(NEW YORK) — Now that Secretary of Commerce John Bryson has taken medical leave after a seizure apparently caused him to hit two cars in California, medical experts are scratching their heads about how a seizure could have caused the chain of events that led to the accidents, Bryson’s hospitalization and his eventual leave of absence.
“There are several different types of seizures,” Dr. Robert Fisher, professor of neurology and the director of the Stanford Epilepsy Center in California, said. “The one called complex partial allows a person to operate in a dream-like state over a period of seconds to minutes. She or he could operate a car, but judgment, reflexes and thinking would be impaired for several minutes. If [the accident] was due to a seizure, it is possible either for it to have been a cluster of a few seizures, or one seizure with a long aftermath of confusion, called ‘postictal.'”
Bryson was found unconscious behind the wheel on Saturday and cited by police for leaving the scene of an accident after he rear-ended a Buick that had stopped and was waiting for a train to pass.
After the initial accident, Bryson got out of his car, spoke to the three males in the Buick, “then left the scene, hitting the same car as he left the scene,” according to police. Five minutes later Bryson allegedly hit a second vehicle containing a man and woman. He was not charged and passed a blood-alcohol test Saturday night.
A statement from the Commerce Department released early Monday suggested that Bryson had some sort of seizure. Such a claim raises many questions about what exactly happened to the secretary in Los Angeles Saturday night, and whether or not he was in the right state of mind to make the decision to continue driving.
Seizures are a neurological disorder that cause a temporary disturbance of behavior or consciousness. They affect the non-dominant side of the brain — the right side in most people. During a seizure, experts say, the sufferer might be able to speak full sentences.
Dr. Fisher said that if a person is driving when he or she has an epileptic seizure, it can cause a driver to crash, and possibly drive off in a confused state. It’s entirely possible that the person having the seizure might have little to no recollection of the incident, he said.
Dr. Richard Kim, Director of the Hoag Epilepsy Center in Newport Beach, Calif., also says that Bryson could have had a complex partial seizure. In such cases, he said, the person having the seizure appears to be staring or fumbling, and loses awareness of his or her surroundings. Kim adds that if the complex partial seizure had been continuing, Bryson would not have been able to get out of the car and speak to the three men in the first car he struck, so it is impossible that he was having a seizure the entire time.
As Dr. Fisher pointed out, a possible explanation for Bryson’s behavior Saturday night is what is called a “postictal state,” where the sufferer continues to have a disturbance after the seizure stops.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Jill Disis, CNN
Alanna Petroff, CNN
Virginia Anderson, Kaiser Health News