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?
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.
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.
We thought we were done…but we were wrong.
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. Anytime I was away from her I wore a beeper and carried a bag phone.
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 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?
My hobby gives me so much joy. It comes naturally to me. It’s easy. It’s fun.
It is gardening.
I have chlorophyll in my blood. I come from a long line of plant people.
I love gardening and I love blogging about my garden.
My mission, on the other hand, is hard. It causes me sorrow.
Twenty-four years of taking care of Rose while waiting for the next seizure or side effect was difficult.
Remembering these experiences is painful.
Writing about these struggles sends me back in the trenches.
Why do I do it?
Because I know how it feels to fight a losing battle; day after day after day…
I know how it is to feel unlucky, cursed and damned.
I can’t stand thinking that other mothers are doing it alone.
So I will stay the course.
Sending out a beam of light to a mama in her darkness.
Hang on Sister! Flower is here.
Seizure Mama/Flower Roberts
Story #3: The Big One
Seizure number thirteen was different. Rose was four years and three months old. Her first febrile seizure had occurred when she was eighteen months old. All her seizures thus far had been accompanied with illness and fever. This one was different. There was no fever. There was no illness.
Rose was eating a brownie while sitting at her place at the table. Her eight-year- old brother commented that her mouth was too full. I looked over to see Rose holding a napkin in front of her face. I pulled it down to see chocolate drool leaking from the side of her mouth. Her chin was quivering. I leaned Rose over to the side to remove the chewed up brownie from her mouth. By now her eyes were blinking. I carried her to the nearby couch and placed her on her side. She tried to sit back up and pointed to the bathroom. I carried her there thinking she might need to vomit. Her arms went out stiff with her hands bent down at the wrists. I instead of entering the bathroom, I turned and carried her to my bedroom. The room with the phone. This was not the usual seizure.
I dialed her pediatrician’s number and got his partner who was on call. I described what was happening to Rose. By this time her knees were bent up and her lips were blue. The doctor said if the seizure kept progressing, she may stop breathing. Her torso was now tense and writhing. She was in a twisting knot and turning blue.
When the doctor instructed me to call an ambulance.I remember responding, “They can’t find us.” His emphatic reply was, “Get her to a hospital.” I hung up the phone and picked up my blue, baby girl. I carried her up the steps to the carport. As I strapped her into her seat, she vomited explosively. Then she slumped over and became still. I thought she had aspirated vomit and couldn’t breathe. I unbuckled her seatbelt and dragged her limp body across my thighs and beat on her back. Nothing happened.
We had a bag phone back then. I got it out, unzipped it and instructed her brother to hold it as high as possible to get better reception. I dialed 911. What was my emergency? Where was I? How old was the patient? There were too many questions. I had to describe where our driveway was because there was no street sign. I had to tell how to open our locked gate to get into the driveway. In the country, out in the woods, no address, no neighbors. I was talking in words, but my mind was praying, “Give her back. Give her back.”
Finally, the 911 operator began telling me how to help Rose. She was still and blue. “Put her on the floor of the van,” the dispatcher said. “Lay her flat on her back,” he instructed. “Start CPR,” he ordered. As I was getting ready to follow more instructions, Rose took a deep breath. I was relieved to see the blue in her face fading. Now my prayer was, “Let her be whole.”
I finally took my eyes off her to notice it was raining. I looked at her brother standing as tall as he possibly could, holding the heavy bag phone over his head and shaking.
Then I heard a car approaching. There had been no siren. It was a friend from church who was an EMT First Responder. As I started babbling about what had happened he calmly said,”Go change your clothes. I’ll watch her.” I noticed that I was covered in vomit. I was so relieved to have some help. I rushed back into the house to change my clothes and returned just as the ambulance and Rose’s father arrived.
Seizure Mama speaks to parents:
This event was an actualization of many recurring nightmares.
1. An emergency alone. No one to help me in my isolated location.
2. One of my children dying in my arms. My not knowing how to save my own baby.
3. Calling 911 and having no one answer. Or the answerer did not understand what I needed, where I was, etc.
Yes, this event was a cluster of calamities from my darkest dreams. I will never forget that helpless and hopeless feeling.
Yet I also remember my great relief when I saw Rose’s big breath,the familiar face of a friend coming to the rescue, and my pure relief and gratitude when I was no longer alone.
This was the big-bang-beginning of our journey.
The enemy finally had a name: Epilepsy.
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.
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.
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.
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.