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.
We will need you.
(I almost entitled this “She Will Need You”)
We are still tethered together.
Mother and daughter.
Epilepsy and fear.
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.
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.
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.
A pregnant woman eats for two.
That is important, but not as complicated as remembering for three.
I spent the last four days with my family.
This included my daughter, Rose, and my mother.
We can be called forgetting, forgetful and forgotten.
My mother is 87. She is forgetting the present. Her past is perfect.
I am 52 again. I am very distracted by life. I am forgetful.
Rose has spent most of her life on anti-seizure medications.
Most of those drugs did not stop her seizures, but did stop her memory.
Much of her childhood is forgotten..or remembered incorrectly.
It is hard to be me…remembering for three.
But we have each other right now. We have now.
That is worth remembering.
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.