Always Running

Our new home city has a notable kite-flying history, and last weekend we went to the Philadelphia Kite Festival. Separated by only a few miles (and two hundred and fifty years) from where the festival was held, Benjamin Franklin performed his famous electricity experiment, as the story goes, with a kite, string, and a key.

Inspired by historical events, we forewent the store-bought kites and headed to the tent where visitors could decorate a simple paper kite. My son sat at one of the long, wooden tables, in front of a blank kite. A volunteer slid over, placing weights on the corners of the kite and handed my son a white, plastic basket of markers.

epilepsy philadelphia kite festival

Sticking with his go-to move, my son wrote his name in the center of the kite. Then he rotated through the markers and adorned his kite with lines and shapes and squiggles in every color. Only on one side, though. The volunteer explained that the side my son was decorating was the side that he would see when his kite was in the air. When she offered to flip the kite over so that he could draw on the other side, he told her that he was done.

The volunteer took his kite and put on the finishing touches: a few folds and tape to create airfoils and string from wing to wing. As she did, she leaned over the table and gave my son a lesson in flying a kite. “Keep the wind at your back,” she said, brushing his hair from back to front with her weathered hands.  “Otherwise, it will fall to the ground.” He stood, listening intently, as if he were a pilot about to take the controls of an airplane for the first time.

epilepsy philadephia kite festival

After a few more pointers, my son grabbed his kite and headed to the field.  He placed his kite gently on the ground and unrolled a few feet of string. It was not a particularly windy day and most of the kites on the field sat limp on the ground. The breeze was barely enough to move the blades of grass and cause an occasionally flutter of the paper that comprised our hand-crafted kite.

“Go!” I told him. He held on to his roll of string and started to run. After a few feet, his kite lifted in to the air. He would turn to look at his kite high in the air but, as he did, it would start to sink slowly towards the earth below, so he would turn again and race across the field and his kite would climb back in to the sky.

epilepsy philly kite festival

My son and I took turns over the next half hour running across the field keeping his kite in the air before I called for a break. He stopped running, and his kite fell to the ground.

We sat on a bench near the river, watching other people fly their kites, and I thought about how we have to keep running to keep everything up in the air. We are constantly running, adjusting and managing medicine, measuring everything he eats for his diet and cooking meals, making sure he’s not too tired, hunting for other triggers, and always observant, watching for seizures. We’re running and trying to normalize his day for school, and racing between appointments, and trying to give him as normal a life as possible. If we ever stop running, everything, like his kite, will come crashing back to earth.

I wish so much for him to feel the wind at his back…to watch his kite fly in the air without the need to run so that he can lay back in the grass, watching his kite in the air, and simply enjoy the sun. My son didn’t complain because there was no wind or because he had to run across the field to keep his kite in the air. He doesn’t often complain about his seizures, or his medicine, or his diet. Through everything, my son has been a trooper.

He runs because he doesn’t know or remember any other life.

We run because he is our son, and we would do anything for him.

epilepsy philly kite festival


Always Something There To Remind Me

Epilepsy has infiltrated every aspect of my son’s life, from the time before he wakes up to when his head hits the pillow at the end of the day and beyond. Every new day brings with it reminders of his condition, and every interaction, every task, every breath carries inside of it a burden that he must overcome.

reminders of epilepsy seizure

Before my son even leaves his bed, there is an occasional seizure streaming from the camera we installed in his room to the iPad at my bedside. When he comes out of his room, his first stop is in the kitchen so that he can take his first handful of pills of the day. We spend some time together, constantly evaluating his behavior to see if his brain is firing properly, looking for those signs to see if he is going to have a good day or a bad day. Every morning is filled with these little reminders of his condition.

From there, it’s on to breakfast. Usually once a week, we spend a few hours making batches of pancakes so that he can have a keto pancake with a small amount of fruit. The diet has a high-fat requirement that, if we can’t incorporate the fat in to the food itself, needs to come from a straight shot of oil. My son likes the pancakes because they incorporate all the fat and don’t require any extra oil. If there are no pancakes, breakfast, like most of his other meals, involves looking up each component to find the ketogenic exchange rate, cutting and weighing everything to within a tenth of a gram including, unfortunately, oil.  Every meal is measured this way, so every meal becomes another reminder of the challenges he faces and the things he must do to manage his epilepsy.

