Story #35: Stop the Music

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.

Our Portrait Without Her

It has stayed in its envelope.

We move it about.

“Put is somewhere.” he says, “It will get bent.”

It is our church directory portrait without Rose.

She was away at the university.

We three went to pose for our family portrait.

But our family has four.

It is a photo of my worst fear.

The three of us with no Rose.

This photo is lovely,

but it will never find a frame.

 

Flower

 

Story #34: Down in the Band Room

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.

Story #33: Bike Wreck in South Dakota

Our family took a three-week trip across the country to the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone National Park. Our son was in high school and Rose was in middle school. It was the perfect time to take such a trip. Our children were mature enough to handle the long hours on the road. I will always remember things about this trip that shaped our future. It really was a defining time for our family. There were obstacles. We handled them as a family.
We drove our truck and tent-camped most of the time. When we arrived at our first camping spot, Flagg Ranch, we got out of the truck to see the most vivid double rainbow I have ever seen. We thought we had lucked in to the perfect campsite. We had two tents, one for sleeping and the other for all our supplies. We did not enjoy a restful time here, however. First, it was hard to sleep due to a park ranger’s loud truck circling the campground all night on bear patrol. When a rain storm came during the second night, we realized that our prime site was a gully. Both tents filled up with water. We were forced to move camp in the dark during the rain. We spent most of the night in the laundry building drying our sleeping bags. Other campers doing late-night laundry let us use up the remaining time on their dryers. This was on my birthday. It was amazing. We were an invincible team.
We moved around quite a bit during this three-week-long trip. I kept hauling an especially heavy bag of Rose’s in and out of the truck. Finally, I asked her what was in there. “ My shoes” she replied. “ How many pairs of shoes did you bring?” I asked. “ seven” she said. “ Why on earth did you bring seven pairs of shoes?” I asked. Her response was “ You told me to.” While she was packing for the trip she asked how many pairs of shoes she should take, I replied “ several,” but Rose heard “ seven.” This was one of those times when we suspected that a hearing aid was in her future.
Our family toured around Yellowstone, the Grand Tetons, the Badlands and Devil’s Tower. The only health issue Rose had for most of the trip was hiccups. The hiccup spells would last for long periods of time. It was a side effect of one of her medications. Epilepsy did not show up until we got to South Dakota. We camped at Custer State Park after visiting Mount Rushmore. It was a lovely place, but nowhere near a hospital, or anything else.
Rose and her brother were riding bikes around the campground while my husband and I fixed supper. We saw our son speeding toward us alone and knew that Rose had just had a seizure.
(Pause here. We are in South Dakota, near nothing, letting our daughter with epilepsy ride her bike. Were we crazy? Were we foolhardy, negligent, stupid?  No. We were living our lives. Epilepsy is like a terrorist waiting to attack. You can’t hide from it. It will come when it comes. We refused to keep sitting around waiting for the next seizure. Been there, done that.)

We jumped in the truck and drove to Rose. We hauled her and her bike back to camp. We waited for her to come to. We were concerned about broken bones. She was wearing a helmet, so probably no concussion. She had gravel in her knees. I was scared to do anything until she regained consciousness.
When she came to, we assessed the damages. No broken bones. Then it was time to deal with those knees. This part of the story always gets Rose a little mad. We had to carefully pick gravel out of her knees and bandage them. It was a painful process. She was upset with us that we had not taken care of this task while she was unconscious.

Seizure Mama speaks to parents:

We could have stayed home and waited for the next seizure. We could have forbidden Rose to ride her bike. She could have sat around the campsite watching her brother whiz past. But this is our life. Our family needed adventure and joy. We were going to live our lives to the fullest despite our fears. In those three weeks of wonder, we had one seizure and a lot of hiccups. That could have happened at home, but instead we got to see a spectacular double rainbow, Old Faithful, Mount Rushmore, a grizzly bear, and thousands of bison.
Get out there. Pack this damn epilepsy and go. But leave those seven pairs of shoes at home.

Fixing Zero

I check our stats at least once each day. I take a deep breath before I click.

I do not want to see a zero. I have worked too hard for a zero.

Zero means no one sees it. Zero means no one has been helped.

I hate ZERO!

So every time there is a zero, I go phishing.

I type in “seizures” or “epilepsy” and search for a place to drop our link.

