What Is Left To Say?

When I started this blog almost 5 years ago, we were only just beginning our epilepsy journey.

The first few posts were written from his room on the neurology floor of the children’s hospital as I watched the doctors tried to stop his seizures. I wrote as a way to process my thoughts and feelings as I worried about losing my son and learned about words like status epilepticus and refractory.

After we left the hospital, I wrote about how our life changed. I shared stories of how we tried to rebuild my son after those initial waves of seizures took so much from him. I wrote about his therapies and how the exploration and experimentation with different medication led to the same frustrating results or unbearable side effects. I wrote about my fears about VNS surgery and my frustration with the hardship of the ketogenic diet.

For the past year, very little has changed. In spite of having a VNS implanted, adjusting his medication, and continuing the ketogenic diet, my son is still seizing almost every day. I still worry about the risk of SUDEP. I still worry about the long term effects of these seizures as I watch him slowly fall behind his peers at school.

When I would sit down to write, it started to feel like I was always wanting to write the same things and that I had already put my thoughts and feelings down. I wasn’t sure what was left to say, so I didn’t write anything.

Not writing had the additional benefit of not having to look beyond the surface of our lives. I could stop probing how I felt about the challenges my son faced and what it meant for his future. I could just live in the present and deal only with what was in front of me. But that began to feel like I was shirking my responsibility as a father and doing a disservice to myself and to my son.

During the time I stopped writing, I also received a number of messages from the epilepsy community. They reminded me that that others were going through the same challenges. I started this blog for myself but it brought me into a community of people who had already been where I was as well as people who were just starting on this path. The unexpected benefit of putting ourselves out there was that is reminded us that we weren’t alone. When things were dark and scary and uncertain, that gift provided immeasurable comfort.

I was worried that because nothing has changed that I wouldn’t have anything to write about, but that is part of this journey. The ups, downs, and the long stretches in between filled with uncertainty, frustration, accomplishments, and joy are all part of life. They are the things that remind us why we are here and bring us closer together. They are our outstretched hands reaching in to the darkness that are met by the hands of others grasping for connection.

As the new year began, I have started waking up early again. I make my coffee and sit on the couch in a quiet house staring at a blank page. I think about our life, past, present, and future. I think about the people we’ve met along the way, and I start filling the page with words.

It turns out, I might have more to say after all.

The Night Watch

Every night before he goes to bed, my son takes a handful of pills.

The pills are the last line of defense that my son has against the unrelenting seizures that constantly lurk on the horizon. Especially at night, when his brain slows down to recuperate from the day, my son’s brain isn’t strong enough to defend itself against attack.

His medication is meant to strengthen his defenses so that his brain can rest. They are the guards on the parapet defending the residents inside the walls throughout the night. But the gaps in my son’s wall are too wide for the guards to cover. It’s not a question of whether a seizure will break through; it’s how many. It’s how much damage will the attackers do before the sun rises.

We’ve tried to boost his defenses. New medications. The ketogenic diet. VNS surgery. But none of them have prevented the nightly raids from exacting their toll on his developing brain. Even combined, they are no match for the electrical storm the flows wildly across the neurons and floods the cells.

It could be worse. It has been worse. Before we knew what this was, the flood nearly took my son. The uncontrolled pulses flowed through the gaps in his natural defenses and eventually breached them entirely, leaving his body frozen and his mind disconnected. We managed to beat back the invader and rebuild. We strengthened the walls. We bolstered the night watch. But our seizure calendar records the history of attacks, painting cells with yellow markers revealing every defeat in long ribbons of sequentially colored squares.

Every night before he goes to bed, my son takes a handful of pills because there is nothing else to do. We stick to our routine because it is better than the alternative. His pills, his diet, and his VNS play their part. But as he drifts off to sleep, I turn on the monitor and take my post watching over him, too. Because it’s my job on the night watch to be there when his defenses ultimately fail, to comfort him after the attack, and to help him rebuild the next day before we do it all over again.

 

Some Other Beginning’s End

It’s already February.

It feels like we skipped January, which I wouldn’t have minded.

January sets the tone for the year. We treat it as a fresh start. We make resolutions to change things about ourselves that we want to improve. And then we endeavor to build up enough momentum to carry those changes through the year and through our lives.

If we’re still exercising in February, or eating better, or not drinking, then there is a better chance that we’ll be doing the same in March and in December. But, inevitably, by the second month of the year, the gym is starting to thin out. There is a pint or two of ice cream in the freezer and a box of wine on the counter.

I was hoping for a better January. My son had VNS surgery in December. While I knew it would take months or a year to see if it would work, January felt so much worse. We often counted the time between seizures in hours, not days. We were reminded every five minutes when the VNS went off and tickled my son’s throat and changed his voice that we were still at war with a relentless enemy that takes and takes from him, leaving him tired and insecure and behind.

January didn’t even give us that first, hopeful week. It strapped us to the couch, shoved a ladle full of ice cream into our mouth and poured the box of wine down our throat on the first day. “Just so you don’t get any ideas that this year is going to be different or better, ” January said, smoking a cigarette with its foot on my chest.

Seneca said, “every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” I’m trying to find a new beginning in all of this. But to do that, I need to find an end, but there never seems to be one. We turn the page of the month, but it’s the same calendar with the same theme that has been hanging on the wall for the last five years.

The days of the month are color-coded to capture those when my son had a seizure. January is covered with the little yellow squares of activity. February isn’t starting out any better. It’s hard to look at the calendar and imagine that it is ever going to end or that we’re going to get that new beginning we’ve been hoping for.

But Seneca also said, “Begin at once to live, and count each separate day as a separate life.” Maybe I’m thinking too “big picture”. I’m trying to apply “before” and “after” to months and years instead of to each day. Each day when my son has a seizure ends and a new day begins without one. Each day has the potential to be the day that he doesn’t have a seizure. Each day has the potential to be the one when things begin to get better.

If it turns out to not be that day, I’ll try to remember that that day will end, too. And when it does, a new one will begin. I’ll try, but it won’t be easy. Because even though I’m trying to be grateful for each day and to see its potential, I’m still longing for the day when things finally get better for my son. Because even if it’s not possible, that’s the new beginning I still really want. But for that to happen, these relentless seizures and side effects need to end.