I appreciated this honest memoir Brain Storms: An Electrifying Journey by Kate Recore.
She did a great job of conveying her years of struggling with epilepsy.
Unfortunately she also had struggles with bad doctors also.
She was misdiagnosed by a male neurologist who diagnoses her issues as mental and emotional NOT physical.
He was forced to change this opinion after a second EEG confirmed seizures.
Insurance HMO’s did not help in Kate’s quest for help.
I got the sense of her maturing as the book chronicles her young adult years of trying to become independent.
She fells that sharing her story will help other young women dealing with sexist or paternalistic physicians.
I am super proud of Katie Scarlett Taylor for blazing a trail for young ladies like my Rose.
Thank you Kate Recore!
Story 26 (September 2002)
After the toxicity scare, we no longer had confidence in neurologist #1. The doctor’s responses to our questions seemed short and unfocused. The drug and dose changes that she recommended seemed random. Our chart of drug changes was full of changes in dosages and seizures.
We asked for a second opinion. This first neurologist sent a letter of introduction for Rose to another neurologist in a different city. The letter described Rose’s condition and drug trials and requested a second look at Rose’s possible treatments for the future. I bet neurologist #1 was happy to pass hot-potato Rose off for some re-enforcements. I appreciated that a second specialist was going to have input into Rose’s care.
Our first visit with neurologist #2 took hours. He was very thorough and reassuring. He wanted to nail down the type and source of these seizures. He felt that Rose had been prescribed too many drugs on too small doses to rule them out as an effective treatment. He wanted Rose in an Epilepsy Monitoring Unit(EMU) to get a video-EEG. He said he felt we had been yawing around the pond of treatment choices.
This was a relief for us. We felt the same way. I was like Rose had been part of a badly designed experiment with too many variables. We were now going to get some hard data we could use to get better results. We finally felt hopeful.
We felt like this doctor heard what we were saying and understood what we were feeling. We didn’t just want to try something new. We wanted what we did next to be the right choice, not just a random change. We needed all the cards to be put on the table. It was time. Rose needed to learn and grow, not fall and fail.
Seizure Mama speaks to parents:
No one doctor knows everything. Each has his/her own training and experiences. It is always good to get a second opinion. Do not be afraid to ask for one. It may be just what you need to get a better result. Your current, struggling physician may appreciate your nicely worded, respectful request.
Do not, however, bounce from one specialist to the next in hopes of finding a quick fix. Patience is needed when trying out drugs and doctors. Do not secretly sneak around because each physician needs to see all your child’s records to make informed decisions and avoid repeating failed treatments.
I would also advise getting a second opinion for any surgical procedure. Even though installing a VNS(vagus nerve stimulator) may be a simple procedure, the device is permanent. You are making decisions for your child. Do it carefully and wisely. Get as much input as is reasonable.
Story 24: June 2002
Of course epilepsy came on vacation with us. Rose had three seizures during our week at the beach. Two occurred while she was swimming in the pool. She always wore a life jacket in the water and someone stayed an arm’s-length away. I knew it was risky to let her swim, but she loved it so much. We live on a lake so our family and friends swam a lot. We could not forbid Rose from participating in something we all enjoyed together. If she seized in the water, we just held her until the seizure ended and carried her out to a lawn chair to sleep afterward. We suspected extreme temperature changes triggered seizures, and so we tried to avoid the water in the mornings when it was cooler. We also covered Rose with a towel when she got out so she would not get chilled.
Rose also loved the ocean,but swimming with her among the waves made me a complete wreck. I was afraid we would both go under if she seized in the ocean. She was content to go in for only a few minutes and then play in the tidal pools with her shovel searching for little fish and shells, and building sand sculptures.
One day Rose and I had just walked down onto the beach and picked our spot on the edge of a tidal pool. I set down our bags and towels just as Rose fell face first into the sand. I placed her on her side to seize, as I tried to wipe off some of the sand that stuck to her face. A nice lady nearby offered me a bottle of water to wash her off. The seizure soon ended, but Rose was covered in wet, sticky sand. I swaddled her in a towel and sat close beside her to wait out the thirty minutes or so it would take before she woke up. My family could see us from the porch of the condominium, so I knew help would arrive when someone spotted Rose lying still under a towel.
While I was sitting quietly beside Rose, two boys about her age walked by. They were carrying a surfboard, table-fashion, covered with an assortment of shells and seaweed. They both glanced at Rose as they passed, but soon put down their board and walked back to me. They asked what was wrong with Rose. I explained that she had had a seizure but would be fine when she woke up. I asked about the treasures they were carrying on their board. I shared that Rose would have loved to see their haul from the sea if she were awake. They walked back to their board and one returned carrying a giant pin shell. “Give her that when she wakes up” he said. We still have this treasure.
