By guest blogger Jessica Sharon (Virginia Beach, Virginia)
I will never forget that day in November three years ago when my son Joey was diagnosed with tuberous sclerosis at the age of 7. At times it seems like it was only yesterday, and at other times it seems like it was forever go.
I went to wake him up for school like any ordinary day only to find he wasn’t responding to my voice, which was often typical being that he was NOT a morning person; only to roll him over and discover his eyes were rolled back in his head and he began convulsing. My initial thought at first was that he was playing a joke on me as children often do and being silly, but I very quickly realized that was not the case. It was the longest 30 seconds of my life and it seemed to go on forever. When he tried to get out of bed and walk, he immediately fell to the floor and had no feeling in his arms or legs. He began to cry in fear that he couldn’t walk and had to crawl to get around. I called 911 because I had no idea what to do or what was wrong with him. After all, he was a normal healthy child and had never had any health concerns before.
After admission to CHKD (Children’s Hospital of the Kings Daughters) in Norfolk, Virginia and numerous neurological tests, it was determined that he had TSC with lesions on his brain and heart. Thankfully, over time, the spots on his heart just went away, but spots had formed on his kidneys. I had never heard of this disorder before and had so many questions and concerns.
Fast forward three years to May of 2013. He is still averaging 3-4 absence seizures a week while on five epilepsy medications. We have tried just about every epilepsy medication out there to no avail. I always thought the seizures would be the worst of it all, but honestly, it’s the learning disabilities, mood changes, and just the overall change in his personality that has affected him and our family the most. He doesn’t want to be involved in any sports or activities that put him in a position to be surrounded by people with the possibility of a seizure occurring. It was such a struggle and an upward battle to get him an IEP within his school. As parents you truly must fight for them and be their biggest advocate because no one else will. He needed one desperately because his confidence was very low. He never felt smart, and he just struggled every day within the classroom; he is so bright and intelligent, but all the medications just seem to suppress much of that. He will be undergoing resection surgery in June at VCU medical center in Richmond to remove the cyst they confidently believe is causing the seizure activity. There is no guarantee that this will be the end of seizures for him, but as his mother, all I can do is give him the best chance at normalcy and a life free of seizures. After all, isn’t that what all of us want for our children, for them to be happy and healthy?
Everyone has their own story to tell when dealing with TS. I was too young when Ricka was born to remember how things all went. I only know them as related by our mom. Ricka’s TS seems to be a random genetic mutation. However, that didn’t mean anything when our younger brother began having seizures at the age of 24. It took many months and several neurologists before they could figure out what was wrong. Finally someone ordered genetic testing, and he doesn’t have TS. He has an unrelated seizure disorder caused by something in his brain that was triggered by the long term use of Ultram (tramadol) for serious back pain. No one tells you that a potential side effect of the medication is seizures, do they?
So, back to Ricka. She is very severely affected by TS, with autistic tendencies, a mental age of about 15 months, and lots of different kinds of seizures everyday. Both of her hips and her nose have been broken. She’s had more stitches, staples, sprains, bruises and bumps than anyone else I know. She used to be able to walk, but is now too scared. At school they called her “the escape artist.” She learned how to open doors, and she was so quiet they eventually had to put bells on all the doors in her building. I think at one point, she wore bells so they could always find her. Thankfully, she has never disappeared when I was in charge of her.
For me, life with Ricka is just my normal life. It’s what I’ve always known. With only 18 months between us, I was too young when she was born to have learned much about life without her. The things that I’ve learned when dealing with TS have kept me on my toes as I go through my own health problems, back surgery, and further treatments. I know when to fight and when to stop. I know to always be ready for anything. As a child, I always kept a bag packed with enough materials to keep me, Ricka, and our brother entertained for up to several days. We never knew when we’d be headed to the hospital, and there wasn’t time to waste gathering stuff to do. We also didn’t know when someone could come pick up my brother and me, so we had to be ready to stay at the hospital too. Advances in technology have made it so much easier. My laptop, Kindle, an iPad with movies on it for Ricka, snacks, and a charger for everything is enough for us now.
When we were young, before my brother was born, Ricka was in the hospital so much that I was allowed to walk around the hospital alone pretty often. Nurses and other staff members recognized me. My mom is still proud of the fact that I never got lost and could direct other people around. Maybe that’s one of the things that helped shape my good sense of direction now. Who knows?
