Seizures are really obvious. I couldn’t possibly miss one. We’ve all seen them on television: the fall to the floor, the violent thrashing, maybe some foaming at the mouth. Therefore, it’s really easy to keep track of them for the neurologist and make decisions about which medication is the perfect match for your situation.
Hear that? That is the sound of the collective eye rolling of the epilepsy community. Just kidding, ya’ll!
It turns out that a seizure can look like damn near anything. Eye rolling, staring, wandering, confusion, a single limb jerking, lips puckering, a split second head drop, a split second loss of muscle tone that sends a person plummeting to the floor, jackknife motions of the body, going stiff as a board, a scream…or nothing. Nothing at all. All you know is that suddenly your child went from smiling and laughing to laying his head on the floor and going to sleep, or he’s suddenly so weak that his arms give out and he smacks his head on the floor resulting in two black eyes. It’s not just seizure freedom that can be elusive, but the seizures themselves.
Was that a seizure? Was that? And what about that? Do I count that if I’m not sure? Was that one seizure or two different ones back to back? And that one? That one looked like a weird combination of tonic clonic and complex partial, so which do I mark it as on my Seizure Tracker app? Our smart phones fill with videos of suspicious behavior we share with our online support groups and doctors trying to get answers. It takes an hour to do the dishes because I turn around and look at the baby every 30 seconds to see if anything is happening. Every stoplight I turn around and squint at the baby mirror. If he has actually managed to go a few days seizure free, when one happens, I play mind games with myself about putting it in the tracker. That was a small one. Am I sure it was really a seizure? Does it count if I don’t record it?
I think the first year was the worst. Babies are weird and do weird stuff. How do I differentiate normal weird from abnormal weird? Is he discovering his hands or is he seizing? Trying to roll over or seizing? It’s even worse if it is the first child and there is no one to compare him to. It’s a little easier with a toddler. Not easy. Just easier. It is easier for me to distinguish typical behavior from anomalies, or if a movement was intentional or not. Not all the time, but enough to do the dishes in a reasonable amount of time. Or settle for a quick glance in the rear view. Sometimes I even settle for logging the seizure type as “unknown .”
And choosing just the right medication? Yes, that was another collective eye roll. We experiment, and change doses, combine two, three, maybe even more seizure medications. We try one med with great anticipation because it made another kid seizure free, only to find that it makes our kid have more. And if we find one that works, eventually he insists on growing or something else changes, and the experiment continues.
I have to accept that there are limits to what I can fix and do the best I can.
Most importantly, I finally realized that it doesn’t make me a bad parent if I don’t always know. I WILL miss seizures. I won’t know what every movement is. There won’t always be answers. There will be good days and bad days. But they will be worth it.