I want to send a message straight from my “mama heart” to yours.
It’s about knowing what you can do and what you cannot do.
There are better tests, treatments and therapies now. Keep searching for the right ones.
Everyone’s epilepsy is different. You have access to more information and support.
You cannot do everything. You cannot fix everything. You cannot be everything.
Guilt is toxic. Depression is damaging. Exhaustion is depleting.
Trust yourself to do your best. That is all you can do.
Be kind to your frazzled self.
Look for tiny bits of joy everywhere.
Pause to ponder and wonder.
Protect yourself and rest.
Your fragile child needs you.
Take care of you, too.
I know your pain.
A tether is a connection of a mobile thing to an immobile thing
to limit the movement of the movable part of the pair.
The irony of this description is not lost on me.
Rose was prevented from flying away and I was immobile.
I am the heavy, the anchor, the immovable.
Who wants a heavy, immovable mother?
Who wants to be heavy and immovable?
Maybe I have been looking at this the wrong way.
I want to move, too. I want to fly, too.
I am still stationary long after my Rose bird has flown.
I am still here holding down an empty fort.
I am still here.
Still tethered by fear and habit and age.
I need to rise up. I need to look up.
I need to be free from the hanging, empty tether.
Free to be me.
Story 26 (September 2002)
After the toxicity scare, we no longer had confidence in neurologist #1. The doctor’s responses to our questions seemed short and unfocused. The drug and dose changes that she recommended seemed random. Our chart of drug changes was full of changes in dosages and seizures.
We asked for a second opinion. This first neurologist sent a letter of introduction for Rose to another neurologist in a different city. The letter described Rose’s condition and drug trials and requested a second look at Rose’s possible treatments for the future. I bet neurologist #1 was happy to pass hot-potato Rose off for some re-enforcements. I appreciated that a second specialist was going to have input into Rose’s care.
Our first visit with neurologist #2 took hours. He was very thorough and reassuring. He wanted to nail down the type and source of these seizures. He felt that Rose had been prescribed too many drugs on too small doses to rule them out as an effective treatment. He wanted Rose in an Epilepsy Monitoring Unit(EMU) to get a video-EEG. He said he felt we had been yawing around the pond of treatment choices.
This was a relief for us. We felt the same way. I was like Rose had been part of a badly designed experiment with too many variables. We were now going to get some hard data we could use to get better results. We finally felt hopeful.
We felt like this doctor heard what we were saying and understood what we were feeling. We didn’t just want to try something new. We wanted what we did next to be the right choice, not just a random change. We needed all the cards to be put on the table. It was time. Rose needed to learn and grow, not fall and fail.
Seizure Mama speaks to parents:
No one doctor knows everything. Each has his/her own training and experiences. It is always good to get a second opinion. Do not be afraid to ask for one. It may be just what you need to get a better result. Your current, struggling physician may appreciate your nicely worded, respectful request.
Do not, however, bounce from one specialist to the next in hopes of finding a quick fix. Patience is needed when trying out drugs and doctors. Do not secretly sneak around because each physician needs to see all your child’s records to make informed decisions and avoid repeating failed treatments.
I would also advise getting a second opinion for any surgical procedure. Even though installing a VNS(vagus nerve stimulator) may be a simple procedure, the device is permanent. You are making decisions for your child. Do it carefully and wisely. Get as much input as is reasonable.
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 # 20:
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 homebound 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.
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?