Follow-up to last post…Revelations

I did not want to leave you hanging with the term “Charlie Foxtrot.”

Story 52: Revelations

My sister and I rushed into the Emergency Room to find our parents. We located them in one of the cramped curtained cubicles. My parents’ young neighbor had awaited our arrival. We thanked her as she slipped out. My mom was in the bed, and my dad was in the only chair. We did not share the fact that Rose’s graduation was followed by a seizure in the parking lot. We were all focused on what the doctor was saying about Mama when the ruckus started on the outside of the curtain.
The first sounds were from a woman who was clearly miserable. She was loudly complaining about getting no help for her problems while a female doctor was calmly explaining why help had been delayed. This conversation grew louder until the patient was screaming about pain and needing to pee. I sent up a prayer for this poor soul. Apparently her physician had not authorized the medications needed to calm her suffering. I peeked out of the curtain to see her stumbling to the restroom carrying a specimen cup.
That’s when I saw the policemen, a swarm of blue right outside my mama’s curtain. I knew we were in a big city, but did we need this much security? As I was pondering my question, I heard the saddest sound I have ever heard. It was a long, soulful howl from a person around the corner and out of my view. The hair on the back of my neck stood up. My heart felt heavy in my chest. What was wrong with this person? Then there was a scream and a crash. The blue swarm encircled the source of the sounds.It was a young man in ragged clothes with matted hair. One of the officers was talking calmly to him, almost cooing to him like one calming a scared, wild animal. The other officers’ faces showed concern for the desperate man. They were letting him release his anguish while forming a barrier between him and the rest of the people in the Emergency Room. I stood behind my daddy’s chair with my arms wrapped around him. Only a curtain stood between us and this sad situation. I was fervently praying with tears rolling down my face. I was not afraid. I was not praying for my mama. I was not praying for my Rose. I was praying for this stranger who was at the end of his rope, broken and alone.
Those officers were heroes with heart. They formed a barrier between us and this chaos with compassion. When you are looking for angels in the world, you may not see their halos and wings. Instead, they may be wearing badges and uniforms.
So Seizure Mama’s pity party was abruptly ended by a look at real suffering. Once again, I was shown how lucky I was. I am a slow learner, but I eventually figure it out.

Seizure Mama speaks to parents:

A complete stranger crashed one of my pity parties again. It had happened before in our favorite hospital as I was riding down the elevator with a mother who was taking her child to hospice, while I got to take Rose home. It has happened over and over again, but I keep forgetting these life lessons. That we are blessed with family and friends, insurance, and health care. The biggest blessing of all is that Rose has developed fierceness and strength. She will endure. This I know.

 

Wonderful Day: Terrible Night

This happened three years ago this week. Unfortunately, every bit is true.

Rose says it was the beginning of bad times for our family, but I know better. There were many unfortunate incidences before this. We just shielded our Rose from the trauma. This was actually when I began to realize I was not in charge. That has been a great comfort.

This story is near the end of our book. I consider the chapters that follow to be the best I have written. I guess I had to get really low for everything to come together in a Revelation. (Next story)

Story 51:  Two Down One Night

The day of college graduation finally arrived. Rose was super excited. She led the procession of over four hundred graduates. She looked glowing in her cap and gown with gold tassels and sash. She had worked hard for this day for six years. She had taken classes at the community college part-time and worked at a restaurant just down the street. This ceremony was a victory for all of us.
We arrived early so we could save the entire front row for family and friends. I was there with my camera to get photos of Rose and her fellow students as they strolled past. I knew hundreds of these students from either teaching at the middle school or at the college. It was like a reunion for me. What a wonderful night for our family. My parents could not attend due to mobility issues, but my sister was there, along with Rose’s dad, his sister and her husband, Rose’s- two cousins, and her brother. Rose’s other set of grandparents made it to the ceremony. It was a big event for the whole family, one we thought we may never witness. But here we were watching our Rose, smiling brightly as she led the line of graduates to their seats. She looked so happy and beautiful.
The ceremony was really long, but I enjoyed watching many of my former students parading across the stage. I felt like I was graduating, too. In a way I was. I would no longer be driving here every day and spending hours in the library, the science building, and the parking lots. Our time here was officially ending. Rose had a plan of what to do next, but I did not.
The ceremony ended. There were more photos and many hugs. As we were all parting ways, my sister’s phone rang. Our parents’ neighbor called to tell us that our mother had fallen down some steps backwards. She was being transported by ambulance to a hospital. The neighbor was driving my dad to the Emergency Room. The hospital they were going to was over an hour’s drive from where we were. We decided not to share the news with Rose. We wanted her to have this special night without the worry.
My sister and I raced to her car. We drove to my house to pack a few things before heading to the hospital. As I was rushing around my room throwing clothes in a bag, my cell phone rang. The man on the line stated that he was with the Emergency Medical Services. He told me my daughter had fallen and gotten injured. “No,” I said. “My mother has fallen. We are on our way to the hospital now.” “No ma’am,” he replied. “Your daughter has had a seizure and gotten hurt.” I collapsed on the bed screaming. My sister rushed into the room. I told the man to call my husband’s phone. I gave him the number. I hung up my phone only to hear another one start ringing in the other room. My husband had left his cell phone at home on the charger. My phone rang again. It was Rose’s friend Carol trying to find anyone in Rose’s family. I gave her Rose’s brother’s number. She called back minutes later to tell me Rose was fine now. I was hysterical. Lightning might as well have struck me. God PLEASE, I am not this strong! Two people I loved needed me and I was apart from them both. There was nothing that I could do. Helpless and hysterical! The combo from hell!
My son called the house phone soon after. He and his dad had run back up the street to the college to be with Rose. Her dad got on the phone and told me to head on to the hospital to take care of my mama. My sister drove that hour as I rode in silence, wondering why life can’t just come at you in single file instead of a damn Charlie Foxtrot.

