Rose stayed home from school during the first semester of the fourth grade,since she was having several seizures per week. They were not like clockwork, so we stayed poised and ready at all times. No one ever really relaxed. Every loud sound sent us running toward it. I helped her wash her hair before letting her have a few minutes of privacy behind the shower curtain. I sat on the toilet while she washed. When the curtain opened, I wrapped her in a towel and quickly dried her hair. We avoided both hot and cold extremes, since we thought her seizures might be triggered by temperature fluctuations. The bathroom floor, which was ceramic tile, was covered by numerous rubber-backed rugs in case of a fall.
At this point we rarely left her side. She seized everywhere doing anything. When we went places we held on to her. She got in the habit of walking everywhere arm-in-arm with another person. We carefully picked where she sat. Was the chair stable and sturdy? If she fell, what would she hit? I am sure other parents were puzzled by our behavior. Observers could not see anything wrong with our lovely Rose. We must have seemed like over-protective, hover-smother parents. We got looks and sometimes inquisitive comments. These meant nothing to us. We knew we had to protect Rose from gravity. A hard fall meant a hurt face, or shoulder, or arm. She could be thrown down with great force at any second. There was no place to go where there was no gravity, so we were there to stop the falls. If the seizure/terrorist did not show up today, and we had not seen it yesterday, then it was coming tomorrow.
So we spent most of our time that year alone in our seizure-ready home full of rugs and pillows. Few folks came to visit. We did not want much company. We disappeared off everyone’s radar. It was just us, Rose, and the epilepsy, trying to get through each day safely.
The elementary school sent Rose a teacher. He would arrive in the afternoons. Our library room would be straightened and dusted, readied for his visits. The table in the center of the room was cleared and polished. The ceiling fan would be turned on low. A snack would be prepared for presentation to Rose’s guest. I would meet Mr. F at the door with a smile. Rose would be dressed and ready for her lessons.
These afternoon lessons were a blessing to me and Rose’s brother, as well as to Rose. The teacher acted as our back-up Rose-monitor. I could retreat to the kitchen to fix supper, within ear-shot. I could not discern what Rose and her teacher were saying, but I could hear the steady rhythm of her teacher’s voice, punctuated by Rose’s laughter. She loved Mr. F’s visits. Sometimes he was the only non-family member she saw during the week.
My son enjoyed these afternoons as well. He got on his bike with a walkie-talkie attached and rode through the woods surrounding our house. He knew he could be called back home if needed. Mr.F was there, so he could relax. These afternoons were a respite for him. He loved riding his bike and he felt peace in the forest. All was well during the afternoon lessons.
Seizure Mama speaks to parents:
You cannot do this alone. Being on edge every minute will poison you. It will poison your whole family. Get some support. All of you need some relaxation and rest. You are playing a long game here. Do not put your life off until this is over. This is your life now. Things may change for better or worse, but now is what it is. You all have to survive and thrive together.
These afternoon lessons let my son be a little boy for a few hours. Being a big brother is a huge responsibility when the little sister has seizures. At these times he could be free to ride fast and dream big. He would later become a mountain bike racer. He and his dad enjoyed this sport together. Those seeds of passion were planted on those afternoons when he could just be himself. I will always appreciate Mr. F for the gift he gave to both my children.
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 troubled world.
Things fell apart. Drug 4L had been added to drug 3S after the seizures during the holidays. At first drug 4L made Rose mean. Getting her schoolwork done was a battle. Either she would not or could not concentrate. Were these changes due to the new drug, the new home bound situation, or the seizures? Her ear infections continued, so antibiotics were frequently in the mix.
We kept records of all her drug dosages and combinations, along with seizure descriptions on a chart. We couldn’t keep all of it straight unless we wrote it down. The months were a blur of seizures, side effects and sickness. I read books about epilepsy and researched epilepsy drugs and treatments. It was all so confusing. How could we help our Rose if we did not understand this disorder and the effects of its medications? I felt helpless and hopeless. Rose was changing as her drugs changed.
Appointments with the neurologist became very frustrating. The partner of the practice had left, so our doctor was handling a double load of patients. We used to feel like there was a set plan for Rose’s treatment; now it seemed like one long experiment. The doses for drug 4L kept increasing and we saw nothing but side effects. Her seizures became longer and stronger. We must have missed the window of effectiveness for drug 4L. Finally it was dropped and drug 5Z was added to her doses of 3S. Experimenting with the wrong drugs and dosages went on for months. Every few days, Rose would have a long, strong seizure. She would spend a day or two recovering before another seizure knocked her back down. I did not leave her anymore. I was too scared.
