Reposted Chapter 6: Be Brave

Rose had seizures everywhere. On these many occasions, I plastered a smile on my face and looked folks in the eye as they glanced down and walked by. What’s so unusual about a grown woman sitting on the floor/ground beside an unconscious little girl?
Rose had a particularly dramatic series in an undisclosed, public location. As I was sitting on the floor in a hallway, a woman with healthy children walked by, patted me on the shoulder and said “Be brave” and walked away.
I am on the floor. My child is unconscious, again. Be brave? Do you tell a person with cancer to be brave? Do you pat the shoulder of someone being wheeled in to open-heart surgery and whisper “Be brave.” to the patient?
What choice do we have? Seizures disrupted ballgames, picnics, award ceremonies, bible school, birthday parties and dinners in restaurants.
I am tired of being brave. How about sitting on the floor with me? Wait with me down here on the floor. Anchored to this spot until it’s over. Until Rose comes back to me.
Stay and help us up.If you really care, don’t walk away leaving us to be brave down here alone and afraid.
Seizure Mama Speaks to parents:
Seizures may show up wherever you go. Please do not stay at home wondering and waiting. Other people cannot understand what you are going through if you do not tell them. Most folks truly want to help, but do not know what to say or do. Do not waste your emotional energy getting mad at others because of this. I do not know what to say to my grieving friends. I am always afraid of saying the wrong thing. But what does my silence say? Be brave!

Then and Now will be posted on Wednesday: June 9 2021

This story always brings back a lot of emotions. I am STILL tired of being brave.

Seized on an Island: Then and Now

The good part of this story was that Rose had an aura. She knew something was coming, so she went inside and lay on the couch. Rose had auras during what we call “Phase One” of her epilepsy. She could point to her mouth to let us know a seizure was coming. We did not know how lucky we were then.

The period we call “Phase Two” had no auras. Rose was thrown to the ground with great force and no warning. Her arms were stiff so that her falls were not broken. Many injuries occurred due to the sudden seizure onset and gravity.

We usually raised a dosage of a drug after each seizure until the levels got high enough to know the drug would not work or, even worse, Rose went toxic on that drug. This happened several times. It was just as scary as seizures. We felt we were poisoning her while trying to save her.

This is why it is so important to write down every change in drugs and every change in your child. At some point, you may be too distressed to recall important information. I spent many days in a panicked fog. I could trust my notes but not my memory.

If you can identify aura symptoms and watch for them, you can prevent injuries from falling. Rose eventually described hers as a “tornado in her mouth.”

I know this is a lot of things to remember but I want to be thorough. I am trying to cover details that I did not include in our book.

Reposted Chapter 5: Seized on an Island

Our family had the tradition of staying on the same two beautiful islands during vacation each summer. These two destinations were adjoined by a bridge. We either rented a house on one island or a first-floor condo on the other. Both locations were on the beach. My parents could watch the ocean from the porches.
This particular year we stayed in the usual condo. There was an adjacent lawn with plenty of play-space off the patio and a nearby pool. It was the perfect location to easily keep track of two young children.
We were in the middle of a family ballgame on the lawn when Rose suddenly stopped playing and walked determinedly toward the condo.She stepped inside and immediately laid down on the couch in the living room. The couch was under an air conditioning vent. Her chin began to quiver and twitch as her face darkened. Her torso was hot, but her limbs were chilled. This seizure was about ten minutes long. We wondered what conditions may have brought this on. Was it not taking a nap? Getting too hot then too cold? Maybe the dosage of drug 2D was too low? This was the constant guessing game we played after each seizure. Why now? What caused it? What should we do differently?
When we returned home a blood level of drug 2D was taken. Rose’s dosage was increased.