Many other tasks during the day involve helping him stay focused, or breathing to keep his body under control, or sleeping to recover from the exhaustion that is always present on his face…all reminders, every time we look at him, about how present and real and exhausting epilepsy is.

Before he goes to bed, he counts out another handful of medicine before making his way in to his room with just enough energy to brush his teeth, put on his pajamas, and crawl in to bed. The wash of fatigue that swallows him as he is finally able to just switch off his brain serves as the final reminder of how much effort it takes him to make it to through his daily challenges.

As he drifts off to sleep, I know that we have to do it all again the next day.

There is more, though, to our day than just these negative reminders of my son’s epilepsy. There are also the reminders of how lucky we are.

Those pills that he takes, his first and last activities of the day, are keeping his seizures under control. The magic diet, with all the extra effort and measuring and restrictions, also helps his seizures and cognition. That he is able to read, and is learning at all, shows how much he continues to improve.

Every morning that he is able to get up and go to school, and the fact that his body is strong enough to ride his scooter to school, is nothing short of a miracle. That he has friends in school and that the kids are sincere when they say goodbye to him fills my heart with such gratitude, as does him having individual support in school and an essential, loving aid when he gets home. He has regained much of his physical ability, allowing him to ice skate and play hockey in the basement, two of his favorite things. Every time he puts on his skates or scores a goal in his stocking feet downstairs, it’s a reminder that epilepsy has not taken everything from him.

reminders of epilepsy seizure

Tucking him in, these reminders and milestones make me grateful that we had another day together, and grateful that we get to do it all again tomorrow.

Halloween, Birthdays, And The Ketogenic Diet For Epilepsy

My son has been on the ketogenic diet for about six months. He’s on the diet because he has refractory epilepsy, which basically means that the half-dozen medicines that he has been on in the last year haven’t been able to control his seizures. The ketogenic diet is what the doctors try when the medicine doesn’t work.

The diet works by getting the body to use fat as its fuel source, which causes it to produce ketones. How do you get the body to use fat? You change your diet so that it doesn’t have a choice. The ketogenic diet is a high fat diet where 90% of the calories come from fat. It includes enough protein to grow and a minuscule amount of carbohydrates, but the diet is primarily oil, butter, cream, and mayonnaise.

The diet is hard. For parents, it’s labor intensive to measure every part of a meal. There are urine strips and blood draws to make sure the diet is working and not doing harm. For my son, the diet means he can’t eat whatever he wants. He can’t just grab a snack. He can’t pig out. There are no pizza parties, no ice cream socials, and no guilty pleasure of hitting a drive-through. The diet and resulting lifestyle changes are a really tough thing to put anyone through, especially a child, which is why it’s not the first option in a treatment plan.

October happens to be a particularly big month for carbohydrates. The orgy of chocolate and processed sugar that is Halloween comes only a few days after another celebration of sugar and flour, my son’s birthday.

epilepsy keto ketogenic seizure

This year, being on the diet meant that every door we went to and every “Trick or Treat” that my son spoke was for candy that he couldn’t eat. It also meant that the tray of cake my wife brought in to the school for my son’s class was for everyone except the birthday boy.

As impossible as it all seems, my son never complained. He knew that he couldn’t eat the candy because it wasn’t on the “hockey diet”, and he was happy to trade the mountain of candy that he collected for a present. He devoured his special “keto cupcake” (made with soy flour, mayonnaise, and heavy cream) while his classmates ate regular birthday cake.

epilepsy keto ketogenic seizure

I’m not sure I could be on the diet. I’m relatively certain I couldn’t do it without complaining. I’d look at all the people around me eating whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted, and I would feel cheated. Maybe it’s a blessing that this is happening to my son when he is so young, before he has a reference for what he is missing. Or maybe he’s just a strong, special kid, like the many other kids that are on the diet to help control their seizures.

The diet seems to be working for my son. Would I rather he be allowed to shove his hand in to his Halloween bag and get sick eating too much candy on Halloween night? Absolutely. Do I wish that he didn’t have epilepsy, or that he had the kind that can be controlled with one, easy medication? Absolutely. The diet is hard. It’s hard on his body, it’s a hard lifestyle to maintain, and I imagine that it’s hard to feel different from everyone else.

But he does have epilepsy, and he has a complicated kind that doesn’t respond well to medicine. I’m just grateful there was another option.