I grew up pretty fast thanks to Ricka’s TS. I have always been her caretaker, and at nineteen, I became one of her guardians. It’s a scary thing to be in charge of someone else, but even more so when that person is your sibling, close in age, and so medically needy. Today, almost nothing freaks me out because I’ve probably seen it in my journey with Ricka or the other folks that I’ve been lucky enough to work with doing care for families. There are positives and negatives to growing up fast and seeing so many things. Some days, positives outweigh the negatives, and some days it’s the other way around.
I don’t know what the future holds for Ricka. I do know that she will always be loved and cared for at home by people who love her. I know that if something happens to our mom, I will be solely responsible for her. My brother lives nearly 2000 miles away and doesn’t want to be involved anyway. I know the importance of planning ahead now.
I have wanted to be a mother as long as I can remember. You can imagine the heartache my husband and I experienced when we didn’t have our first child for almost 9 ½ years. I felt so much joy when our son finally arrived, but I also felt a twinge of fear. I couldn’t explain it. I just didn’t feel that everything was all right. After Nami’s birth I was told both apgar scores were 9, and I tried to have that great news reassure me that we had a healthy boy. It didn’t. I just couldn’t shake the feeling inside me that something was wrong. I tried to convince myself that it was just because I wasn’t used to receiving good news, considering many challenges I’d had up to that point in my life. I tried to tell myself that I was being a pessimistic person and that I should enjoy my dream to be a mother finally coming true.
A couple of significant things happened in the hospital after Nami was born that didn’t seem quite so significant at the time. First, he basically came out arching his back. My mom questioned my dad (Nami’s pediatrician) about it. I could see my dad trying to keep an open mind and discussing many possibilities of why this was. One was that sometimes babies with neurological issues do that. Second, a CNA noticed a weird heart beat and notified the other staff. An EKG was ordered and the results came back as normal. We left the hospital being told we had a healthy baby boy.
I kind of succeeded in being able to relax for the first three weeks of Nami’s life, enjoying lots of cuddle time. When Nami was three weeks old, I took him to my parents’ for my sister to take some pictures of him. Near the end of the photo shoot, I noticed two white spots on the back of Nami’s leg. I am embarrassed of my reaction now, but at the time I started freaking out. I started to cry and ask, “How could my beautiful child have to have such ugly spots on his leg? Are they birthmarks? Is it vitiligo? This is so unfair!”
I remember badgering my dad with questions about the marks. He remained calm like he always does when I’m frantic about something. I told him that I had had a dream about my son having vitiligo and I just knew that’s what it was. He told me not to get ahead of myself, but that he would call the dermatologist and see what he thought. I left that night feeling angry that my son’s physical appearance wasn’t perfect. I thought, “How could this happen to us after we endured so much before he arrived?”
Over the next couple of days I noticed more white spots appearing. (I now know that Nami was born with the white spots, but as his jaundice went down and the pigment of his skin appeared, the white spots started to appear.) We finally heard from the dermatologist who suggested using a cream to see if it was eczema and we could clear it up. I was a bit suspicious that my dad wasn’t telling me everything so I pressed him about what else these spots could mean. He said that sometimes spots like this could be ashleaf spots and are a sign of a very rare neurological disorder, but that he didn’t want me to have to worry about that until we ruled out eczema. I let the issue go, but I felt that my dad was trying to protect me from something he knew was a possibility…something that was really bad.
For the next couple weeks I put the cream on Nami religiously. I checked his spots multiple times a day and even convinced myself at one point that they were getting better. Then I checked the next day and they were still there, as clear as ever. We made an appointment to see the dermatologist. I continued to feel like my dad knew more details than he was telling me. I feel now that he was hoping that he was wrong in thinking that it was TSC and he wanted to get the dermatologist’s opinion before verifying the horrible news.
While at the appointment, I could quickly see that we were not going to receive good news. The dermatologist tried to mask his sadness for us as he confirmed that the white spots were ashleaf spots and that he felt our son likely had Tuberous Sclerosis Complex (TSC). He printed off a couple of pages from one of his medical books to read over. I felt my body instantly go numb. I couldn’t believe this was really happening. That night I cried and cried and cried. I hugged Nami tight as my tears drenched his head. The dermatologist and my dad tried to keep reassuring me that there was so much variation within this disease and not to think of the worst. But, there that feeling was again. I knew something was horribly wrong. I felt my child would have it all.