Seizure Mama speaks to parents:

What caused this seizure? Epilepsy is the obvious answer. We seemed to ignore the elephant in the room over and over. It amazes me how we kept questioning the cause of each seizure like it had a new source. Yes, there were triggers that promoted the onset. We suspected that rapid temperature changes were a trigger many times.
You cannot keep your child in a bubble. Get out of the house. We spent a lot of time on the floor in public places. Me sitting beside my unconscious daughter and wishing we both could become invisible. Wishing we were someplace where scared and puzzled folks couldn’t stare at us.
So how would we prevent this? Stay home waiting for the next seizure. Avoiding any stimuli that might be a trigger. Is this an appropriate life for a little girl? Her parents? Her brother? Hiding and waiting?
The seizures will come whether you are hiding at home or enjoying an outing. Pack a bag of seizure supplies. Put your child in a cute helmet if necessary. Go out and have a life between these damn things.

THEN and NOW will be posted on Wednesday June 2, 2021

First Drug Down: Then and Now

Finding the right medication or combination of medications takes a lot of experimentation. We experimented for over twenty years. The drug that works for Rose had not been invented yet when we started.

You must be your child’s data collector. The doctor’s may keep records of the drug dosages, but you see the effects of those drugs. This is too important to leave to memory alone. Keep good records of mood changes, appetite changes, sleep issues and learning issues, as well as side effects and seizures.

This first chart is titration instructions given by her neurologist. This was helpful in filling Rose’s pill organizer. I could mark each day off as I filled the boxes.

This second photo is a chart we made of all the dosages tried and the results of each combination. As you can see, there were many changes. The side effects and seizures continued no matter the levels. This chart helped convince the doctor that this was not the drug for Rose. Keeping thorough records will prevent retrying combinations, especially if you switch neurologists at some point.

The last chart is a ‘Year on a Page’ that has all medical events for that time period. One of these is at the front of each year’s section in a series of notebooks we have on Rose’s treatments. I can glance at this page and then look through that section to locate specific events as needed.

PLEASE keep all your records together. You can sort them when the struggles diminish, but at least they will all be where you can find them when you need them. We kept everything in a cluttered file drawer. It is still a mess, but everything is in there…somewhere.

I am so glad we did this. I firmly believe our records helped get Rose to the right drugs. Only you can see the whole picture; medication dosages, side effects and seizures. Keep track of it all. It will make a difference.

Seized on an Island will be posted on Saturday, May 29, 2021

Reposted Chapter 4: First Drug Down

Rose’s first seizure medication was a chewable tablet we will call 1T. Now we knew that the cause of the seizures was always in her brain, not just showing up with fevers. The enemy was a resident, not a visitor. Our family was in a constant state of vigilance. I do not say this lightly. Our vigilance continued for decades. We were emergency-ready twenty-four/seven. Rose nicknamed herself 24/7 because of this. We all tried to play this down, but it was what it was. Epilepsy was the new center of our universe, but we tried to carry on as before.
With the drug 1T, Rose became more active and hungry. She seemed hyper-emotional compared to her prior happy-go-lucky self. Was this change due to the new drug or an after-effect of the big seizure? Her carefree childhood was transformed into a series of tests and medications and worried faces.
Our family planned a camping trip for mid-June. We hauled the boat and tent to a state park for a week of fun. Our campsite was along the shore of a crystal-clear lake. Some friends with a daughter Rose’s age came to visit and spend a day with us out on the water. Rose had a lot of fun on this trip. She made her own little playhouse inside a folded lawn chair. What an adventure.
Her dad and I had discussed what we would do if a seizure occurred during our stay here. We knew where the hospital was. We located the park office. There were officials around who could help if needed. We made our plans in case of emergency. We had the bag phone. We were cautious, but brave.
During the night on Wednesday, I was awakened by unusual noises and motion beside me in the dark tent. I quickly switched on my flashlight. Rose was seizing in her sleep. Her face and neck were covered in drool. Her skin looked splotchy. The seizure was short.
I laid back down on my sleeping bag, keeping a hand on Rose. I lay there thinking about what a crazy, stupid mother I must be to have my baby here in the middle of nowhere, in a locked campground, in a tent, in the dark. This event was the beginning my paranoid hopes of buying a house across the street from a hospital. That way we would always have medical help close-by.
When Rose awoke the next morning, she was scratching her neck. I pulled up her pajama top. A prickly red rash covered her torso and upper arms. Her lips were swollen. The bag phone was used to call her pediatrician. His diagnosis was that Rose had experienced an allergic reaction to the new drug, 1T.
Camp was broken. The tent was bagged up. Supplies were tossed haphazardly into the pontoon boat and the back of the truck. We headed back to civilization and safety.
We stopped by the doctor’s office and pharmacy on the way home. Drug 1T was not the right drug. There were more to choose from. Lots more. Surely the next one would do the trick and stop the seizures without side effects. Seizures had been around for centuries. Surely there was an effective drug to fix this.

