A Childhood In The Clouds

I wonder how my son is going to remember his childhood. Sometimes, I wonder if he is going to remember it.

My son and I watched a Philadelphia Eagles game and we saw a player that my son had met at the hospital. I asked if he remembered meeting him and he said that he didn’t. We met the player almost two years, so at first, I chalked it up to my son being too young to remember. But he was also in the hospital because he was having more seizures and because we needed to adjust his medication.

Like other medicines, epilepsy medications have a long list of side effects. But medicine that controls seizures targets the source of those seizures, the brain. As a result, the side effects show up in those areas that the brain controls, which is everywhere. We have sees these side effects alter his mood and behavior and impact his motor control. As he gets older, we’re also seeing how much they affect his ability to learn and his memory. Those side effects were likely there all along, hidden beneath the surface. But now that those skills are being tested, the latent effects are being revealed.

We’ve passed the three year mark of my son taking medicine for his seizures. Three years of my son’s brain in a constant fog. Three years of struggling to form solid shapes around thoughts and ideas. Three years of a childhood spent in the clouds.

Three years of exerting all his energy to focus on one task at a time. Three years of that focus sapping all his energy. Three years of wondering if there is enough energy or will left inside of him to enjoy an experience.

The more we explore, the more gaps we find. Milestone events never happened. People erased from existence. It’s impossible to tell whether the failure is storing the memory or recalling it. The result is the same, though. A void where a childhood should be.

My wife and I repeat stories of our adventures to him, and we show him the albums of pictures we’ve taken. I’m hoping by continuing to expose him to those memories that he will have something to remember. I don’t know if it will be because we’re unlocking old memories or creating new ones through our stories. I’m hoping his brain doesn’t know the difference. I’m hoping that when he looks back on this time in his life, he’ll have something to find.

Windows, Light and Hope

The last few months have been all about change. After a long search, I found and started a new job. We sold the house that we lived in when my son was born back in Colorado. And next month, we’re leaving the apartment we landed in when we moved to Philadelphia.

This is the apartment we lived in when my son’s seizures and side effects were at their worst. The couch by the front window is where we held him for hours during his mood and behavior. I would sit on this couch and stare out the window at the street as he spat, and hit, and screamed terrible things. I would watch the people walk by, normal families with normal lives doing normal things. I wondered if that would ever be us again.

I felt like the world was watching us from the other side of that window, too. We were in full view of the passersby who could see how ill-equipped and unprepared we were for what was in front of us. They saw us sitting on the couch reacting out of fear and desperation. They saw every mistake my wife and I made dealing with our son and with each other.

The way our apartment is laid out, the window by the couch is the only source of natural light. In an otherwise dark apartment during a very dark time, there was no other place to go. So we sat in view of the world outside so that we could see it and let in whatever light we could. We traded agony and exposure for light.

But sitting on that couch and in that light also gave us hope. No matter how dark our apartment and our life got, we could see that there was more. As our son fought against us, we could close our eyes and feel the light on our face and hope.

After a seemingly endless struggle, hope won out. Our son came back to us. He was weathered, as we all were, and different, and stunted in some ways, but he was our boy. Instead of holding my son on that couch to protect him, he would sit next to me reading or playing on his tablet. Instead of me staring at the people walking by with envy or feeling judged by them, I felt like we could join them.

Eventually, we did join them. And now, we’re taking the next step in our journey. We’re not moving to a new place with a blank slate. Our son still has seizures. He still suffers from the side effects of his medicine and the damage that they and his seizures did. We’re bringing our scars with us. But we’re bringing his progress, too. We’re bringing the lessons we learned and the closeness we feel from having survived it. And we’re moving into a place that is full of windows, and light, and hope.

To CBD Or Not To CBD

There is no shortage in the news of sensational headlines highlighting the miracles of CBD and medical marijuana as a treatment for epilepsy.

The articles write about children who tried any number of medications that failed to control their hundreds of seizures a day but were all but cured by CBD.

After two years of uncontrolled seizures, we were so desperate for something that could help our son so we brought CBD up with our doctors. At the time, it was illegal in Pennsylvania and our doctors weren’t comfortable talking about it because they had no experience with it. We were unable to get into the CBD trial happening at our hospital so we discussed moving back to Colorado. Our doctors said there was only limited testing on the drug and that it was focused on specific syndromes associated with epilepsy. There was little research on its long-term effects or its interactions with the antiepileptic medications. Another concern we shared with the doctors was the inconsistent quality coming out of many CBD providers. At the time, we made the decision to not try CBD because it wasn’t worth the risk of introducing a drug with so many unknowns.  We had seen what a bad reaction to a medicine looks like for our son and we weren’t willing to risk the progress that we had made.

My son was still having seizures every day so we started to make plans for a VNS surgery. I struggled for weeks with the decision and, even after it was made, I agonized over the thought of surgery for my son. Then, in April of 2016, medical marijuana was legalized in Pennsylvania. We again brought up CBD as something to try before we pursued the surgery and we were referred to doctors in Colorado. The waiting list to get an appointment was so long. Even after a trip to Colorado, we were not able to get an appointment. We spoke to one of the doctors from our neurology department that was familiar with CBD and decided to give it a try.

When the bottle of oil arrived, I tried to temper my expectations. We’ve tried and been disappointed by too many medications already and, regardless of the press clippings, I knew that, for every sensational success story, there were countless stories with less than miraculous results. It may not work at all, or my son may have a negative reaction, as he has had from many other treatments.

The dosing to introduce CBD is slow and we were told it could take months before we saw the full effects. As the parent of a child with epilepsy, I’m no stranger to hearing about patience. That practice doesn’t make it any easier, especially watching my son continue to have seizures. But we started the treatment with a hopeful, open mind and as much patience as we could muster.

After a few weeks, we were up to a functional dose but we didn’t notice any difference in my son’s seizure burden. We increased the dosage again and continued to wait. By the third month, we did see a slight decrease in seizures but nothing like the stories in the news and nothing we could directly attribute to the CBD. With the advice of our doctors, we decided to stay at the dose we were on and adjusted one of my son’s other medications. The result was our first few small stretches of seizure-free days.

I was grateful for those days but I was also disappointed. I had hoped that the CBD would be the miracle drug we were looking for. I hoped it would stop his seizures and that we could get off the other medicine and the ketogenic diet. So far, we haven’t been able to reduce any other medications. Ultimately, we’re not quite sure how much CBD is actually helping my son or if it is helping him at all. This is how it goes sometimes with any drug that tries to control something as complex as the brain. You try it, see if anything changes or gets worse, and then decide what to try next.

For us, I think our experiment with CBD will be coming to an end. We’re going to adjust his regimen and, once those changes take hold, we will start weaning off CBD. If anything indicates that it was working, we will reevaluate. I expect, though, that it will be another medicine to add to the list of ones that didn’t work for us.