Early Morning

Lying in bed, I opened my eyes in the early morning and stared at the ceiling. My son’s arm was draped across my chest and his head rested on my shoulder. Ahead of our move, he’s been sleeping with us. The chaos of our lives and the distance to his room has become increasingly problematic. Until we move into our new place, it’s a concession we made so that we can all be together and so we can monitor his seizures.

I brought my free hand up and rubbed his head. Usually, my wife is the recipient of his slumbery affections. I get the other end with a face-full of feet as he turns horizontally on the bed. But not that morning. That morning, I looked down to see my the beautiful face of my boy sleeping peacefully. I remember smiling as I made minor adjustments to my position and was once again comfortable. I closed my eyes, my hand still rubbing his head, and enjoyed the moment.

It’s in these early morning hours that I’ll catch my son talking in his sleep. Sometimes the words are decipherable. He has had unconscious conversations about baseball and hockey. Once he talked about his iPad, which I’m pretty sure is a sign that we let him use it too much. Other times, his voice is too low or the words are too jumbled but it’s still clear that he’s having a conversation.

Sometimes, his hands or legs will twitch. It’s like watching a dog dream of running and watching its limbs move in response. We had a cat once that would dream of drinking and we would watch him lap at the air as we laughed quietly so as not to wake him. It’s impossible to tell what activity my son was trying to do in his sleep, but it still made me smile. Dreaming at seven looks very different from dreaming at forty.

That morning, though, a different and unfortunately familiar sequence began. It started with a tensing of his muscles. As he laid at my side, I could feel his body start to stiffen and elongate. I adjusted my position to give his body room the room it needed. The room went quiet. The only sound was me telling him that everything was going to be okay as I kept my hand on his head.

At its apex, his body is rigid and long like a piece of wood. His body continued to squeeze, forcing the air from his lungs. The audible moan also started as his body expelled air past his vocal chords and out his mouth. His body relaxed before tensing up again, the rhythmic jerking of a myoclonic seizure. Every pulse of his body made me feel more and more helpless, but there was nothing to do but wait it out. So in the early morning darkness, that’s what I did.

A few seconds more and the seizure was over, but the postictal state began. Like he usually does, my son sat up, smacking his lips and looking at the world through squinted eyes. I continued to console him and let him know what he was safe until he gathered enough of his faculty to know where he was. Then I helped him lay back down and get comfortable. I draped his warm, green blanket over his shoulders and pulled it down to cover his feet. He put his two fingers that he likes to suck on in his mouth, closed his eyes and drifted back to sleep.

I could not go back to sleep. I struggled to not have my thoughts drift to all the negative possibilities. I should have gotten up to distract myself but I wanted to be near him in case he had another seizure. So, instead, I listened to his breathing and returned my gaze to the ceiling.

By His Side

A noise stirred me from my sleep. Instinctively, I rolled to face the monitor. Even though it was on the dimmest setting, my eyes struggled to focus against the light of the screen. I closed one eye completely and squinted the other until I could make out the image. Then, another sound. That sound. The sound that still breaks the silence of the early morning. The sound that wakes me from my sleep and tells me that my son’s brain has lost control.

Some mornings, I watch the screen to see if my son can put himself back to sleep. But this morning, I could tell by the way the sound echoed through the halls that it was a bad seizure. I slid my body off the bed and felt the cold floor beneath my feet. Keeping one eye closed did little to help readjust to the darkness. I navigated my way through the kitchen on instinct until I reached his door. I felt for the handrail and made my way down the stairs. Halfway down, my eyes finally caught up to the rest of my body and I could make out the bottom of the stairs. I swung myself around the banister and landed at the foot of my son’s bed as he sat upright and started to cry.

I write a lot about these early morning hours. These are the hours when our unwelcome visitor makes its presence known. These are the hours of sounds, and seizures, and tears. Of scrambling down stairs and early morning comfort. The hours without sleep, when there is nothing to do but think about our lives…my son’s life.

I wonder if these trips to his room will ever end. I wonder if our house will ever be quiet again in the early morning, or if I will ever be able to let my guard down. I wonder if this is his life, destined to call out into the night for the rest of his days. I try not to think about who will answer that call when I am gone. On that night, I was there, like I was on countless other nights. I did answer the call, like I will for as long as I am able.

I crawled into bed with him and sat next to him. I rubbed his back and told him that he was okay, that everything was going to be okay. It didn’t feel like a lie when I said it, but it didn’t quite feel like the truth, either. After a few minutes, he started to calm down. I helped him lay back down and covered him with his favorite green blanket. He stuck his fingers in his mouth as he closed his eyes. I laid next to him until his breathing slowed and the sound of him sucking on his fingers faded to silence. Then I stayed a little longer, letting my own eyes grow heavy, and fell asleep by his side.

Where Care Lodges, Sleep Will Never Lie

I walked from the living room to the kitchen, passing the door that led down to my son’s room. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a tuft of red hair sticking through the doorway. I stopped, tilted my head to the side, and saw an eye widen with the realization that the person it was attached to had just been caught.

This was the third time he was out of bed. He was restless and did not want to sleep alone. I slowly pulled open the door and asked him what he needed. “I was wondering,” he said, looking down at the floor, “if someone wanted to lay with me downstairs.” During the last few weeks, when his seizures were worse and when we were on the road, we often slept in the same bed. Now that we were home, we were transitioning back to our normal sleeping arrangements. This anxiety was an anticipated side effect. On the first night, he was so exhausted that he fell asleep in his own bed before he could plead his case for one my night in ours. On this second night, though, following a long afternoon nap, he was in a better position to resist.

“Come on, buddy,” I said as I led him back down in to his room. I climbed in to his bed and he followed, laying down next to me and putting his fingers in his mouth. By the light of his nightlight, I could see him adjust his body in to its ready-to-sleep position, and the tell-tale sign of impending sleep where he picks gently at his upper lip soon followed. His breath began to lengthen and, after only a few minutes, he was asleep.

On the nights that followed, we brought him back up to our room because his morning seizures had once again gotten worse and it was easier on all of us to be in the same room when they happened. No late night trips down the stairs and fumbling through the dark to find him sitting up in his bed; instead, we were next to him to reassure him and coax him back to sleep.

This has been the pattern of our lives for the past two years. When we think we are getting a handle on his seizures, we transition him back to his room. When he is in his bed, I vigilantly watch the monitor throughout the night and listen for any signs our most unwelcome intruder. When his seizures inevitably get worse again, we bring him back in to our room and spend the night uncomfortably cramped in a small bed, waiting for the sounds and uncontrollable movements that accompany the attack on my son’s brain.

If I seem tired, it’s because I am.  Sleep is sporadic and short and only serves to keep me functional the next day. Some days, it’s barely enough to keep the lights on, but I find a way. Because most of us that are living this life don’t have the luxury or desire to stop because if we do…what we miss could be everything.  So we stay on watch, careful and committed, for as long as we are needed.

This is what it is like to be the parent of a child with uncontrolled seizures.

Care keeps his watch in every old man’s eye,
And where care lodges, sleep will never lie.
― William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet