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)

 

Story # 18: Drug Changes Change Rose

Things fell apart. Drug 4L had been added to drug 3S after the seizures during the holidays. At first drug 4L made Rose mean. Getting her schoolwork done was a battle. Either she would not or could not concentrate. Were these changes due to the new drug, the new home bound situation, or the seizures? Her ear infections continued, so antibiotics were frequently in the mix.
We kept records of all her drug dosages and combinations, along with seizure descriptions on a chart. We couldn’t keep all of it straight unless we wrote it down. The months were a blur of seizures, side effects and sickness. I read books about epilepsy and researched epilepsy drugs and treatments. It was all so confusing. How could we help our Rose if we did not understand this disorder and the effects of its medications? I felt helpless and hopeless. Rose was changing as her drugs changed.
Appointments with the neurologist became very frustrating. The partner of the practice had left, so our doctor was handling a double load of patients. We used to feel like there was a set plan for Rose’s treatment; now it seemed like one long experiment. The doses for drug 4L kept increasing and we saw nothing but side effects. Her seizures became longer and stronger. We must have missed the window of effectiveness for drug 4L.       Finally it was dropped and drug 5Z was added to her doses of 3S. Experimenting with the wrong drugs and dosages went on for months. Every few days, Rose would have a long, strong seizure. She would spend a day or two recovering before another seizure knocked her back down. I did not leave her anymore. I was too scared.
Sometimes on the weekends when Rose’s dad was home, Rose’s brother would ride the trails through the woods around our house. I would go with him carrying my camera and a walkie talkie. If a seizure occurred, her dad could call me to come back. I would hike through the woods and allow myself to cry. This was the only time I would leave the house. I walked the paths in our woods relieved to be out of our sad house where the walls kept closing in.
I never let Rose see me cry. We did not want her to see us saddened or scared. We were losing her. Her essence was disappearing. She was a groggy, foggy, tired mess. The drugs were not helping anything. The seizures were wearing her down and the drugs were ruining the time in between them.

Seizure Mama speaks to parents:

I am ashamed to look at the records from these terrible months. Why did we not get a second opinion sooner? Why did we not demand to go to an EMU? The awful reason was that we thought going to the EMU was a big step toward surgery. I had read about the different surgeries that were used to stop seizures. I wanted to give every drug a full chance to work. When I look back at her charts of medication combinations now, I am horrified.
Drug changes were being made frequently and almost in a random fashion. I think the neurologist was on overload and was pushed to try things because of my constant calls and letters. She was seemingly experimenting with various possible remedies.
It took the terrible scare of Rose going toxic for us to decide that enough was enough and seek a second opinion from a different neurologist in a different city. That was a turning point for us. Don’t wait that long.

Time Travel

I have an unwanted ability to time travel.

Sometimes I get jerked out of the present

and return to a scene from the past

that I did not want to be in the first time.

Feeling the same fear over and over again.

I want to learn a new trick with this magic.

I want to travel forward into the future

and come back and tell my scarred, scared self

that everything is going to be all right.

Until then I will hang on to hope.

Seizure Mama

Fear Says No

Rose called to ask if she could go on a trip with friends.

My fear wanted to say “No.”

My mind was thinking: it is too far away, it is a strange place, I do not know these friends…

I kept my lips silent.

I will not share my fears with Rose. She fights her own fears.

We must be brave, Rose and I.

Caution is smart, fear is stupid.

Caution says maybe, but fear says no.

Rose has heard enough “No’s.”

I will not let fear speak for us.

I will not say no.

I will let Rose go

on her first trip with friends at age 26

to a new place far away from her mama.

It is time.

Rose is ready.

 

Seizure Mama