Sometimes on the weekends when Rose’s dad was home, Rose’s brother would ride the trails through the woods around our house. I would go with him carrying my camera and a walkie talkie. If a seizure occurred, her dad could call me to come back. I would hike through the woods and allow myself to cry. This was the only time I would leave the house. I walked the paths in our woods relieved to be out of our sad house where the walls kept closing in.
I never let Rose see me cry. We did not want her to see us saddened or scared. We were losing her. Her essence was disappearing. She was a groggy, foggy, tired mess. The drugs were not helping anything. The seizures were wearing her down and the drugs were ruining the time in between them.
Seizure Mama speaks to parents:
I am ashamed to look at the records from these terrible months. Why did we not get a second opinion sooner? Why did we not demand to go to an EMU? The awful reason was that we thought going to the EMU was a big step toward surgery. I had read about the different surgeries that were used to stop seizures. I wanted to give every drug a full chance to work. When I look back at her charts of medication combinations now, I am horrified.
Drug changes were being made frequently and almost in a random fashion. I think the neurologist was on overload and was pushed to try things because of my constant calls and letters. She was seemingly experimenting with various possible remedies.
It took the terrible scare of Rose going toxic for us to decide that enough was enough and seek a second opinion from a different neurologist in a different city. That was a turning point for us. Don’t wait that long.
I was involved in all the activities Rose was involved in. Rose went to Sunday School, so I taught a different Sunday School class and was part of the Christian Education Committee. Rose went to Bible School, so I was in charge of the crafts. Rose went to elementary school, so I volunteered as a Rainbow Reader and PTO grade coordinator. When Rose joined the Brownies, I became an assistant leader. We were tethered together by the epilepsy. We kept going because she kept going.
When the seizures started coming frequently Rose quit going, but I was left with all these responsibilities. I wanted to stay home with Rose, but I had to attend each organization’s meetings and events. I had to go on without her. I tried to keep up with my various leadership and supporting positions. This meant my going everywhere alone. I went to school with no student. I went to Brownies with no Brownie. I attended church with no little churchgoer Rose.
The absurdity of this became all too apparent when I had to step over my unconscious daughter to go to a Brownie meeting. I had arranged for my friend, a dental hygienist, to come to teach lessons on dental care at this particular meeting. I felt obligated to attend. The girls were to earn Dental Care badges. I went to Brownies to be with the daughters of other mothers while my daughter stayed home with her dad.
Rose arrived at the meeting later all crumpled and squinting, determined to get her Dental Care badge and eat her snack. It seemed ridiculous for her to be here among all this noise and activity while looking like she needed to crawl in a hole and hibernate. This event was the beginning of my shedding some “mama obligations” in the community.
It was hard to pass these torches to other mothers. Most of them worked. I had all ready shut down my garden art business again when the seizures started back. Now I could not find people willing or able to replace me on my various committees and in my volunteer positions. No one stepped up to take over my volunteer jobs; it was me or no one. I had to drop a few balls and leave the teams. Family came first. When the seizures were at their worst, all the other things did not matter anymore. I was just a mama, and falling short at that.
Seizure Mama speaks to parents:
Remember why you do what you do as a parent. If the activity is not important to your child, give it up. Signing up for many extra activities will only frustrate you both. Do only what you both enjoy together. Let your child choose. It’s their childhood.
The day after the seizure in the movie theater, the speech therapist from Rose’s elementary school called to set up a meeting about starting speech therapy. Rose needed this due to her hearing loss because of her many ear infections. I told the therapist about the seizures over the holidays and asked if she could get the principal to call us about Rose going homebound. The principal called back shortly thereafter.
I had been a public school teacher before my two children were born. I knew that having Rose in a busy classroom would not be safe for her if she continued to have frequent full-blown seizures. Elementary classes are a flourish of activities. The students move from place to place like a herd of little ducks. It would be all too easy for a teacher to accidentally leave Rose behind or not notice she was on the floor. In addition, I feared the stress and exposure to germs would disrupt the delicate balance we were trying to achieve with Rose.
