Taking A Chance Or Playing It Safe

I should have known there was something wrong when my wife texted me that our son had a seizure in school. Seizures during the day are rare for him, but I thought that maybe we wore him out sightseeing with his cousin who was visiting over the weekend. That was an especially bad day to break from his nocturnal seizure pattern because that afternoon he was supposed to be back on the ice for his first hockey class since his seizures started more than two years ago.

When we lived in Colorado, hockey was all this kid wanted to do. We played hockey on the floor since he could walk. We even made a movie about it.

He started skating when he was around three, and he started his first hockey class just before we moved to Philadelphia, which also happened to be the time his seizures started. With how bad things got, hockey and skating were out of the question. Taking away something he loved so much was one of the cruelest things that epilepsy did to him.

It took almost a year, but once he started to regain his balance and stamina, we found him a coach to do off-ice drills with him. We continued to play hockey on the floor or at the park, but he would always ask when he could get back on the ice. I didn’t have an answer.

After nearly eighteen months, we let him back on the ice. It was only for short periods of time because his balance, stamina, and attention issues still prevented anything too rigorous, but it was something. To a kid that loves hockey more than anything else, though, it’s just skating. There is something different about doing it in full pads, with a hockey stick, and surrounded by other hockey players and we weren’t there yet, although that was about to change if he was well enough to go to this new class. After more than two years, he was about to return to where he was before the seizures started, which is why the timing of the daytime seizure was extremely unfortunate.

We decided to see how the rest of the day went. After school, he took a nap and my wife said that he seemed fine after he rested. We took the chance and she brought him to the rink and I left work to meet them. As I walked in, I saw my son scan the room and realize that he was in a locker room, surrounded by other hockey players. He was so excited that he trembled as he put on his gear. By the time I got there, he flashed a smile and asked me to help him finish getting dressed. Apparently, mommy didn’t know the order things had to be put on in and he had to keep taking something off in order to first put on the thing that should have gone before.

Finally dressed, he tucked his mouth guard into his toothless smile, grabbed his stick, and headed to the ice. It took all he had to not sprint, and he would have if the ice were further away. But he walked up the steps, past the bench, through the door and, finally, onto the ice. He skated around for a minute to get a feel for the ice and then skated over to his coach with the rest of the team.

epilepsy dad parenting hockey risk

It took all I had to not burst into tears on the bench. My heart was filled with such joy to see my son so happy. We do a lot of cool stuff as a family, but my son also does a lot of stuff that other kids don’t have to. Dealing with seizures, doctor’s appointments, therapy, an impossible diet, more therapy, more testing. He doesn’t have much control over even basic things that his peers do and, for a while, epilepsy had taken from him the one place where he could be himself and do something that he loved to do for himself. But there he was, on the ice, smiling and sending me an occasional thumbs up (which is really difficult to do with a hockey glove on) as he did the drills with (and better than) the rest of the kids.

epilepsy dad parenting hockey risk

Halfway through practice, though, from across the ice, I heard the sound that I dread every morning and I saw my son slump forward onto the ice. The coach moved towards my son and I yelled, “He’s having a seizure.” “When?” the coach asked. “Right now, ” I replied. As the coach knelt down, my son rose to his feet. I motioned to the coach and he had an assistant help my son to the bench. We sat him down and went through the protocol. “Do you know what happened? Do you know where you are? How are you feeling? Which way is your brain going?”

I told the coach that my son was okay and that he needed a break. The coach mentioned that he’s a nursing student and just happened to start reading about seizures and epilepsy medication. Serendipity. After awhile, my son told me he was ready to go back on the ice. As a parent, I felt faced with an impossible choice. Should I put him back on the ice on a day where he is clearly having more seizures and risk him getting injured? Or should I play it safe and take him home and take away the joy he was feeling? I glanced at my son who was watching the other kids on the ice and I made the heavy choice to let him rejoin his team. As he skated towards the coach, my heart raced and I watched his every move without blinking. Every fall was agony. Did he just fall or did he have another seizure? Thankfully, he would pop right back up each time and rejoin the drill. When class ended, I let out a huge sigh of relief as my son skated over to me, gave me a fist bump, and stepped off the ice.

By this time, he was exhausted but he took off his gear and I helped him put it back in the hockey bag. His eyes were a bit droopy, and I could tell that he wasn’t really there. He had given everything he had to be on the ice and his body and mind were starting to give in. It’s a blessing and a curse that my son wills himself through the things he wants to do and the things we ask him to do. I wish life were easier for him.

When we got home, I put him on the couch and made him dinner. He ate quietly and watched a little television before bed. As I went to get his evening medicine, I noticed that his morning doses were still in the pill dispenser. I asked my wife if she had given him his meds. It turns out, she didn’t. The daytime seizures, the exhaustion…we found the culprit.