It’s amazing to me how little I knew about TSC at the time considering the knowledge I’ve gained with my new obsession over the last four years. I recorded my thoughts in an email to my family the next day:
“So, what do I know? This is most likely a genetic mutation that can cause many problems. The problems range from neurological problems such as Parkinson’s and seizures to a 50% chance of mental retardation. ADHD, autism and tumors on various organs such as the brain, heart and kidneys are all possibilities. Major skin problems, eye problems and teeth problems are also possibilities. It’s difficult for us to know what Nami will have to endure until he gets some testing and experiences things as he grows. Dad is a lot more familiar with correct side-effects than I am. My mind is not too sharp right now, so I don’t want to say something wrong. I know the biggest thing we need to do is some genetic testing. It seems that dad also told us of about 5 specialists we’d need to see right away. We’ll need to get an EKG and brain wave test, an MRI and eye testing as well as some other tests that I can’t remember. He will have to get an MRI and eye test yearly. Whew…this is overwhelming!
This summer will be very different than what I expected and it’s only the beginning. I kinda feel like I deserved more of a break than I received with struggles, but I guess that’s selfish. Salesi and I have been through so much and grown through it all. During our most difficult times I felt that we were being prepared for something else. Those thoughts SCARED me but I guess I was right. It seemed quite a pessimistic view on life, but I’ve learned to be very tentative with good news. I’ve learned to try not to get so excited because it seems like disappointment is always around the corner. Throughout Nami’s birth, I took all good news in stride but had a dull gnawing sense that I didn’t know everything. My thinking throughout his short life and in the past has been that our child would be autistic. I am wishing that was it. I am wishing that what was first a disappointing discovery of what I thought were birthmarks were just that. My perspective on life has changed in an instant. Now I can see that ALL the difficulties I’ve experienced in my life have prepared me to be ready to take care of this special child. I am not shocked at this news although I can’t express the heartbreak I feel. I think I was prepared to receive this news so that I would be able to stay sane and make the choices I need to that are in Nami’s best interest.”
So far it has been a really tough road for us. Nami didn’t get the easier road with TSC (I say that knowing that “easy” and “TSC” do NOT belong in the same sentence). We have been told he has hundreds of brain tumors (no one is able to count exactly how many because there are too many), both cortical tubers and numerous SENs. He has an eye tumor, dozens of heart tumors (including one on his mitral valve which makes his blood kind of backwash), kidney tumors and cysts, and he already has 3 skin manifestations of the disease. He started having infantile spasms when he was 4 months old and has endured seizures most days of his life. He is currently having anywhere between 100-300 seizures daily despite being on 4 anti-epileptic medicines. We have made numerous trips to the ER due to seizures we cannot stop. Most of the time he is admitted. Our son has stopped breathing twice and had to be intubated and life-flighted both times. Nami is autistic. He can only say a few words and most of the time he only says them with prompting. He has major behavioral issues and at times he lashes out and can be destructive. He does not have good sleeping patterns. I feel like Nami would be much worse off were it not for my dad, though, the best pediatrician in the world (no I am not biased =).
I think back on the day I first saw Nami’s white spots. Oh how I wish now that the marks had just been birthmarks. It’s amazing how perspectives change so quickly. In a few short weeks I went from being extremely vain to wishing for all my son to have is some simple marks on his skin. Despite all of Nami’s challenges, I would not change him for anything. He is the light of our lives. He endures so much yet he smiles and laughs a lot. He loves his little brother. He sees the world in a unique way and teaches us to take time to see things his way too. He brings light to everyone who comes in contact with him. He hugs people. He makes us want to be better people. Every accomplishment he makes is a HUGE celebration. He is a FIGHTER! We are so blessed to have him as our son.
By guest blogger Kelly Oberg (Merrionette Park, Illinois)
Looking at Alex you would never know there is anything wrong with him. Alex has blonde hair, blue eyes and a smile that will capture your heart from the start. Alex has always been such a happy little boy. No matter what he is going through, he always has a smile on his face. Even though Alex cannot vocalize his wants and needs, we as a family have learned how to communicate with him in different ways. And being strong parents, makes for a strong little boy, who is being given the best care and love that can be given to our special little angel. There are never enough words that I could find to describe the love I have for my son Alex. In the past three years he has taught so many people so many things. He has taught me so much, that in a lifetime with him I would never be able to repay him for all that he’s taught me. Alex was born July 14, 2009, and the moment Alex was born he made an impact on everyone around him.