Seizure Mama speaks to parents:

A drug is a drug. It is a chemical compound, not a magic wand. It does what it does with the other chemicals in the body. Drugs are not dynamic substances. They work or they don’t. If a drug is not working, move on.
After trying several different drugs, we began to feel obligated to give each new drug more time, and sometimes more chances than it probably deserved. We were afraid to damn each one for fear there was not a new drug waiting in the wings. Learn their names. Know their half-lives. Keep records of their effects and side-effects. When the evidence shows the drug is ineffective, move to another or a new combination. Do not linger with a drug failure.
My charts of drugs and dosages, seizures, and side effects gave us confidence to move forward in terms of medications and treatments. It also eliminated “re-inventing the wheel” when we had to change doctors or go to a new clinic for tests.

THEN and NOW will be posted on Wednesday, May 26 2021

The Big One: Then and Now

Events occur in life that divide time into before and after. This was one of those.

Before this seizure, there was worry. After this seizure, there was fear. Real fear. Strong fear. The kind of fear that haunts your thoughts and jerks you awake.

My son and I saw the life leaving Rose. The term SUDEP had not been coined yet. Death by seizure was not widely talked about then. Folks still believed in tongue swallowing.

We know what we saw. I have been told that my panicked beating on the back may have served as haphazard CPR. I was aware of nothing but Rose in those long minutes.

I know I am sharing a nightmare with parents who have had their own, so I must be honest. The level of concern in our lives was raised that evening and has never returned to the previous level. We fight the fear every day. Especially me.

Yesterday, I drove Rose to run errands. My current PTSD and pandemic anxiety kept me in my car. I watch the world from a safe distance right now. Rose took longer than expected in both places. My anxiety level rose higher and higher, but I made myself stay in the car. If I went into the store, she would know that my fear for her was stronger than my fear for me. Rose would have been furious.

After this long, first non-febrile seizure we got rescue drugs. Once your child has had a status event, you need to request one of these. First it was a pill that dissolved in her cheek. Later it was a syringe of Diastat. This syringe is expensive and must not get too hot or too cold. I carried it in my big purse for almost twenty years. The drugs saved Rose at least a dozen times.

The Big One occurred in May 1997 and I am still unpacking its effects on our family. This caused a change in our dynamics. We still “circle our wagons” around Rose in times of trouble. We have not been able to protect her from all of life’s hardships, but we can be there for support.

There’s a fine line between being cautious and over-protective. We have crossed it many times. Do not stay on the “helicopter parent” side of that line all the time. Your child will end up weak and co-dependent. This epilepsy parenting is a marathon, not a sprint. You should be running the race with your child, not carrying them. I mean this. I know it is hard to do. You need to fight your fear, so your fragile child can get strong.