Mistakes happen. It’s a lot to juggle four doses of multiple medications a day, a special diet, seizures and the normal chaos that comes with a seven-year-old boy. I felt terrible that the first time back on the ice, his head must have been going haywire. He had seizures. He had to come off the ice. He wasn’t really present. He barely remembered being there. All because we made a mistake on the day that he was finally able to go back to his first love. The poor kid can’t catch a break.

We gave him his medicine and the next day he was thankfully back to normal. I’m still not sure if we made the right call keeping him on the ice, and I suspect that we’re going to have a lot of similar decisions to make in the future. But that’s just part of managing epilepsy, and trying to give my kid as many things back that his condition has tried to steal from him. He won’t get it all back, but every little bit counts.


The Day My Son Stopped Skating

Before my son was born, we already had his name picked out. The name came from a hockey player on a team that I liked…not my favorite player, mind you, but rather a player who’s last name sounded like it would be a cool first name for a future hockey star.  And so he was named, and so began his inevitable indoctrination in to the world of hockey.

On my son’s second night of life, he and I laid on the couch in hospital room watching the Colorado Avalanche on television. Well, I was watching. He was sleeping and absorbing the game through osmosis.

epilepsy hockey seizure skating keto

When he was two, even before he had his first haircut, he got his first hockey stick. He was just learning to run, but we were already playing floor hockey almost every night after I got home from work. The more exposed to the game he got, the more aspects of it we incorporated in to our play, from national anthems, to player introductions, to raising the Stanley Cup after the last game of the night.

epilepsy hockey seizure skating keto

When he was three, he broke his foot jumping off a chair. The break required a cast (or four casts, since as new parents, we hadn’t quite figured out how to keep his cast dry between the bath and the snow on the ground). But that didn’t stop him from playing hockey, shuffling around and taking slapshots from his knees.

epilepsy hockey seizure skating keto

Once his foot healed, we bought him his first pair of hockey skates. We went to a hockey store where he was surrounded by every pad, stick, and puck he had imagined himself playing with while watching the games on television. He sat on the bench getting sized for his stakes, ready to take the ice.

epilepsy hockey seizure skating keto

When he finally hit the ice, I half-expected him to skate circles around me. He didn’t, of course, and he spent most of is time on the ice (either from falling or intentionally sliding on his belly), but there were moments pushing around the skating aid where I could see his gears turning, imaging himself crossing the blue line for a breakaway goal.

epilepsy hockey seizure skating keto

From there, we took a parent-tot skating class before he joined the “learn to skate” program. During every class, he would look down the ice at the older kids in the hockey class, and he would ask how much longer before he could join them. It motivated him to get better and, a few months before his fifth birthday, he was finally registered for the “introduction to hockey” class.

The first day of class, he filled the locker room with electricity as he was finally able to put on all his hockey pads and jersey. He lined up with the rest of the class, ready to take the ice. The door opened, and the miniature hockey team took to the ice. When it was my son’s turn, he put one foot on the ice, then the other, and then fell straight down. Of course, wanting to record this moment, I have this inauspicious start on video, and I had planned on showing his teammates someday when he was playing in the National Hockey League.

epilepsy hockey seizure skating keto

But then, shortly after his classes started, he had his first seizure. By the end of the year, his seizures had gotten out of control, and his fatigue and the side effects of the medicine made skating a dangerous impossibility. He lost control of his body that he was once able to control so completely. He was ripped away from the sport and the activity that he continued to talk about and watch on television every day.

We no longer thought about skating or the NHL, we just hoped that the seizures would stop, and that the damage done from the seizures and the toxicity and side effects from the medicines wasn’t permanent. There were days when my son was too tired to function and too wobbly to stand but he would try to go in the basement and take shots. It broke my heart to see him like that, but I would go down and play with him, sometimes fighting back tears on the really bad days.

There were days when I thought that was where our story would end. But thanks to the amazing people who cared for him, my son’s condition started to improve. Although we are not seizure free, they happen mostly at night. As we continue on the ketogenic diet and adjust his medications, my son has regained much of his balance. We started working with an off-ice coach so that he can be more active and build his stamina doing something that he loves. Then, a few weeks ago, a day we had almost stopped hoping for came.

We hopped in to a taxi and headed to our local ice rink. My son put on his helmet, his jersey, and we helped him put on his skates. He stood and started walking down the hallway towards the ice. The next few steps felt like they came in slow motion. I held my breath as he grabbed the side of the boards with his right hand and stepped on to the ice with one foot and then the other. After a few seconds, he was free of the boards, the edges of his skates digging in to the ice and propelling him forward.

epilepsy hockey seizure skating hope

Even though we only spent a short amount of time on the ice, it was enough for mark a milestone in our journey with epilepsy. We don’t know what the future holds, how long the diet or the medicine will work to control his seizures. We don’t know if he’ll be able to continue to skate if his seizures spike again or if he develops new side effects or complications as he ages. But for as dark as things have been, as much as my son has gone through, and as impossible as everything had seemed, for one afternoon, he was able to do what he loved, and we celebrated that moment as if he had just won the Stanley Cup.