Wherever We Go, There They Are

Whenever we go to a new place, in the back of my mind I want that place to change my life. It seems like a tall order, which may be why it hasn’t happened yet. I want to go to a place and be so inspired that I start writing that book that I’ve been thinking about. I want to leave a place a better person, having a better relationship with the people in my life. But mostly, I want to go to a place where my son doesn’t have any seizures.

My son didn’t show any signs of having epilepsy until we moved to Philadelphia. I was only partially joking with the doctors when I asked them if it could be Philly causing his seizures. The first time we went back to Colorado, I was ready to move back if he was seizure-free during the trip. But he wasn’t. I had the same thought when we visited Florida. Maybe Colorado was at too high of an elevation and he needed an ocean breeze. But he had seizures in Florida, too. And in New York. And in California. Wherever we went, there they were.

Even so, when I stepped off the plane in Hawaii, I had that same thought. That maybe this was going to be the place where my son would be seizure-free. If it was going to be any place, Hawaii wouldn’t be terrible. Before we even picked up our bags, I convinced myself we could make it work. I could find a job, even if it meant working remotely. I was sure the children’s hospitals would be fine, and we could make regular trips back to the mainland for care. But we wouldn’t need to, because he wouldn’t be having seizures. It was the perfect plan. Until it wasn’t.

In our first early morning in paradise, the sound worse than every other sound filled the hotel room. His seizures had found us. Across the continent, across the ocean, to an island in the middle of the Pacific. In a place we’ve never been before, hidden from the world. Wherever we go, there they are.

In a way, I was grateful that the seizure came quickly because it lifted the pressure that I had put on our vacation. The longer I carry that pressure, the less present I am and the more I miss of our life. But instead of worrying about that seizure around the corner, it had already come.

It was freeing.

It allowed me to focus on having an amazing vacation with my family in spite of our stowaway. It allowed me to be present and to be grateful for the moments that we have. I saw the beauty of the island. I saw the smile on my son’s face. It reminded me that it’s not a destination that is going to change my life. It’s that feeling that I get when I see his smile that makes my life better every day.

epilepsy dad wherever we go

Throwing It Back

We walked along the shore of Atlantic City. The beach was quiet with only a few other souls in view. The sun warmed the winter air to a comfortable temperature and cast stark shadows of the shells on the sand. The seagulls circled silently around us riding the current in the air. The waves rhythmically pushed themselves ashore. They darkened the sand to an almost black and erased the footprints that my son had left moments before.

epilepsy dad feature throwing it back

That morning along the beach, my son took to launching enormous clam shells back into the sea. The inhabitants had been the unwilling dinner guests of another sea creature or one of those circling seagulls. Now, their empty shells laid scattered along the shore. I watched as my son scurried along the sand, finding the biggest ones, and brought them up to the water’s edge. The ocean had given up the shells to the land and now my son was sending them back.

epilepsy dad awareness seizure medicine throwing

Since my son was young, he has always liked to throw things in the water. He liked to see how far he can throw something against the limitless backdrop of the ocean. There were no walls to bounce off, no cars to avoid, only infinity against which to test his strength. After he hurled an object into the sky, he would track it through the air until it reached its destination. Would it skip or would it splash? Either was acceptable, as long as it was far. On the really good ones, he’d turn to me and ask if I saw how far it went. Of course I was watching, I told him, but he was already looking for his next projectile.

As I watched him throw shell after shell, I thought about the things I’d like to throw into the sea. I’d start by taking his seizures from him. Like a piece of paper, I’d crumble them up into a ball until they held their shape. I’d grip it like a fastball and wind up with enough torque that, when I let go, the seizures would disappear over the horizon. I’d do the same with his medicine and their side effects. His learning and attention issues would be the next to go, followed by his fatigue and ataxia. Over and over, I’d crush these afflictions into dense spheres and throw them with all my strength. Whether they skipped or splashed, I only want them far away from my son, somewhere at the bottom of the sea.

epilepsy dad feature throwing it back

Epilepsy And The Lack Of Freedom

One day last week, after I dropped my son off at school, I walked past the playground and the late kids being hurried by their parents across the street. The kids were a few years older than my son and, on the walk home, I began to think of when I was their age and lived in an apartment complex in Connecticut.

I remember there was a common area between the apartments and the street that was covered in grass, with a big, green boulder that I used to climb, imaging it was the tallest mountain. My friends and I used to meet on the grass and play baseball, or tag, or ride our bikes on the sidewalk through the buildings.

My sister was among the older kids that used to also congregate by the boulder, usually either ignoring or taunting their younger siblings. But there were no parents. Many of our parents, including my mother, were single parents or low income parents trying to make ends meet, so they were working or inside catching up on chores and other duties. So we were left to go outside, and play together, and to fill up our days with whatever we felt like doing.

If the older kids got to be too much, my friends and I would grab our fishing poles and walk through the woods adjacent to the apartments to a small creek where we would catch frogs and small fish and where I swear I saw a river monster (which was probably actually something like a muskrat). There was a sledding hill on the other side of the complex, and patchy wooded areas that we could explore with plenty of trees to climb. Our ability to roam without parental supervision or babysitting by our older siblings made us feel very free.

epilepsy dad lack of freedom

We don’t have any spaces like that near our house, and living in a big city is a completely different environment than the area around those apartments when I was my son’s age, but I wondered if my son would ever get to experience that same sense of freedom that I had when I was living in those apartments. Even if there were places to roam and their weren’t busy streets to navigate, will his seizures prevent him from being able to run off and play without the watchful eye of my wife, me, or another caregiver? Will he always have to be around other people, particularly someone who knows what to do if he has a seizure?

I’ve always said that I didn’t want epilepsy to make my son feel “less than”, or for it to keep him from doing anything he wants to. But the reality is that it might, especially if we continue to have such a hard time getting his seizures under control. He probably doesn’t notice it as much now, because he’s six and because he’s not supposed to venture out in to the world by himself. But as he gets older, and as he’s not able to experience the same freedom that his friends do, I’m going to need to find a way to make it okay.