We were told when Alex was born that he had two holes in his heart and a heart murmur. The doctors were very hopeful that the holes would close before he reached two years old. The holes closed by the time Alex was a year old on their own. At this time we had thought that our prayers had been answered and Alex would be fine. Little did we know that there was another plan for us. I noticed early on that Alex was not big on sleeping; he would sleep for a hour then wake up screaming. He was also not hitting his developmental milestones like normal children would. After numerous trips to his doctor, we were told Alex was normal and just had colic. We knew it was not colic that we were seeing. It was something else, but as young parents we didn’t really know what it was that Alex was doing, other than not sleeping. Alex has always been a big child with a big head and big body; he came into our lives at a whopping 9lbs 8 oz. But as he grew his doctor was concerned about his growth being so big, so she sent us in for an ultrasound of his brain. We found out Alex had calcifications on his brain and hydrocephalus. Hydrocephalus is when you have too much fluid on or around your brain, and his doctor told us we just had to monitor Alex; if over time it got worse, we would address it then.
In February 2010, we learned Alex had severe hearing loss in both ears. After a few hearing tests, the doctors told us it was nerve damage, and they didn’t know if he would ever be able to hear. They suggested we try putting tubes in his ears. We did get the tubes in March 2010, as well as his adenoids taken out. Alex started to vocalize then. It was like a whole new world was opened up to him when he could hear.
In June 2010, while taking a bath, Alex was not acting right, so we took him into his room and kept an eye on him. This is when I experienced seeing my first seizure. At the time I had no idea what a seizure looked like. Alex was pale and laying so still on the bed just staring at the ceiling. I remember feeling so scared. I have never felt more scared than that moment looking at Alex. Within a minute or two, Alex came out of it and went to play. We watched him closely thinking he just didn’t feel well. The rest of the month, Alex did this three more times. The third time we decided to go to the emergency room. After describing what we saw, the emergency room doctors told us that Alex had a seizure, and because he had a fever, it was just febrile seizures. Febrile seizures usually go away when you reach age 5, but when you have a fever as a child you have a seizure. The doctor told us he would grow out of it. We were relieved that he would grow out of it and everything would be okay. In August 2010, on our third trip to the emergency room, the doctors grew concerned because now Alex was having seizures without the fever. The febrile seizures diagnosis was thrown out the window. They admitted Alex and ran a ton of tests from blood to urine to an MRI of Alex’s brain. The very next day, Alex’s pediatrician came into the room to talk to us. She said she had the results from all the tests but wanted to look at Alex for herself with this “wood light”. I agreed, and shortly after starting she stopped and sat down next to me. She started to cry and explain to me that the hospital staff of doctors, as well as her believe Alex had a disease called tuberous sclerosis. As she cried, she told me that Alex’s life would be very short; he would not talk, would not walk, or do things a normal child would. She told me to have Alex get a blood test to confirm this diagnosis and then make an appointment with the genetic doctor of the hospital. We did that and saw the genetic doctor on October 1, 2010.
It was in that very appointment that I found a side of me I never knew I had. I found a strength I had never seen before, as well as a voice for Alex that I never knew I had before. After not one, but two doctors told me my son would never walk or talk, let alone do anything a normal child could do, I made a promise to Alex that I would do everything in my being to allow him to have as normal of a life as I could give him, as well as get him the best care I could as far as doctors are concerned. A few days later I found the TS Alliance and found the TS clinic in Chicago, and ever since then I have never looked back. Alex now has a great team of doctors and nurses that know us and love Alex so very much.
