Rose made it three years without a seizure. An EEG(electroencephalogram)was done. It was normal. She was weaned off of drug 3S during the summer. She grew taller, quicker, and smarter. We felt epilepsy was behind us. We believed the seizures were due to all those ear infections and fevers. Rose was growing and thriving. We were all relieved.
Rose started third grade without much worry. Everyone involved with her care knew her history. As a precaution, Rose’s medical information was shared with her new teacher. This young woman was very funny and enthusiastic. Rose’s classroom was near the office. Rose was happy.
We were all getting into our own grooves. Our lingering fear had loosened its hold on our family. I restarted my garden art business and began scheduling shows. My son was now in middle school leaving Rose at the elementary school without her big brother. No worries.
In mid- November, I had a two-day art show in a neighboring town about forty-five minutes from Rose’s school. Anytime I was away from Rose I wore a beeper and carried a bag phone. I can confidently say that her father and I, both at once, had not been this far from Rose since her diagnosis five years ago.
The week of the show, Rose got another ear infection. She had hoped to go to her first sleepover at a friend’s house just across the road from our home. I was preparing for the show. Everyone was busy, too busy.
We kept Rose out of school on Thursday to recuperate and rest. She seemed to feel better. Friday morning was frantic. I gave Rose some over-the-counter NSAIDs(non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug) and her antibiotics. I also sprayed her nose with a sinus spray as her ear specialist had recommended. We thought we had covered all the bases, but my gut was still screaming. This was too much at once; the two-day show, the sleepover and especially being far from Rose.
My husband and I delivered our two children to their separate schools. Then we headed to the town of the art show in separate vehicles. He was to help me unload my heavy pieces into my booth and immediately return home. As we were unloading my garden art, my beeper went off. I looked at the tiny screen. It displayed the number of Rose’s school with a 911 at the end. This was our agreed-upon signal to drop everything and run. I am so thankful we had this signal in place. I explained to the artists in the booth beside me that we had a medical emergency. They assured me that they would pile my art under the table and cover it. We jumped into our truck and my husband drove as I called the school.
Our friend in the office answered the phone. He said “It’s Rose. Get here quick.” I explained that we were headed up the interstate, but were forty minutes away. Our hazard lights were on and I was waving a white sheet of paper in the windshield. Still some people refused to pull over into the right lane. At one point we passed in the grass and lost a hubcap. The beeper kept going off. The calls kept coming: “What hospital do we take her to?” “How far away are you now?”
My one question was ”Is she still breathing?”
Seizure Mama speaks to parents:
Let’s play a different version of the terrible game we parents play, “Second Guess Yourself.” Only this time let’s change it from ‘What if I had…’ to “What if I had NOT…?”
Examining the events described above, what if I had NOT…
1. …let Rose’s teacher know that she had epilepsy.
2. …set up an alert system including beeper and phone. (This occurred before cell phones.)
3. …left an emergency bag in the office with emergency medications in it?
If I had chosen to hide Rose’s seizures to avoid the stigma, would she still be here?
Rose enjoyed her year in kindergarten. Her first grade teacher was a delightful, experienced woman. I was the volunteer Rainbow Reader for Rose’s classroom. I enjoyed my time in her room with the students. I went to her class each week and read books out loud to her class. There was always a lot to do in her classroom. The teachers in early grades were expected to assess each child individually. This meant that support was needed for those weeks as the teacher performed the one-on-one assessments with students. I was a certified teacher, so I understood this and was glad to help.
Rose was a good student and an advanced reader. I am not sure whether she was making progress during this year or succeeding due to former learning. We did notice that her hands were shaking when she tried to do certain fine motor activities. Her crayon coloring did not stay inside the lines. Her drawings were sloppier than they used to be. She also had some hearing difficulties. Her hearing was tested and accommodations were made. When some test results came home saying she had reading issues, I had her retested with the evaluator sitting on the side of her “good ear.” The second test results were improved.
Second grade got much more difficult. Because standardized state testing began in the third grade, the second grade teachers were expected to prepare their students for this upcoming year. Rose had a hard time keeping up. The math quizzes were timed. Missed problems were to be worked out and copied over at home. Missed spelling words were also sent home to study. Rose became very frustrated fast. The timer made her nervous. I was not sure she could hear the spelling words. Things were falling apart.
I did not realize how bad things had gotten until report cards came out. It wasn’t her grades that concerned me. It was her tardies. Every morning her brother and she were let out of the car at the same time. He would get to class on time, but she would be late. When I asked her about this, She explained that she stopped to get water, or peek into the library, or walk by her former classroom. In other words, she wandered around the school until the bell rang. This was not safe for her. It was also a sign of her dreading to go to her classroom.
I understood Rose’s frustration. We were struggling with all her “re-do” work at home. But as a former teacher, I knew the pressures Rose’s teacher faced in pushing her students. I remembered Rose’s neurologist warning the we may need to adjust our academic expectations. The drugs were slowing her down, but I did not want to accept this.
I was finally pushed to consult the teacher when my wise father asked me if he needed to make an appointment with Ms.C. I requested a much needed conference with Rose’s teacher. We worked together to augment Rose’s assignments to include shorter spelling lists, and more time for math quizzes. This was the first step in accepting that our academic expectations for Rose had to be altered. It was not fair to Rose to push and overwhelm her.
Seizure Mama speaks to parents:
Pay attention to everything. Is your child happy to go to school? Does he/she finish lunch? Does he/she talk about friends? What does your child do during recess?
So many times I was alerted to problems by some random comment. It is hard to catch every detail when you are busy and have other children. Pause often and try to picture what your child’s day is like. Listen for clues. I still do this when Rose calls home from college.
