Petit mal/absence seizures and climbing

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Looking for anyone with experience of petit mal/abscence seizures (very different to grand mal) and climbing. The person I am trying to assist has climbed indoors for some time but never belayed. In the few months I have known them climbing I have never been aware of an episode. Anyone with any experience in this field? We are hoping to get them belaying possibly with a gri gri backed up with a prussic. Realise it is very person specific but just trying to get some real life experiences (we have already approached the BMC and MTA for assistance). 

Removed User 30 Nov 2022
In reply to philhilo:

Stick to hard grit routes that require two belayers. Parthian shot could be an option.

In reply to philhilo:

Afraid I can't comment specificaly about climbing with somebody with epilepsy.  

Typical absence seizures predominantly affect children so do tend to be grown out of. How old is your friend? Are they likely to grow out of it anytime soon? Atypical absence seiazures however are longer lasting, more frequent and can last into adulthood. They are thankfully much rarer. 

Absence seizure are much more likely when in a drowsy state, so I would hope during belaying/climbing liklihood of having seizure is lower. Incidentaly, that is one of the reasons why they are under diagnosed as they are commonly mistaken for daydreaming in school children. 

In reply to philhilo:

> We are hoping to get them belaying possibly with a gri gri backed up with a prussic.

Haven't tried it but this sounds like it would be an absolute arse to actually use. Personally I'd take the view that <low risk of seizure> multiplied by <low risk of fall coinciding with seizure> multiplied by <low risk of GriGri then not locking> is safe enough, and preferable to being belayed by a borderline unusable system. But if you're particularly paranoid about the GriGri, how about something more guaranteed to always lock like the Wild Country Revo?

In reply to philhilo:

Your best bet is to go climbing as a three/group with someone trustworthy to tail the rope. I always tail the rope when I'm instructing any new belayers, or have someone else tail them if I'm on the end of the rope. 

Using a Grigri plus a prussik will be pain to belay with, let alone for a new belayer trying to make it work. I see what you're trying to achieve and I assume you've gone down this route because you would be climbing as a pair with them. Have a think about the scenario where they have a seizure whilst you're climbing and require your help: It's going to be very hard to get back down to assist unless someone else can lower you off. 

Another option would be to use an autobelay alongside them belaying you. Lots of safety from using this method whilst giving them the true experience of the actual belay process. 

 plyometrics 30 Nov 2022
In reply to philhilo:

First question is, have they been formerly diagnosed and are they on medication to control them?

If not, they should get to the docs as the DVLA need to be informed and they may have to give up driving until the seizures are under control. 

My personal view, as someone with medically controlled temporal lobe epilepsy, is that someone who is actively having petit mal shouldn’t really be belaying. 

Before I was diagnosed, my petit mal used to cripple me temporarily, so much so that they would sometimes bring me to my knees. 

Pre-medication, my scariest moment was behind the wheel of a car when, for a few seconds, I completely forgot how to drive. That was very, very, scary. 

So, my take away would be to get their seizures well under control before belaying anyone, irrespective of whatever clever rope work you might have set up. 

Post edited at 16:50
In reply to Christopher Smith:

Thanks Chris. They are 23. This happening in a drowsy state, when waking or going to sleep is something I was picking up after doing research. It might also explain why we have never witnessed an episode in a number of months of climbing with them. Cheers.

In reply to Luke90:

Hi Luke. Thanks for your thoughts.

Yes totally agree that we are getting into low likelihood territory but potentially bad outcome - its the Swiss cheese model of accidents. We have tried the gri-gri and prussic system and it is usable but as you say not ideal - very safe though. The concern is would a seizure whilst feeding out rope result in uncontrolled rope for the duration of the seizure, pulling back on the handle and keeping it pulled back.

The Revo......hmmmm.....I own one of these being a rope soloist and yes it'll definitely lock up in the event of an uncontrolled fall, however as a general belay device it is terrible. There is no way of adding friction to the system i.e holding someone hanging, it is either locked or free flowing - unless I was doing something wrong. Great for rope soloing though! I suspect that is why you don't see many being used.

In reply to LucaC:

Hi Luca, thanks for your thoughts.

As an instructor myself I know where you are coming from holding rope ends, however this takes away from them a level of independence which might not be warranted thus my starting this thread to see what actual experience folks had.

This is also why I am trying to get into the real nitty gritty of what their condition entails - a lot of folks hear epilepsy and think collapsing lying on the floor and shaking - absence seizures are short 'daydreaming episodes', typically lasting only a few seconds with the person being totally unaware of what has happened - no confusion, no weakness, just like a computer freezing for a few seconds and carrying on. We are only considering indoors at the moment and so there will always be plenty of people on hand. Tbh I know plenty of belayers whose attentiveness is lacking on a regular basis!

In reply to plyometrics:

Thanks for your thoughts.

You sound like you were having atypical absence seizures, very different to how my friend describes their experiences and not what I had picked up in my research so far - so very good to know, thank you. They are diagnosed, and have been since a very young age (they are now 23). Unaware if they are on medication - no they are not allowed to drive - understandably so - as your example shows, scary! It certainly shows there is a wide spectrum and we need to know exactly what their condition entails.  Thank you.

 The Grist 01 Dec 2022
In reply to philhilo:

I have climbed with someone who fits this description. For a couple of years she avoided belaying then when she fully explained the situation to me I said I was happy for her to belay using a gri gri or similar. I only ever knew the seizures to happen at night or very late at night. I never had issues with her belaying and she has now found a medication blend that has stopped the seizures and is able to resume driving. 

It may be that it is highly unlikely that he would have a seizure if he is concentrating / focused on a task. It may be more of an issue for the climber than for him but you should discuss it with him to fully understand it. Like you said epilepsy is a very broad spectrum. 

In reply to The Grist:

Thanks Mark, good sensible thoughts - catch up again some time!

In reply to philhilo:

One of my scouts is currently undergoing diagnosis having had regular petit mals and a couple of big ones.  She's had 3 petit mals at scouts in the past year or so, the most recent being whilst she was navigating her patrol on a night hike at the weekend. It was slight enough that they didn't even notice, but she got them lost.  I've taken the view that she needs to be supervised/helped when doing anything that could cause injury. In a climbing situation this would mean she can't belay alone, and I wouldn't let her lead either.

In reply to Toerag:

Thanks Toerag. It does appear to be a very broad spectrum as can be seen from the responses on here, I think getting into the nitty gritty of the symptoms is essential and then looking at each activity. My friend has climbed, including leading, for over 10 years with no problems so that is useful knowledge in itself.

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