Over the past two years, we found out Alex has severely obstructed sleep apnea, and that is the reason why he has not slept his whole life. Two surgeries later and Alex’s apnea is worse than when we started. Alex’s seizures have become more frequent up to six times a day, even with taking two different medications to help control them. Alex’s neurologist suggested that Alex would be a great candidate for a vagal nerve stimulator. A VNS is similar to a pacemaker but it is for the brain. It is hooked up to the vagal nerve in the neck and sends a pulse to the brain either at five-minute, three-minute, or one-minute intervals to help control the seizures. Alex was implanted on November 26, 2012, and the VNS was turned on Dec 6, 2012. Since the VNS was turned on we have not seen any seizures at all. We are off one of his seizure medications and almost off the other. This is a long-term help that we were in desperate need of. After an MRI in August 2012 we learned that Alex’s two SEGAS we were monitoring had grown a lot over the past three months, and Alex was a candidate for a medication called Afinitor. Afinitor is a medication that, to me, is a miracle drug. It helps people with tuberous sclerosis complex, not only with the problem they are taking it for, but in many other aspects too. See, Afinitor has shrunk Alex’s SEGAS by 20 percent in only three months of taking it, as well as helped him be more focused and develop cognitively.
We know that we as a family have a long road ahead of us, but it’s because of Alex that we have the strength to keep going. Alex has been through so many MRIs, blood tests, and hospital stays that he has shown us what a true warrior is by staying so strong during all of it. I feel truly blessed to have Alex as my son; he is one amazing little man.
By guest blogger Heather Lens (Stillwell, Oklahoma)
I’m not sure where to begin except right here…
Our world forever changed on April 13, 2013. It actually kind of started the Wednesday before, right before church. I was feeding Maddie and she kind of had a twitch, but it honestly didn’t look like anything more than that. By Friday I started noticing a small trend. She was twitching when she was getting tired so I went straight to the pediatrician. They were going to refer us to a pediatric neurologist in Tulsa for an EEG to rule out seizures. It was going to take a week to get into them. At the time it seemed like a good thing…If they aren’t getting us in that day it must not be anything too bad. Once again, they weren’t crazy seizure like activities.
By Friday night, Chris and I had noticed these movements were looking worse and her face was making different movements that we did not like. Saturday morning we headed straight to St. Francis Pediatric Trauma Center. It’s the nearest children’s hospital to us. We figured that they would be the best place to go if something was wrong, since it was a children’s center. They quickly got us admitted after seeing a video of one of her episodes, and that’s where everything went a little blurry. The first round of testing began… They drew blood to check her blood levels. They were thinking her potassium, electrolytes or sodium may have been off which could cause seizures. They then did a 20-minute EEG. Maddie did great with the test. She laid there like a champ as they hooked her up to 30 or so electrodes. I think Chris and I were hurting worse at that point. Seeing your beautiful perfect daughter hooked up is an awful feeling. Later on that day the doctor came in and broke the first part of our not so great news. Her EEG was abnormal and they confirmed that she had a diagnosis of infantile spasms which are caused by hypsarrhythmia. It’s where the brain sends of chaotic brain signals. Even though we thought something may be wrong, the news hit us like a ton of bricks. They were going to need to put on a EEG for 24 hours and monitor her by video as well.
The placement of the 24-hour EEG was the worst thing I have ever been through. Maddie was screaming, and Chris and I could only sit there and look at her while she was in such distress. It was the most helpless feeling ever. She ended up being on the EEG for over 30 hours. On the third day of our hospital stay they were going to do an ultrasound on her kidneys and abdomen to look for tumors that could be caused by a disease called tuberous sclerosis. They said that some babies who have IS can also have tuberous sclerosis. They also wanted to do an MRI to take a look at her brain. After finally getting the 24-hour EEG off, they took her back for her MRI, which was under sedation. It was another experience that no one should have to go through. She screamed as they sedated her and was fighting sleep so bad. She finally gave in and they took her limp body back to the room. My husband and I both broke down. Watching our perfect little girl look so lifeless was absolutely heartbreaking. We later got the results back from the ultrasound that there were no tumors on her ultrasound and we were thrilled! We just knew her MRI would come back clean. Unfortunately, we were wrong. The MRI came back with tumors on it. This news was the most devastating news our ears could hear…We looked down at our baby girl with tear-filled eyes. We didn’t understand how this could be happening to her and our family? She has been healthy and had been hitting her milestones. How on earth could this be real? After emotions of hurt, sadness, guilt and many more, we felt the prayers and realized that these conditions just make our precious girl that much more precious. We let it all out and then turned our eyes to the only one who can comfort us, God. We knew that we had been put in a crazy spot for a reason. God had entrusted Chris and I to take care of this precious girl because He KNEW THAT WE COULD DO IT. What an honor to be her parents! We know we have a lot of work ahead of us.There will be a trial of medicines to try and stop these spasms, and unfortunately TSC will be a condition she lives with. That being said, we know some people live a normal life with this disease. We are hoping for that, but will not be discouraged if that isn’t her path. We will change our normal and make it a new normal. I dislike the word normal anyway…Who wants to be normal? Not Miss Maddie!