How does this work?  It doesn’t.

You see I do not want other bloggers to feel the way I feel when I have a zero.

So I go and read their blogs and make comments.

That makes me feel like I have done something.

I may still have a zero, but I do not feel like a zero.

Seizure Mama

 

Story #28: The Epilepsy Monitoring Unit

It was past time to put all the cards on the table. We needed answers about where these seizures were coming from, why they were occurring, and what triggers were unleashing them in Rose’s brain. It seemed we had been trying to put together a puzzle without looking at the picture on the box. Would a stay at an EMU finally reveal the whole picture? Could we handle the whole picture when we got it?
Would this epilepsy monitoring unit give us the answers we needed? Would the electrodes finally locate the source of these electrical storms inside Rose’s brain? I felt like these hundreds of seizures were clearing pathways through Rose’s brain, so that the seizures could go farther and faster, like there was some kind of cumulative effect.
I was truly afraid of weaning her off her medications. Would these seizures be allowed to run unhindered through her young brain, or were they doing that all ready? All we knew was we were in the right place to get answers. We had faith in this hospital and its doctors and nurses. That in itself was a great comfort to us, even to Rose. We needed expert help and now we were closer to getting it. Risks or not, this was no life for Rose. She needed fun instead of fear.
The technicians that glued the electrodes to her head treated it like a spa treatment. Rose emerged with a lovely, long ponytail of colorful wires. She felt pleased and pampered. A gauze cap had to be wrapped over her head to keep the electrodes in place when she lay down. No matter, her flowing ponytail was a hit. The other end of the electrodes were hooked to a box in a pack that she wore allowing her mobility.
During our week-long stay, Rose had six seizures. It took four days of weaning down on her medications to get them started. Those last days were scary. Once the data was collected, some medications were returned, but on low dosages. I knew these dosages were too low. I showed one of the doctors our chart which showed that Rose had experienced a long and strong seizure on the same particular mix and dosages that Rose was leaving on. The dosages stayed low so a long seizure followed shortly after we arrived home. Emergency medications were used. A call was made back to the EMU, dosages were then raised.
I am a doctor’s nemesis. I am the mom with the clipboard and pen. Once during our EMU stay, a senior doctor came into Rose’s room with a group of medical students. I rose from my chair as they entered, clipboard and pen in hand. “Oh no!” slipped from the doctor’s lips as he saw me. I stood in the circle with the young doctors as they discussed Rose’s case. Mama and the medical students formed a circle around her bed, all of us trying to learn;  they to save the world, me to save my daughter.

Seizure Mama speaks to parents:

Weaning off medications is a scary necessity in the Epilepsy Monitoring Unit process. Without the medications masking the brain’s electrical activity the electrodes can detect what is happening. In the Phase I process the electrodes are glued to the outside of the skull. These sensors show the brain’s activity as squiggly lines on an EEG. These external electrodes cannot detect activity deep in the brain. This Phase I process lets your team see what is going on in the brain as the patient is doing different activities, including sleeping. Do not be afraid of the electrodes and glue. The glue does wash out eventually. You may need to use an oily substance, like mayonnaise, to remove it.
Do not expect answers right away. The team must meet together and discuss the results before considering the next course of action. This may take weeks. Be patient. Take comfort that more trained professionals are trying to help your child.

Dear Epilepsy

You have done it again. Shown up and ruined another event for Rose.

She is really upset with you. She said she wants you to leave and never come back.

Rose has been patient and understanding so far, but enough is enough.

It was her first volleyball game of the season. Must you crash it?

Her father and I feel it’s time we get involved.

So here it is Epilepsy. You have hurt Rose enough.

You are not welcome in her life, you never were.

She is ready to move on and you are still hanging around.

She has plans that do not include you.

She’s going to Florida with her friends this summer. You will not be going.

She wants to return to her last job in June. You stay away from there, too.

She hopes to get married someday. You are not invited to the ceremony nor the honeymoon.

If she has children, we don’t want you anywhere near her during the pregnancy.

Do not show up after the birth either.

We do not want to be mean and say that we hate you,

but you have taken enough from Rose and from us.

We have things to do that do not include you

so we would appreciate it if you would disappear right now, today.

You do not deserve another minute of Rose’s time.

Sincerely and seriously,

Rose’s Mama (Formerly known as Seizure Mama)