Seizure Mama speaks to parents:

Yes, I was mad. I felt like God had pushed my mama down those steps while I was busy at Rose’s graduation. Then he lured me into a car with my sister and threw Rose down in the parking lot the minute my back was turned. My status as superhero had been sabotaged!

I was about to get another lesson about my not being in charge. I don’t know where I got the idea that I was a super-hero, but that role kept getting snatched away from me. Instead I would get stuck being a helpless observer, on the sidelines watching life go on with no help from me. My mama had fallen down. I wasn’t there to save her. My Rose had just had a seizure. I wasn’t there to help her either. How dare God take the wheel of my car? Who did he think he was dealing with?

Does this sound like the rant of a grown woman? How about a crazy woman? Let the anger out. Then take a deep breath and do what’s within your power. No superpowers available, just you doing your best for your child.

 

 

Handling the Hyper-emotional Events

Whenever something bad happens, we dread how Rose will respond.

We wonder whether she will explode or implode.

There is no moderate middle ground emotionally.

Rose has to be made aware of sad events slowly and gently.

It’s like we must postpone our own sorrow and grief to navigate hers.

I am not sure why this is.

I know hyper-emotional reactions is part of TLE(temporal lobe epilepsy), but we never found her seizure source.

Is it her medications? The proneness toward depression? The smallness of her world making everything bigger?

I do not know the cause.

I only know that a big wave is coming.

I hope I can save my Rose and myself.

Mercy!

Flower

 

 

 

 

We Will Need You

I have been reading another insightful memoir written by a person with epilepsy.

Each one I read brings back memories of our struggles.

Each also reminds me that this is not over for us.

Epilepsy rarely vanishes.

It does, however, hide for long periods.

Rose does not want to know this.

Neither do I.

So we are living like it is gone while we can.

But when it returns,

we will need you.

It will be hard trying to fit our big lives

back into the confined space of seizures.

While she was home for fall break, she dropped her shampoo in the shower.

It was her habit to say something to let me know she was okay.

She did not say anything. I made myself stay in my bed and listen.

Fear is never far away.

Oh, yes!

We will need you.

(I almost entitled this “She Will Need You”)

We are still tethered together.

Mother and daughter.

Epilepsy and fear.

 

Kind Kids

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.

Toxic with a Timer

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.

Safety During a Seizure Cycle

IMG_9476Story #22 (Most of  2002)

The drug roulette regimen made everything worse. Rose was not herself before a seizure nor after a seizure. She was lethargic, floppy, and dopey. She moved from her bed, to a chair, to another chair, and back to her bed. The seizures came with us wherever we went. She seized in restaurants, at birthday parties, at Brownies, in the yard, watching television, in a big box store while shopping for a helmet, at a family reunion, in a funeral home and even in swimming pools.
We took a plastic Adirondak chair with us on outings. The chair reclined slightly, so she could seize in it without falling out. For us every party was BYOC(bring your own chair), and of course the seizure bag went with us everywhere. We evaluated the risks of each outing. Should we go eat at this restaurant? No, it would be too hard to carry her out through the gift shop. She we go to a ballgame? No, seizures in bleachers are too dangerous. Should we go? No. Eventually, we stayed home waiting for the next seizure. I really wanted to buy a little wheelchair, so we could go places, but was advised against it by other family members. “Rose would look handicapped and feel handicapped.”  Yes, but she would be safe.
We walked everywhere linked arm in arm with her. A fall could come at any second. We went up and down our stairs as a unit so she would not fall. We called this method ‘stair pairs.’ To go down Rose would put her left hand on the person in front’s shoulder and her right hand on the handrail. The front person would put their left hand on hers and also hold the rail with their right hand. Going up would be reversed with her escort behind her. Rose would announce when she wanted to go up or down and someone would stop what they were doing and escort her. We made it a point to not say no to her requests to use the stairs. There was so much she could not do at this point; at least she could be free to move about in her own house.
When no one was in a room with Rose, her father, brother or I would whistle two notes and she knew to echo the two notes back. We whistled instead of calling her name so she knew we were just checking on her instead of needing her to come to us. We whistled to her about every three minutes. It got to be so much of a habit that I would catch myself whistling notes when Rose was not with me. She slept with me during these terrible months. Sometimes she would whistle in her sleep.

We referred to this technique as “echo whistling.” If she did not repeat our two notes we would call her name. If she did not answer, we would rush to find her. Sometimes she was just too busy to answer, but a few times we would find her unconscious, leaving me feeling feel guilty about leaving her alone. Negligent for three minutes. Shame on Seizure Mama!

Take a chair, echo whistling, stair pairs. This is how we kept her safe as the seizures took over our lives.

Seizure Mama speaks to parents:

You need to devise methods like ‘echo whistling’ and ‘stair pairs’ as part of your everyday routine to keep your child safe. We used two notes for ‘echo whistling’ because Rose had complex partial epilepsy and could do repetitive automations, even at the onset of a seizure. She could probably whistle during these periods, but could not echo the two notes from someone else.

That Last Day

On the last day that Rose was home we went swimming in the lake.

We took a long boat ride upriver.

We grilled barbecued ribs and onions.

We tried to fit a whole summer into that last day.

We wanted her to remember home and fun and love

while she was away from us at school.

I am missing my Rose today, but I am super proud of her.

Someday she will be trained to help others during disasters.

She knows all about fear and emergencies.

Who better to be on the front lines than my Rose?

Seizure Mama

The Emergency Delivery

Story 16:

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

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.

Damn elephant!

Seizure Mama