“Whenever God gives you a gift, he wraps it up in a problem. The bigger the gift you have coming, the bigger problem you will receive. But the wonderful thing is that if you look for the gift, you will always find it.”
December has been a tough month for blogging. I feel like I’ve been going, going, going. That’s even more than I usually feel like I’m going, going, going with a 9-month-old. It started with stressing over trying to get that confounded EEG appointment, then going down to Florida to see Chris’s parents, coming home and checking into the hospital the next day for the EEG, getting discharged in time to start all the family festivities with those that came to town, then Christmas. I was so exhausted I had to renege on plans to hang with some friends at a bar downtown. This after weeks of thinking, “man, I want to go out.” Not that I don’t go out, but I wanted to go out more like I went out pre-baby.
It didn’t help that we went from warm, sunny Florida where it was still summer, and we floated around in the backyard pool with beers in our hand, back to chilly Atlanta, where we immediately had to check in for the stay from hell at Scottish Rite.
Pics from Florida:
So we got all nice and relaxed in time to check in for Connor’s EEG where we could promptly become stressed and agitated. We had no issues with our neurologist. He kept us informed and even let us out a day early as we’d caught several “episodes.” This is our second less than satisfactory in-patient experience. First time was after his brain surgery. The surgery part went great. We love our surgeon and we had a good experience with the surgery department. There were a few issues once we moved to his room though, the primary anger-inducing one being that the day after surgery when he started swelling, he was clearly in pain. His heart monitor kept going off because of it, but nobody ever came to check on him (or for any other alarm for that matter). Don’t get me wrong. I totally understand that every alarm is not an emergency, but as parents, when things go off repeatedly for an extended period of time, we might benefit from a little explanation of what warrants concern. Not to mention, it’s already stressful and then you’re sitting in a room with all this machinery beeping at you obnoxiously. It got to the point where in the middle of the night I just started silencing them myself (after it had been clearly established which ones were clearly unworthy of response). At any rate, we finally asked when his next round of pain meds would be. I stupidly assumed (as I am new to the medical world-my first hospital stay being Connor’s birth) that he was getting them because his skull had been drilled into and his brain resected. “Would you like him to receive pain meds?” was the response. “Ummm…yes. He’s in pain and crying.” The nurse responded, “Yes. I saw his heart rate kept going up on the monitor out there.”
Well, alrighty then. But this was before I read an article that advised to never have surgery on Fridays because weekends aren’t exactly the best staffed, so I chalked a lot of it up to that. Also, before I continue, I want to be clear that it’s not my intention to bash nurses. We’ve had great ones that were very proactive in pushing doctors that were taking their sweet time taking care of business, especially in the NICU, but it’s like any profession. Some are great, some are good, some suck. Because then there was the evening Aunt Donna watched him while we went to dinner and he pulled his IV out, spurting blood everywhere. The boy loves to yank his wires. She was left applying pressure to the bleeding spot until the nurse could return with a bandaid. Good thing it finally quit bleeding because nobody ever came back. We also couldn’t get his med schedule reestablished while we were there becaue every time shift changed, nobody had passed on that he takes them at 8 and 8, so they were coming at all crazy, inconsistent times.
So this time we were there mid-week. I do think he got more attention this time, which was funny because it was just a testing situation. But the meds were consistently late messing up his sleep schedule, sometimes more than an hour. And the most frustrating part is that I don’t want to yell at the wrong person. I don’t want to go off on the nurse, because if they are understaffed, that is not her fault. But with a lot of the stuff that doesn’t go smoothly, you just don’t know where the breakdown happened. I’m particularly uncomfortable in this area because I taught for seven years and I know what it is to have parents let you have it over things you have no control over.
But even midweek, we weren’t issue free. There was the EEG removal and shutdown I mentioned in my last entry. Then came the big one. The second night we were there I noticed Connor’s eye was red and irritated. I thought perhaps that in his rubbing and messing with his electrodes he may have gotten some glue in his eye, so I asked the nurse if there was something that could be done to soothe it. She was uncertain whether it was irritation or an infection so she wanted to check in with a doctor first. