When Rose was in eighth grade band, the middle school band was invited to join the high school band to play during a football game. Rose sat with all the other trumpet players in the band section of the stadium.
Rose’s father and I sat in the adjacent section where we could keep an eye on her. We were concerned because Rose hated loud noise. We had instructed her to take out her tiny hearing aid while the band played. This hearing aid was red and the size of a kidney bean. It cost thousands of dollars and was not covered by insurance.
At some point during the first half, we noticed a disturbance where Rose was sitting. She was having a seizure. I rushed down to her side. The band director gave the other band members the okay to go take a break. This made it easier for the EMTs to get to us. Rose stayed unconscious for quite some time after the seizure. Her dad went to get the van and drive it up to the back of the stands.
It was about then that I noticed that Rose’s hearing aid was not in her ear. I searched around her. There was no little red bean. I went through her pockets. No bean. The EMTs joined in the search. We made quite a spectacle. Unconscious Rose, her mama, and a bunch of men in uniform scouring the empty stands.
The band members returned from their break. The band leader asked if I minded if they played some music. The music resumed. Rose aroused. A group of men helped haul Rose up the stadium steps to the van. As I followed them up the steps, a woman tapped me on the shoulder and asked “What were ya’ll lookin’ for down there?” She was curious about the lost item, not the unconscious girl. I guess asking about Rose would have been rude.
When we got Rose safely into the backseat of the van, I informed her dad that her tiny hearing aid was missing. I searched her pockets once more. Tucked down in the corner of her jacket pocket was that tiny expensive bean. I was so relieved and happy.
As we drove away from the school, Rose’s dad turned to me and asked, “Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?”
Seizure Mama speaks to parents:
It may be futile to try to keep your child’s seizures a secret. Rose’s condition was known to everyone at church, at school, and out in the community. We never tried to hide her epilepsy. There was no point in it. It went with us wherever we went, whether we liked it or not.
When Rose started to middle school, Mama went, too. There was an eighth grade science teacher opening which I applied for and got. There was a collective sigh of relief from all of our family and friends. The middle school was too far away from our house. I could not get there fast enough if there was an emergency. The route there was all two lane roads. What if there was a tractor, a train, a wreck…?
So Rose’s mama went to middle school. It was a good thing I did. There were sicknesses and seizures that had to be dealt with. The entire staff knew that Rose’s mama was only an intercom call away. I would hear my name followed by “Get to the gym.” or “Go the nurse’s office.” I would take a deep breath and run toward Rose as someone met me in the hallway heading toward my classroom to watch my students during my absence.
Adjacent to my classroom, I had a storage room for science equipment. We kept a fold-out cot with pillows and blankets in it for Rose to sleep off her seizures after being rolled to my room in the closest available rolling chair. It was a comfort to Rose and me that I could peek through my back door and check on her without missing a beat teaching my students.
This is how we handled her emergencies during those years. We were still searching for the perfect combination of medications. She had some learning issues and hearing issues. Then there were several surgeries. Rose needed support. I was the “mama in residence” again, there to make sure she was taken care of.
On a particularly hectic Friday, I was called over the intercom to the band room. There was a band concert. Rose played the trumpet in it. I ran to the band room to find her unconscious on the tiered floor among scattered chairs and music stands.
(Please pause here to envision this setting. A stair step type floor plan, rows of chairs on each level and tall, black, metal music stands everywhere. Lord, could we not have this seizure somewhere else?)
Two other staff members stayed with us in the band room until Rose woke up. Instead of her normally docile self, she woke up swinging. I could tell she did not know where she was. Sometimes she is blind after a seizure. I kept trying to talk calmly to her, but it was as though she did not recognize my voice. I tried not to panic as several music stands were knocked down, which caused more to fall. There was a domino-effect. More crashed to the floor. It took quite a while to get Rose calmed down. The band students were waiting outside the door. They needed to put their instruments back in their cases. It was time for school to let out. They needed to come in and get ready to go home.
Rose’s dad and brother came to help us. I made a call to the our neurologist. Drug 8K dosages would be increased. No one lost her head. The show must go on.
Seizure Mama speaks to parents:
I was very fortunate to get to work at Rose’s school. It got us through those years. They were not easy for any of us. I was a trained high school biology teacher with community college experience. I would not have chosen to teach middle school. I loved my students and my peers, but the stress slowly took its toll on my health. I knew this was not going to end well, but I had to make it through seven years.
The high school was right across the road from the middle school. If I did not get a job there when Rose went to high school, I would just remain the sentry across the street, only a phone call away and a quick drive across the road. The drive over would be followed by a panicked run to a designated location. I could endure seven years in eighth grade to save Rose. I could do that. I thought…
So what does this mean to you? There will be many sacrifices made for your fragile child. Do not let your own health be one of them. I lived through my time in middle school, but damage was done. I am better now, but there were times when I was truly terrified for my own well-being. I am very protective of myself now. I have to survive Rose’s seizures, too. Rose needed me whether she liked it or not. We were tethered together by her epilepsy. If one of us went down, we both went down.
Take care of yourself, too. United we stand.
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.
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.
We finally made it home from the hospital that Friday evening. Rose’s dad and grandfather headed back down the interstate in our truck to retrieve all my garden art from the booth of the show we had hurriedly abandoned that morning. Rose had been given a loaded dose of drug 3S in an IV. She slept on the way home. My parents came and stayed with me, my son and Rose so that we would not be alone after such a traumatic and exhausting day.
Rose slept for the first several hours. When she woke up and saw that it was dark, she realized that she was missing her friend’s birthday party and sleepover. She had been really looking forward to the event, even though we had warned her she could not spend the whole night. She cried about not being able to go to her friend’s house. I calmed her down and she went back to sleep. She slept in bed with me that night so I could keep an eye on her.
During the night, she woke up screaming “I want my lunch.” Rose usually packed her lunches for school and got to take a special lunch that she picked out herself on Fridays. She had awoken and realized that her special lunch had been left uneaten at school and would be ruined by Monday. She loudly repeated “I want my lunch.” over and over again for almost an hour like it was a mantra. I tried to calm her, but there was no consoling her. By the end of that hour, Rose and I were both hysterical.
I always tried very hard to not let Rose see me upset. We kept a brave face during most of her seizures. This time, I was truly scared that something had happened to her brain. I tried telling her we would get her a new special lunch for Monday, but I knew what she really wanted. She did not really want her lunch back. She wanted today back. I wanted today back, too. Rose knew she had epilepsy again. That awful nurse was right: it had never left us.
The little girl who had the party and her mama came to visit us the next day. They brought Rose a bag of goodies from the party. I always appreciate gestures like this. They mean so much.
Seizure Mama speaks to parents:
Your hearts will be broken over and over again. You must keep going. You must keep living with this enemy. You cannot let it steal your the life from you, your family, and most of all your child. Yes, it will knock your baby down, but you must help him/her right back up. Getting up is what is important.
Do not let epilepsy keep them down. Do not let it have an extra second of your lives. Epilepsy may steal minutes from days, but you can fight for the rest of the time. Make that your life- the time between. Make that time the best you can make it.
There was quite a crowd in Rose’s room at the ER when we arrived. We learned one of our good friends from the school had ridden with her in the ambulance. This was a relief to me because I did not want Rose traumatized by waking up in an ambulance among strangers. Her teacher, Ms. S soon arrived with her usual dramatic flourish. She had us laughing within minutes. Ms. S admonished her little “Turkey Toes” for leaving class early. Another friend who happened to be volunteering as a Rainbow Reader in the classroom next to Rose’s came to check on us. I stepped out in the hallway to cry with her. She knew how hard this had been on our family in the past and understood what this meant to our future.
I took notes about everything that was done on the backs of the forms and envelope from my art show. My notes were a mess by the end, crumpled and tear stained,but I was thankful that we had that paper. Things happened so fast and needed to be written down. When Rose’s dad or I left to go to the restroom, the other took over the note taking. We learned to do this in the beginning. That way her parents and caregivers all stayed on the same page in terms of her treatment.
A male nurse blatantly asked me why this seizure was so upsetting to me. I started to explain that we had hoped that Rose had outgrown her childhood epilepsy. He flatly stated that epilepsy is not something that can be outgrown. A kick while you are down is never a good thing. I will always remember his name and his face.
I know this nurse was puzzled by my extreme sadness when Rose’s medical chart clearly stated she had epilepsy. This is the same hospital where she went had gone status after her tonsillectomy three years earlier. The details were all right there for her doctors and nurses to read. I am sure I was expected to be a seasoned seizure mama by this point. I am not sure there is such a thing.
Seizure Mama speaks to parents:
What was not in Rose’s charts was how much we wanted to believe epilepsy was behind us, the seizures, the drugs, the side effects, and the fear. That’s not something medical workers can read in charts. They do not see the full picture. The quick parade of patients does not allow them time for reflective thinking. I know that those handling constant emergency situations have to think quickly on their feet.
It reminds me of my years as a teacher, when I had so many children I didn’t know what to do. I was never enough at school. Then I would come home feeling too exhausted and stressed to be a wife and a mother. I respect the workers on the front lines at the hospital. But they, like teachers, cannot know all the details.
That said, no one can expect to be handled with kid gloves in the Emergency Room. We have been there many times. The medical workers gather data, assess the current situation and decide on an immediate treatment. This is “life in the fast lane.” We parents must pay attention, write everything down, and be nicely but firmly proactive.