Sincerely,

Seizure Mama/Flower Roberts

Reposted Chapter 3: The Big One

Seizure number thirteen was different. Rose was four years and three months old. Her first febrile seizure had occurred when she was eighteen months old. All her seizures thus far had been accompanied with illness and fever. This one was different. There was no fever. There was no illness.
Rose was eating a brownie while sitting at her place at the table. Her eight-year- old brother commented that her mouth was too full. I looked over to see Rose holding a napkin in front of her face. I pulled it down to see chocolate drool leaking from the side of her mouth. Her chin was quivering. I leaned Rose over to the side to remove the chewed up brownie from her mouth. By now her eyes were blinking. I carried her to the nearby couch and placed her on her side. She tried to sit back up and pointed to the bathroom. I carried her there thinking she might need to vomit. Her arms went out stiff with her hands bent down at the wrists. I instead of entering the bathroom, I turned and carried her to my bedroom. The room with the phone. This was not the usual seizure.
I dialed her pediatrician’s number and got his partner who was on call. I described what was happening to Rose. By this time her knees were bent up and her lips were blue. The doctor said if the seizure kept progressing, she may stop breathing. Her torso was now tense and writhing. She was in a twisting knot and turning blue.
When the doctor instructed me to call an ambulance.I remember responding, “They can’t find us.” His emphatic reply was, “Get her to a hospital.” I hung up the phone and picked up my blue, baby girl. I carried her up the steps to the carport. As I strapped her into her seat, she vomited explosively. Then she slumped over and became still. I thought she had aspirated vomit and couldn’t breathe. I unbuckled her seatbelt and dragged her limp body across my thighs and beat on her back. Nothing happened.
We had a bag phone back then. I got it out, unzipped it and instructed her brother to hold it as high as possible to get better reception. I dialed 911. What was my emergency? Where was I? How old was the patient? There were too many questions. I had to describe where our driveway was because there was no street sign. I had to tell how to open our locked gate to get into the driveway. In the country, out in the woods, no address, no neighbors. I was talking in words, but my mind was praying, “Give her back. Give her back.”
Finally, the 911 operator began telling me how to help Rose. She was still and blue. “Put her on the floor of the van,” the dispatcher said. “Lay her flat on her back,” he instructed. “Start CPR,” he ordered. As I was getting ready to follow more instructions, Rose took a deep breath. I was relieved to see the blue in her face fading. Now my prayer was, “Let her be whole.”
I finally took my eyes off her to notice it was raining. I looked at her brother standing as tall as he possibly could, holding the heavy bag phone over his head and shaking.
Then I heard a car approaching. There had been no siren. It was a friend from church who was an EMT First Responder. As I started babbling about what had happened he calmly said,”Go change your clothes. I’ll watch her.” I noticed that I was covered in vomit. I was so relieved to have some help. I rushed back into the house to change my clothes and returned just as the ambulance and Rose’s father arrived.

Seizure Mama speaks to parents:

This event was an actualization of many recurring nightmares.

  1. An emergency alone. No one to help me in my isolated location.
  2. One of my children dying in my arms. My not knowing how to save my own baby.
  3. Calling 911 and having no one answer. Or the answerer did not understand what I needed, where I was, etc.

Yes, this event was a cluster of calamities from my darkest dreams. I will never forget that helpless and hopeless feeling.

Yet I also remember my great relief when I saw Rose’s big breath,the familiar face of a friend coming to the rescue, and my pure relief and gratitude when I was no longer alone.

This was the big-bang-beginning of our journey.

The enemy finally had a name: Epilepsy.

THEN and NOW will be posted on Wednesday May 19

Fevers and Seizures: Then and Now

I would like to add two points to this topic. The first is that we later discovered that red dye #40 was a trigger for Rose’s seizures. We looked back at all the times we tried to prevent febrile seizures by using red, orange, purple and pink NSAIDs(Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs).

There was no way we could backtrack in our records to see if there was a relationship here. There was however, a way to check when red antibiotics were used to see if febrile seizures resulted. I was relieved to find no correlation between the red dye in her liquid antibiotics and the occurrence of febrile seizures. We hope that this was also true of her colorful over-the-counter treatments for fevers.

My second point is that I eventually did research into febrile seizures and read that repeated febrile seizures should be treated like epilepsy. I drove a note, complete with references, to her pediatrician’s office. I did not follow up on this. He may never have gotten the note.

