. His burnt, black, swollen feet caught her attention and she reached out to touch them. He screamed out in pain. She had been so lost in thought that she didn’t even know he had regained consciousness.

“Is this all you can do?” she asked no one in particular, and with a sudden desperation, she lifted her son, muttering to herself as she walked down the road.


Doctor Mide was deeply concerned with Kamil’s health that was in such a critical state. The smell of concentrated urine on him stung her nose, but that was the least of his problems. His badly burnt feet were infected and filled with pus. He was so weak and could barely sit up. She was horrified by the terrible practices that had put the young child’s life in danger. Her heart burned that a person who was sick with convulsions was treated so badly instead of being brought to the hospital for proper diagnosis and treatment. She wanted to scream at all the people who did this. She wanted to drum it into their ears that convulsion was neither contagious nor a spiritual problem, but could be caused by things like low blood sugar, some infections or even an injury to the head. But, this was no time for screaming as Kamil lay on the couch, deathly pale with a tormented look in his eyes. She explained briefly to his mother that he was very, very ill and it was now much more than the convulsions. The cow’s urine concoction had made his blood sugar dangerously low, affected his breathing and slowed his heart function, while the wounds in the feet were badly infected and there was a risk of spread into his bloodstream. As a result, emergency measures had to be taken to save his life.

Sekina watched in shock as doctors and nurses scrambled around setting up fluids, scary looking gadgets and taking blood samples for tests. She silently prayed that all will be well. Minutes turned to hours, hours turned to days, days turned to weeks of tests, more tests and treatments. It was a long battle and there were days it didn’t look like he was going to make it, but eventually, he became stable. His smile and strength gradually returned and the wounds were healing well. “Thank you God.”, Sekina whispered as she looked skyward. She remembered the sad case of the 10 month old baby that was brought in two days ago with a story similar to that of her son. The poor baby didn’t make it; he died just this morning. She shuddered visibly at the thought of loosing her precious Kamil. Just then, Doctor Mide came in for her ward rounds.

“Good morning! How are we doing today?” she said with a smile.

“We are fine ma. Thank you.” replied Sekina.

After examining him and discussing with the other doctors, she said, “I have good news for you. Your son has made very good progress and we will be discharging you home today.”

A smile broke out on her face. “Thank you so very much doctor. Home…finally! Thank you!”

“Thank God. Hope you remember the things we discussed about convulsions?”

“Yes ma.”

“You remember the causes of convulsion, the different types, what to do and what not to do when a person is convulsing?”

“Yes doctor. I remember. I have really learnt a lot. Thank you.”

“So this is your exam before we let you go. If any of the doctors here start convulsing now, what will you do?”

“You? Doctors?”

Unconscious after a convulsion
Photo by Johnny Cohen on Unsplash

“Yes! You remember I said convulsion can affect anybody whether tall or short, rich or poor, black or white. Or have you forgotten?”

“No ma. I remember. First of all, I will remind myself not to panic so that I can help the convulsing person, that is, you. Then I would clear the immediate environment of anything that can injure the person convulsing, peradventure he or she falls. Next, I would gently lie you down on your side and loosen any tight clothing, like this scarf on your neck, or for the men that are wearing ties, I will loosen it. Then I will wait for the convulsion to end by itself and not try to hold the person down or try to stop the jerking movements. Finally, I would call for medical help or take you to the nearest hospital even after the convulsion has ended so the cause can be detected and treated.”

“Beautiful!” Doctor Mide said, clapping her hands in delight. “You’ve passed your exams. One more question. Tell me some dangerous things that people should stop doing when a person is convulsing.”

 “First, people should stop trying to cause pain by cutting or burning the person because convulsion cannot be controlled by a persons will, so pain cannot stop it. Second, people should know that a convulsing person cannot swallow his tongue so there is no need to put a spoon or anything like that in the person’s mouth because it is dangerous. It can even injure the teeth and gums, leading to bleeding and possible infections of the airway and lungs. Then we should not pour water on the person or force the person to eat or drink anything because the person is unconscious and can choke.”

“Absolutely correct! You even qualify to be an ambassador for this now.”

“Yes o! I’m going back home to share this information with everyone so that we will stop harming our children and family members. Thank you so much ma.”

“You’re very much welcome mama Kamil. Alright now, bye Kamil. Remind mummy to give you your medications every day, okay?”

“Yes! Yes!” Kamil was jumping up and down excitedly.

“Bye. See you in two weeks.”

Kamil walked out of the hospital in style.

Happy boy treated for complications of dangerous convulsion practices
Photo by Tetbirt Salim on Unsplash


*pour am water: Pour water on him

*Ogbanje: An evil spirit believed to deliberately plague a family with misfortune

*Mama: Mother (Mama Kamil-Kamil’s mother)

*Baba: Father or an elderly male

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18 thoughts on “Dangerous convulsion practices.”

  1. The myth of seizures… thanks for the info i hope it spreads far and wide so that the convulsing child does not get a double palaver of harmful practices.

  2. Few months ago, my cousin had a serious case of convulsion in the middle of the night and my uncle who happens to be his dad deep his hand in the poor boys mouth. Well, he was bitten terribly. I tried explaining to him after the whole episode was over that it’s actually wrong of him to do that but he wouldn’t listen. Now this my uncle is well educated but still believe in the myth. Thank you so much for this post. Na to forward it to him.

    1. Dr. Mercy Folayan

      Wow! So sorry about the bite he suffered. That must have been very traumatic.
      Like you rightly observed, many literate and educated people still believe many health myths and I’m out to change that.
      I’m so glad you found the post helpful and I hope your uncle will as well.
      Many thanks.

  3. Michael Adetola Adeyemi

    You narrated so beautifully and lucidly a story of an event similar to what I witnessed many times while growing up. My siblings and children in the neighbourhood were handled same way. I can not tell whether or not I was subjected to similar treatment
    but I thank God I don’t have big scars on my feet. I know individuals with big scars as a result of their feet that were put near the stove fire when they convulsed.
    I wish many ignorant people will come across this interesting story on how to respond to anyone who experiences convulsions around us.

    1. Dr. Mercy Folayan

      Wow! That’s really sad.
      It’s really heartbreaking to see the terrible effects of such ignorance. We’ll keep speaking and sharing so more people will be aware, and hopefully, one day, these wrong convulsion practices can be a thing of the past.

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