Seizure Mama speaks to parents:
There will be many children who do not understand seizures Some children will be afraid of your child after seeing him/her seize. There will be a stigma. It will be harmful and painful.
There will also be children with great kindness, who will be protective of your fragile child. They will be loyal friends. Relish the memories of the kind kids. They are the angels of this broken world.
Story # 23 (August 2002)
Rose’s latest drug combination became a recipe for disaster. Now she was constantly dizzy and nauseated. She was limp and barely moving or responding. She was silent. She was being poisoned.
We put her on the couch so we could all keep an eye on her. At this time, she was on three drugs,one of which was an extended release form. One drug must have amplified the affects of the other two. Her nausea and vomiting soon turned to dry heaves and bile. Her seizures were clustering. We knew she was in danger.
We called the on-call neurologist at about 11PM. The doctor’s foreign accent made our conversation difficult. My husband and I were both on the line listening. We thought the doctor said to use the emergency drug if Rose had another seizure and then take her to the Emergency Room if she had another seizure after that. Was that really what the doctor said? Two more seizures and then the ER?
The next morning Rose was very pale, weak and, listless. She barely moved. We tried desperately to get her to eat and drink each time she woke up. She was fading before our eyes. I called the doctor’s office as soon as it opened to report Rose’s condition. I cried as I explained that she seemed poisoned by these three anti-convulsant drugs.
The wise nurse calmly told us to get a timer. She said to set it for twenty minutes. Every time it went off, we were to wake Rose up and make her sit up, and sip some water. We set and re-set the timer all day long. For hours we watched her and waited for the timer’s bell to ring, over and over.
Hours later she began to improve. The poison was being diluted. Rose was re-hydrating. The color came back in her face. She was safe. No trip to the Emergency Room required.
Seizure Mama speaks to parents:
We kept gel in the refrigerator to put on Rose’s arm for nausea. There were several times when her vomiting led to seizures because she had thrown up her medication. We began sifting through her vomit if it occurred soon after a dose of medications. I know this seems gross, but you need to know whether a dose needs to be replaced or not. Doubling a dose may be worse than missing a dose. You need to be sure which to do.
This particular situation was the exact opposite of seizing due to lack of medications. Rose was sick and seizing before ever throwing up. Her dosages were too high. The combination was too much. She was listless and unresponsive. I still distinctly remember this because I was so afraid.
Know your child’s dosages and drugs. If you go to the Emergency Room, drawing blood and checking drug levels may be an important piece of information for the doctors involved in the treatment.
We wrote down all dosages on a calendar and used a pill organizer. There was no guessing about the medications that were taken. We also recorded how the dosages affected her. This information was used to convince the neurologist that she needed a different drug or combo. Do not count on your memory. Write it down.
I want to make sure that folks who find us know that these events are NOT in real-time.
Our book is to give others hope NOT make them sad.
From now on, I will include a month and year with each story.
Rose is doing GREAT at the university and has decided to triple major.
We are pleased and proud of her.
Story # 21: The Painful Appointment (May, 2002)
We had felt good about the first neurologist in the beginning. The doctor was observant and thoughtful. We had previously left each of our appointments with several written plans of action in case the first option did not bring the results we hoped for. If plan ‘A’ did not work, we also had plans ‘B’ and ‘C’ if needed. Now we felt like Rose was part of a chaotic experiment without planned strategies or goals.
Rose had a long and strong seizure the day before this appointment. She slept on the way to the doctor’s office and wouldn’t hold her head up during the visit. The doctor seemed not to notice Rose’s lethargic condition. Instead I was scolded for the numerous calls I had made to the nurses. The doctor mentioned wanting another EEG(electroencephalogram) and mentioned the possibility of VNS(vagus nerve stimulator) placement.
We were taken aback by these suggestions. We thought we had come for a much needed plan for our next trials with different medications. Instead it seemed that we were at the end of the medication regimen and headed for surgery. Our instructions were to stay on drugs 3S, 4L and 5Z. Stay on these three drugs? What we were doing was not working. Why were we not doing something different?
Here was our nine year old daughter slumped down in a chair, pale and unresponsive and we were supposed to continue on with these same drugs and dosages. We left the appointment and went downstairs in the building to eat lunch at one of Rose’s favorite restaurants. Rose’s hand was so shaky that she couldn’t use a fork. I had to feed her the slaw. I was feeding my nine-year-old because she could not feed herself, but there would be no change in her treatment? This was unacceptable and infuriating.
