In Good Times And In Bad Times

I needed to clear up some space on my computer today, so I pulled up a list of the biggest files on my computer. Near the top of the list were a group of movie files with generic names. I clicked on the first one, and it was a video of my son that we made to document his behavior when it was at its worst.

behavior side effects medicine seizure epilepsy father fatherhood

I wasn’t prepared to see the video, and it really unsettled me. Even now, hours later, I’m thinking about the video and how desperate and scared we were. There were no answers for why he was acting the way he way. It could have been side effects of the medicine, or damage from the seizures, or a combination of both, or something else entirely. No one could tell us why it was happening, and no one could tell us if it would get any better.

behavior side effects medicine seizure epilepsy father fatherhood

In the video, he was having one of his typical outbursts. I say typical, but they were typical for where he was, but not typical for the almost five years of life he had before his seizures started. His brain would “go backwards”, as he eloquently put it during one of his lucid moments, and he would start hitting, scratching spitting, and screaming. The picture above was another symptom where his body would take control and he would somersault or flop around on the couch or the floor. The image at the top of this post was of him throwing a toy at me while I filmed the outburst.

On a good day, we would only have a few, short episodes. On a bad day, we’d spend hours holding him down at bedtime. It was agonizing as a parent to see that happen to my child, especially when the outbursts ended with him expressing such remorse for what his body did and, I suspect, terrified that he wasn’t able to control it.

Watching that video, the thoughts that I had lost my son and that his life was going to be nothing more than managing one uncontrollable outburst after another for the rest of his life came rushing back. The feeling of desperation, the praying that there would be some relief, some help for him, some help for us, came back, as well. After a few seconds, I was so overwhelmed that I clicked stop, a luxury I have now that I wish I had back when this was actually happening.

When I got home, I told my wife that I had pulled up the video and that it upset me, and she comforted me like she always does. She asked if I had deleted the videos. I told her I didn’t, but I didn’t tell her why because I didn’t know myself. Am I keeping them to remind me of how hard it was so that I can appreciate where we are now? Are they clinical files incase someone, years from now, can explain to me what they were and why they happened? Do they matter, or should I just wipe them from my hard drive and let Time do the same thing for my memories?

Tonight, I don’t know what I should do with those videos, but I did know what I should do with my son, which is the same thing I’ve done since he was born, in good times and in bad. I laid next to him listening to him suck his fingers as he started to drift off to sleep. I kissed him on the forehead and told him that I loved him more than anything, and that I was lucky to be his father.





Balancing Seizures And Side Effects

Shortly after my son wakes up each morning, I walk with him in to the kitchen. I open up the basket that sits on the counter and grab his weekly pill organizer, popping open the compartment for the day.  I use my finger to push around the pills and find the morning dose of anti-epileptic medication, pulling out six pills and placing them on the counter. My son, still groggy, rubs his eyes as I fill up a cup with water from the fridge and hand it to him. His little fingers struggle to pick each pill up from the counter, but he gets them all, puts them in his mouth and swallows them with the water. “Good job, buddy,” I say, as I rub his head and walk with him in to the living room.

This is how we start every day. Some days, it’s my wife that goes through the routine, some days it is me. But every day, it’s my son that wakes up and starts each morning with a cocktail of medication, and ends each day the same way.

epilepsy seizures side effects

Borrowing a term from my corporate life, getting onboarded in to the epilepsy lifestyle, one learns that 60-70% of people are seizure-free with the first anti-epileptic drug (AED). If the first medicine doesn’t do the job, there is a less than 10% chance of becoming seizure-free with another AED. After 3 failed AEDs, there is less than a 5% chance of becoming seizure-free with another AED. We’ve tried at least 7 medications, not including the short-term ones that were used in the hospital when my son went in to status or the behavior and sedative medications. With each medicine came a dwindling amount of hope but a compounding list of side effects.

Medication Side Effect
Kepra “Kepra Rage”; behavior
Trileptal Exacerbated myoclonic seizures.
Depakote Stopped along with dilantin because of toxicity.
Dilantin Toxic, sever ataxia, other bad stuff.
Zonegran Behavior, ataxia
Onfi Suspect behavior, attention, balance
Depakote (Again) Toxic (again)
Lamictal TBD

The behavioral side effects are the hardest to endure…watching the chemicals that keep my sweet, funny son’s brain from seizing turn him in to something else. We fed him medication that caused hours of having to hold him down and avoid the spitting and punches and hurtful, angry words in order to reduce the number of seizures he was having.  After two, three, or four hours, he might come back to us and we would watch him cry because he truly couldn’t control what his body and his brain were doing. It’s impossible to explain to a five year old what just happened, so we would hold him, and comfort him, and wait for the next barrage.

In the last few months, partly because we started the ketogenic diet, we have removed a number of medicine from his cocktail, and his behavior has greatly improved. But his neurologist added Lamictal last month to help with an increase in nocturnal seizures and to hopefully wean him off Onfi, which might still be causing some behavioral and attention-related side effects. There should be fewer behavior-related side effects with Lamictal, but getting the medication up to an effective dose takes time…what Lamictal lacks in terms of behavioral side effects, it more than makes up for with physical side effects of introducing it too quickly. Fortunately (knocking on wood), we have yet to see any signs of a reaction, so we will stay the course and hope for the best.

Asking The Big Man For A Reason

Most nights, I ask God why this is happening to my son.

We went in for our three-month checkup for the ketogenic diet and also saw our neurologist. The good news is that the diet is helping. The bad news is that his EEG looks worse than it did last time. The good news is that the neurologist thinks it’s because the medicine he was toxic on and that we weaned him off was helping with his seizures but there is another medicine we can try. The bad news is that we’re adding yet another medicine, and that the new medicine has some really scary side effects, especially if it is introduced too quickly.

We knew this was coming. Our neurologist has been mentioning the new medicine for weeks now. We had hoped that, as we weaned off the other medicine, that the diet would have done more. But as his nighttime seizures increased, we slowly started to accept that the diet and the medicine that he was still on wasn’t doing enough. In the end, we opted to give him the new medicine, and his first dose was last night.

My wife is out of town, so it was just me and my son. After I triple checked the literature to check how much to give him, I cut the pill, placed it on the counter, and watched him place it, along with his other pills, in to his mouth, grab the water, and swallow the lot.

We won’t know whether the medicine will work or not for at least weeks, and he won’t be up to the target dose for months. That is, unless the side effects kick in, which would mean we have another set of problems to worry about. But maybe this will be the first medicine out of the 7 we have tried that he won’t have an adverse reaction to.

God and I have a…complicated…relationship. We haven’t always seen eye to eye. Like my biological father, God and I hadn’t really talked in years and I rarely (if ever) talk about either of them. Unlike my biological father, though, He and I started talking again when my son was born. I thanked Him. I thanked Him for blessing me with a healthy baby boy. I thanked Him for my family. I thanked Him for my life.

I still thank Him. What is happening to my son is a terrible thing. Like many parents, if I could take this burden from my son and bear every seizure instead of him, I would. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way.

But even as I question the reason that this is happening, even as I wonder why this is part of His plan, and even though I wonder how He do this to a child, even though He may never answer, I still thank Him for the gift that is my son.