Neither the note nor a reference to it was included in Rose’s records that were eventually sent to a neurologist. I won’t kick myself for this either. If her doctor had put her on anticonvulsant drugs sooner, she would not have had those early years of unimpeded learning. Those first years are very important.

So…Hi,ho! Let it go.

Seizure Mama

Reposted Chapter 2: Fevers and Seizures

Rose had many ear infections that were usually accompanied by fevers. Unfortunately, these fevers sometimes caused more febrile(with fever)seizures. We were vigilant about taking her temperature anytime she was sick. If her temperature was elevated, we gave her a children’s liquid form of an NSAID(non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs). We tried diligently to prevent her fevers from getting high enough to possibly cause a seizure. We attributed her problem to a faulty thermostat. No fevers, would mean no seizures… we thought.
Over the next three years after her initial seizure in the pediatrician’s office, Rose had twelve more febrile seizures. These were always scary. It seemed as though we just couldn’t prevent them even though we tried to intervene with over-the-counter medications. We began to suspect that there was another cause of these events than just fevers.
I began wondering if these seizures originated from a source that was always present, not just something related to or caused by fever and illness. Was there something in her brain causing these? Maybe a lesion,or tumor, or chemical imbalance? When would this end? All children get sick, but most don’t have seizures accompanying illnesses.
I began to feel that the cause was lurking somewhere in Rose, waiting until she was weakened. I suspected that this was no visitor that showed up with illnesses and fevers; this was a resident. I constantly watched for flushed skin and chin twitches.
I did some research. I read all about febrile seizures. No one mentioned the word epilepsy. It crossed my mind, but not my lips. Not my child. It was these ear infections. If we could get them under control, things would be fine. An Ear,Nose and Throat- specialist, that’s what we needed. Get some tubes in those ears so they could drain, the infections would clear, the fevers would stop. Voila!

Seizure Mama speaks to parents:

Later on there were some suspicious incidents that did not involve fevers. Rose referred to them as “tornadoes in her mouth.” I did not know anything about partial seizures. I had never researched epilepsy before. I did not want it to be epilepsy, so I ignored some signs. That’s called denial. Would my being more proactive have made any difference? No one can know. I did the best I could with what I knew at the time. When there were undeniable signs of something more, I jumped into action. When the doctor’s diagnosis was febrile seizures, nothing countered that. I am not one to borrow trouble.

Fevers and Seizures: Then and Now will be posted on Wednesday, May

Follow Rose diaper to dorm room.

https://bookauthority.org/books/new-epilepsy-books

Hot Diaper: Then and Now

I have replayed this memory many times, because it was the beginning. Would my handling it differently have lead us down a different path?

In my mind, I have watched my young-mother-self over and over. Young me panicking and running out of the house with hot little Rose, knowing only that I needed help. A mother and baby alone at home among the woods, down a long driveway, inside a locked gate.

What I see now is insecurity as a mother, fear as a care-giver and and a lack of confidence in handling a new problem. This is the surprise for me. I was a confident biology student and science teacher. Why was motherhood a game-changer?

My answer is that I am a person who has to be over-prepared to feel confident. I had years of training in biology and then additional years as a teacher. I felt prepared, so I was at ease in those roles. I did read books on parenting and talk to other mothers, but I never relaxed when it came to the childcare issues. I always second guessed my decisions, thus the “Blame Game.” Maybe I will be a confident grandmother after all this experience. Ha!

Now that I have had decades to reflect on my mothering skills or lack of skills, I have come to the conclusion that I did my best with the best intentions. No mom could love her children more than I love my two. Even though I could have handled this first seizure in many different ways, I always come back to the same conclusion…

that I am glad this event occurred in the pediatrician’s office where I had a nurse’s and doctor’s assistance for this first of many traumatic seizures.

So… Hi, Ho! Let it go!

Seizure Mama