We all went back upstairs to the doctor’s reception area. I was so shaken that I could barely speak as I explained to the receptionist why we were back. We had to wait until all the other families finished their appointments before the lunch break. It was interesting watching the other struggling families while we waited. The parents were anxious while the children were bored and restless. One father was irate and loud about a mistake that was made by the receptionist.
Finally we got to speak with the doctor again, and before we left we had a new plan. I had the doctor write it down. I still have the paper. Rose was to go down on 4L, off of drug 3S go up on drug 5Z and add a new drug 6K. Was this a plan or a punishment? This was like playing a game of roulette using strong drugs on a young child. Was this new plan better than no change? It gets worse from here.
Seizure Mama speaks to parents:
You must be politely proactive. Although different dosages and a new drug made things worse in this circumstance, sticking with the same regimen would have prolonged the process of finding the right combination. Months later we concluded that 4L was the drug from hell. We never found the therapeutic dose. The effective window was so small that we shot past it and Rose eventually went toxic on this drug combination.
Keep good records and write down everything. Things got so bad that I couldn’t think straight. I was a wreck during these months. We felt damned. Maybe you know how that feels. God help us all.
Rose was busy playing in our workshop, which has a concrete floor. Her dad and I were both busy with our own art and construction projects. Rose was making something of her own while standing at my workbench. She suddenly seized and fell to the floor between the workbench and the sink. Thankfully there was a large, but dirty, rug under her on the floor.
The first dose of her emergency medication did not stop the seizure. We waited a few minutes and then used the second syringe. Finally the convulsions stopped and she lay still on the floor. Our relief was short-lived. We realized that we now had no more emergency medication and it was a Friday afternoon.
I called our friend at the pharmacy and explained why we needed more of Rose’s emergency medication as soon as possible. Unfortunately,this particular drug was not kept in stock because it was very expensive and had a short lifespan. It also had to be protected from temperature extremes. The pharmacist explained that the drug would have to be ordered and then delivered, which would take time.
He knew, just as we knew, that we may not have that kind of time. We could be in the middle of a status situation with nothing to save Rose. The pharmacist was thinking out loud when he offered that maybe he had some of a “dead girl’s medicine” at the other pharmacy. A dead girl’s medicine? We needed a dead girl’s medicine to save Rose. I was so stunned that I hung up the phone before I started crying.
We knew that Rose’s emergency bag with more medication was in the principal’s office. It was 4:30 on a Friday afternoon, but maybe someone would answer the phone. When I called the school’s office, the assistant principal answered. She and the guidance counselor were there wrapping Christmas gifts for needy children and their families in the community. We told her what we needed and that one of us would immediately come and get the big red bag. She offered to deliver the bag to us, so that we both could stay with Rose.
Here was one good person taking her time to do something helpful. What a blessing. We could relax. The drugs were on their way. Rose would be safe now. What a gift that was.
Seizure Mama speaks to parents:
Saved by the bag again. I cannot stress this enough. You must always be prepared for a seizure. It is the only way your family can carry on responsibly and safely. You have no choice about where the seizures occur, but you can make the choice to always be prepared.
I want to add here that SUDEP or death by seizure will always be in the back of your mind if your child has the tonic clonic/grand mal type of seizures. Hearing the pharmacist offer a dead girl’s medicine, first sent my mind to her poor family and then to the possibility of Rose’s death. No one wants to have these thoughts. There is no point in dwelling on such sadness.
Yes, living with epilepsy is like living with a terrorist or a time bomb. But none of us knows what will happen in the future. Your life is now, with this precious child of yours, so live it now. I call it “nower.” It means the power of now. That’s all anyone has. Live now. Whatever will be, will be.
I have seen that elephant.
The one that nobody wanted to acknowledge.
The one everyone is now talking about.
I saw it over two decades ago.
In my carport.
I will never forget it.
Its name is SUDEP.
I chased it away by beating on Rose’s back.
I thought she had aspirated vomit.
I threw her four-year-old little body across my knees
and beat on her back. It was a hard beating. I was afraid.
She was blue. She was not breathing. Was she dead?
Her seizure had marched across her whole body.
That seizure parade took over 45 minutes.
The elephant came at the end, instead of Santa or a firetruck.
When I laid her on the floor of my van to start CPR,
a deep breath entered Rose’s chest.
The elephant left us.
That was her first ever non-febrile seizure.
The elephant was Epilepsy’s welcoming committee.
Now everybody knows to look out for it.