Rose and I started kindergarten together. The first two weeks were half days, so the teachers could make home visits in the afternoons. Our plan was for me to stay with Rose at school until her teachers came to our house for the home visit. They knew this plan and could have scheduled our home visit earlier. Rose and I were both known at the elementary school because Rose’s older brother was there. I had been involved in the Parent Teacher Association and volunteered often.
I will always remember those two weeks of constant action. Rose’s teacher and assistant were both amazingly patient and pleasant women. There was constant activity every minute of the day, even during nap time. I found it exhausting, but very entertaining. I felt really good about Rose being with these two women. I knew, despite their many responsibilities, they would take care of Rose as best they could.
The day of the home visit arrived. Rose served her teachers brownies and lemonade. We talked briefly about funny events that had occurred during the first weeks of kindergarten. Rose was happy to have her new teachers in her home.
They both sat on the couch as I demonstrated how to handle a seizure using Rose’s large stuffed cow, Lovey. I described how a seizure might start and then placed Lovey on her side. I opened Rose’s big red seizure bag that was to stay in the principal’s office. I put a rolled towel from inside it under Lovey’s head and pulled out Rose’s emergency medication and pretended to administer it to the cow.
After I finished the demonstration, I looked into the teachers’ faces and waited. Would they handle this for us? Could they do this? Were they willing to take this on? Most importantly, was I going to have to spend the year in kindergarten?
They looked at each other. Then looked back at us. Ms.J said, “We can handle this.” I couldn’t believe what I heard. Just because public school is obligated to make accommodations does not mean they gladly do it. Ms.S said they both knew how to handle seizures. One had a husband who had epilepsy, the other had seizures herself and was taking the same medication as Rose was. The principal knew all this. That’s why he put Rose in their classroom. I felt so blessed to have these two women be part of Rose’s team. What a relief and a gift. I will always be grateful to these two wonderful women.
Seizure Mama speaks to parents:
A “seizure bag” went wherever Rose went. In it were several towels, a change of clothes, wipes, paper towels, and a bottle of water. Her emergency medications came in packs of two syringes and were somewhat expensive. One was kept in the big red bag at school, the other one in my purse. These emergency drug syringes could not be left in the car. The drug could not get too hot or too cold, so the syringe stayed with me. This meant that I carried an over-sized purse for years. I rolled the sealed syringe in a bandanna scarf to protect it inside my cluttered purse and used the bandanna to cover Rose during a seizure. This is how you live with epilepsy on the go.
After the series of seizures in the hospital, drug 2D was weaned down and replaced with drug 3S. This new drug was sprinkled onto pudding or peanut butter. The new set of side effects to watch for were hair loss, increased appetite, and learning issues. Well, at least her gums were safe now!
Rose’s birthday is in October so she was either going to be older than her classmates or much younger. Since she was small and had health issues, we had chosen to keep her in preschool an extra year before starting public school. We were glad that we had done this in view of all these ear infections, drug transitions, and seizures. I wore a beeper on my belt at this point. I would drop her off at preschool and go walk at a park down the road or visit grocery store located just across the highway. I was never more than two minutes away. Rose and I were tethered together out of my fear. These Mother’s Morning Out days of preschool were our only break from each other.
Our family loved this preschool. We knew all the teachers well since Rose’s older brother had attended there a few years earlier. The one person on the staff who was not my friend at the time was the director. She was gruff and blunt. She said what she thought without any sweet Southern filter.
When Ms. B heard about Rose’s surgery and the following series of seizures, she phoned us. She informed us that the church preschool could not be responsible for handling medical emergencies. The teachers were not trained for these. Rose was a liability risk. This was hurtful to us, but I also understood it. Rose’s teachers truly loved her and if anything happened to her on their watch, they would have been devastated. By law, public schools have to accommodate students with special needs, but churches do not.
Our options were to pull Rose out of her preschool or have me stay in the building every day while she was there. We were not going to tell Rose at the tender age of five that she was not welcome back into her beloved preschool because of her seizures. Instead I simply stayed at the church every day. The staff knew that I was upstairs in an empty room near the director’s office. I was only a shout away if needed. I read books and studied. Other mothers and teachers dropped by for visits. The director came by to check on me. I began helping her out with needed tasks. Then I cataloged all the children’s books and repaired them. I even substituted when other teachers were sick.
The experience was good for all involved. Rose got to stay in school and her teachers did not need to worry because I was close by. The director and I became good friends.
When Ms. B would drop by to check on me everyday, sometimes I shared my worries. Once when I was obsessing about an upcoming event, she said, “Don’t cross the Fox until you cross the Fox.” She then went on to share that this was some advice from Abraham Lincoln. Apparently there was a Fox River. As folks traveled toward the river they worried about whether the river was up too high or moving too fast to get across. Lincoln was reminding folks to wait and “cross that bridge when you get there.”
Once Ms. B caught me crying. I was overwhelmed by all the hoops we were having to jump through to get help for Rose. She looked into my eyes and asked, “How do you eat an elephant?”and then answered, “One mouthful at a time.”
Seizure Mama speaks to parents:
Forcing the responsibility for your child’s safety onto others is not fair to them or to your child. If your child’s seizures can be dangerous or even life-threatening, you want a willing and competent person in charge of his/her care. You must be an advocate and an assistant. People fear what they do not understand. You must educate the people around your child about epilepsy. Yes, there is a stigma. There will be some shunning. But if you confidently share information with others, there will be no surprise,or public revelation to dread. We were always open about Rose’s epilepsy. This is so much better that trying to guard it like a secret. Be brave and honest. Would you hide your child’s asthma or diabetes? Of course not. Then do not hide this condition. There should be no shame. If your child senses your shame, he/she will feel ashamed of it,too. Do not hand them a handicap.