The principal told us which forms must be filled out by Rose’s doctors. We got these and had them completed by her neurologist, but I still felt uncertain about pulling Rose out of school. I asked the neurologist what would happen if Rose had a series of seizures somewhere alone and nobody noticed. Her doctor plainly stated that she could die. There was no more debate. Rose would not be safe in a busy and bustling public school. We could not take the risk.
This was the right choice to make. The seizures kept coming, strong and frequent, during the next months. We tried many new drugs and drug combinations. This was the worst stretch so far. Not only did Rose keep having seizures; now there was also a parade of side effects to go along with them.
Seizure Mama speaks to parents:
Do not assume public schools will be able to make proper accommodations for your child. Sometimes it is just not possible; a school may not have enough trained staff or funding. You can get angry and fuss all you want. Sometimes it cannot be done, even if it should be done. Your child is ultimately your responsibility. Do not push this important and complicated task onto some overworked and underpaid teacher with a classroom full of other children. It will not be fair to the teacher and may endanger your precious child. Life is NOT fair. You should know that by now.
I have finished the book about Rose and me.
I have put all our stories down with the lessons we learned
while trying to balance a mean disease with a good life.
Now my goal is to find others who understand what it is like
to sort through the drugs and side effects to find the best mix.
Those who strive to live a happy, healthy life between seizures.
I am pleased to find strong, brave and optimistic survivors
not only carrying on but sharing their stories in real time.
You are everywhere.
Young folks like Kevin( Kevinskick) in Ireland, Laura ( Shake It Off; Living with Seizures), Alec (Seize and Destroy) and Yaelle ( Epilepsy at 23) in Israel are sharing their struggles.
Parents such as Clare of E-word and Dave of Epilepsy Dad are telling how they help their children.
Then there are the parents who send comments like Lee Ann and Khadija that keep me going when I want to quit.
ALL of you inspire me to be stronger, braver and better.
We are a community. Brought together by a relentless disease.
You make me proud.
It had been our tradition to go see a movie each year over the Christmas break. Since Rose had experienced numerous seizures over this two-week holiday, we postponed our movie outing until the last Saturday before school started back. We had been looking forward to seeing Monsters INC, so my sister and I took Rose and her brother to a nearby town to see the matinee.
We chose seats about midway up in the theater and Rose sat beside me. She seemed to be enjoying the movie until the mean, disappearing lizard scared the little girl. When Rose got scared in movies or on amusement park rides, she had a habit of biting my shoulder. Lucky me. Rose leaned over to bite my shoulder during this stressful scene and the bite turned into chewing. When I looked down at her, I realized Rose was having a strong seizure. I picked her up and carried her to the end of the aisle and started down the steps in the dark. My sister and Rose’s brother followed. I sent my sister back up the steps and down the aisle to get our coats.
One of Rose’s stiffened legs got caught between the bars of the step railings as we descended them. I had to back up and maneuver her leg out, then carry her, still seizing, out into the lighted hallway where I placed her on her side and covered her with my coat. I administered her emergency medication and sent my sister and son to get help.
After I finished administering her medication with the syringe, I looked up to see a mother with her two children watching me. The little girl looked terrified. I put on my brave face and assured the scared girl that Rose would be fine in just a little while. The family hurried on down the hallway. The little girl glanced back at us, and I gave her a reassuring smile.
About this time, two young men who worked at the theater arrived with my sister and son. One had a radio and was communicating with the manager of the theater. I told them that the seizure was over, but I needed help getting Rose to our van. I gave my sister the keys to pull the van up to the entrance.
These two boys stayed with us despite the calls from the manager to return to the front. One boy carried Rose. The other helped carry our coats. The boy carrying Rose carefully strapped her into her seat and shook her hand and wished her good luck. The two boys stood together on the sidewalk and watched us drive away.
On the drive home, I learned from my sister that one of the boys had epilepsy. The other had a mother with epilepsy. They were not going to leave Rose until she was safe. I will always consider them angels who came to help when we really needed it. Another miracle for Rose.
Seizure Mama speaks to parents:
This event added another fear to our list. We have not sat in the middle of a movie theater since this. We now sit in the second row on a side aisle. When Rose went on field trips with school, we always sat somewhere with an easy escape route. Concerts are scary now, too, especially if the bleacher seats are steep. Considering where to sit in a crowded arena is an important consideration. Every event comes with “Ifs.”
If a seizure occurs in any given place, how will we get out?