Wall Of Limitations

This summer, my son participated in a week-long baseball camp. We knew it would be physically demanding so we spoke with the coaches before we registered him to make sure that he could rest and leave early if he needed it. It’s a phone call we have made before and will likely make many times in the future that serves two purposes. First, it helps us make sure that our son will be safe. And second, it identifies any places not willing to make accommodations for people who need them, which is not a place we want to be.

My son’s nanny took him on the first day and the coaches welcomed him to the camp. He managed to stay for half the day but then took a three-hour nap when he got home. But he had fun and he made friends. The second day was much the same with a long nap after a shortened day.

By the third day, he didn’t want to go. He was noticeably tired but he managed to make it out the door. His nanny coaxed him on to the field and, after almost thirty minutes, one of the coaches managed to finally get my son to participate. He left early again that day.

On the last day of camp, we planned to let him stay all day because they were going to play a game. His nanny made sure he took frequent breaks and he made it through the day and finished the camp with a smile.

The end of the camp coincided with the Little League World Series. I watched the grueling tournament and wondered, given how the camp went, whether my son could do anything like that. By now, I don’t have any grand vision of him playing in the major leagues, but I do want him to continue to play something that gives him joy and that makes him feel like a part of a team.

It made me think that someday we’re going to run into a wall of limitations. We’ve faced small ones before, but we’ve managed to pass them mostly by watching our son climb over them. We’ve managed to keep our distance from larger walls by adjusting our path. We swapped hockey for baseball. We learned to work around his physical and endurance issues. But we haven’t been faced with consciously confronting the difference between possibility¬†and probability. Potential versus practical. Fantasy versus reality. We haven’t faced the wall that was once on the horizon but is now uncomfortably close.

And every day we are moving closer. It’s starting to block our view to the world behind it. I’m beginning to wonder what we will do when we reach it. Will it be too big and stop us in our tracks? Will it be too overwhelming and send us back the way we came? Or will we do what we have always done and follow our son as he finds a way to climb it, even though we know there will be an even bigger wall behind this one?

Inconsiderate Epilepsy

It was a few days before a big meeting that I was organizing at work. I was pulling together the leadership teams involved with a project that I am working on to talk about our progress. It was a big deal and I wore my anxiety like a jacket. Even if I wasn’t preparing for the meeting, I was thinking about it. I was stressing about it.

The meeting was on Tuesday. On the Sunday before, we were having a good day. We saw a movie. My son went to the park with a friend and I worked on my slides for the meeting. That night, though, my son started to act strangely. He was skirting boundaries. He played with an outdoor ball in the house. He started to play a little too dangerously with his foam baseball bat. I asked if he was okay and which way his brain was going and he said he was fine and that his brain was going forward, but I sensed something was off.

When it was bedtime, my wife started to get him ready and I fired up the laptop to work on my presentation. But when she asked him to clean up his toys, he started to throw a fit. It escalated quickly and before I knew it, I was sitting on the ground holding him. We tried to work on his breathing exercises and his coping skills but he was past the point of listening.

He was trying to hit us, spit on us, and calling us by our first names and saying mean things. For more than thirty minutes, I sat on the floor, holding my son, trying to comfort him. A few months ago, these episodes were happening all the time. Now, they are rare. But whether they are constant or rare, the impact of seeing your son struggle with his emotional regulation and become someone else is painful. After he finally came out of it and we put him to bed, I tried to work on my presentation, but I couldn’t. I was so shaken up.

The next day, I went to work thinking about the night before and also stressing about the meeting that was now only a day away. It’s not easy to go in the next day and tune out the night before. It’s the same when he has more seizures during the night than he normally does. I show up to work stressed and tired but try to focus on my work. I just hope it doesn’t happen on a day where I have to be “on.”

Epilepsy doesn’t care what else you have going on. Epilepsy didn’t care about my big meeting. It doesn’t care that we’re on vacation. It doesn’t care that we have plans.

My son had seizures on the baseball field. Seizures in Hawaii. At Disney world. A seizure in the pool. At school. But it’s not just seizures, it’s the overmedicated, the behavioral issues, the fatigue. Epilepsy and its entourage can show up anywhere, anytime.

When it does, you can’t send it away. Everything else gets pushed down the priority list. You have to deal with it right now.

And then, after you are done dealing with it, you figure out how to transition out of crisis mode. You go to work or you go to school and figure out how to go back to normal.

“Normal”, as if it’s a different place. But it isn’t. This is our normal.

Happy Anniversary, Epilepsy

Four years ago this week, my son had his first seizure.

Four years.

Almost half his life.

He doesn’t remember the time before. Most days, neither do I. Our memories are of our new life that started the night his body contorted and stiffened on the floor of the arcade. It was the night that time stopped as we prayed that our son would come back to us and when I held his frozen body in a thunderstorm waiting for the ambulance to arrive.

Even though his second seizure wouldn’t be for nearly two months, the fear and uncertainty that the first one had caused lingered. It turned out that time was the quiet before the storm…that feeling you get when the clouds darken and the air changes and you know the storm is close. The air filled with the same electricity that would soon wreak havoc on my son’s developing brain.

And then it happened. The second seizure burst free just as my son sat in his seat onboard an airplane. Another thirty minutes and the plane would have been in the air but, thankfully, the crew got him safely off the plane and on his way to the children’s hospital. Within a few months, his seizures would be out of control and we’d be back in the same hospital learning firsthand what status epilepticus was.

It would take nearly two years before my son was stable. But even then, we were still adjusting medication, dealing with side effects and behavioral issues, and occasionally using his rescue medication. He was stable, but not living the life we had planned. But by then we were beginning to realize that we needed a new plan.

Four years in, we’re still adjusting that plan. There hasn’t been a day that has not been affected by epilepsy. He’s had countless seizures. He’s been on and off medications and suffered endless side effects. He’s had a barrage of blood draws, EEGs, and other testing and had a myriad of therapies trying to restore what epilepsy had taken away. He’s been isolated from his peers and falling more behind in a world that doesn’t wait for people who can’t keep up, or are different, or need help.

After four years, I thought we’d be further along. I hoped he would outgrow his seizures or we’d at least have them under control. I thought we would have figured it all out. I thought we’d be able to get back to normal. But, instead, we had to change our definition of “normal” and learn how to live life with different expectations.

In these four years, I’ve learned a lot of other things, too. I think I am a better man, husband, and father than I was before this started. And we’ve had so many wonderful experiences and met some amazing people on our journey. But I can’t bring myself to be grateful. I can’t allow myself to acknowledge the things that are good because I don’t want to reward the monster that continues to attack my son. Our life is what it is in spite of epilepsy, not because of it.

Four years is a long time. But I know we have many years to go. We didn’t ask for this, and we don’t want it. But it looks like we’re going to be together for a while.

So, Happy Anniversary, Epilepsy.

I didn’t get you anything.

Because I hate you.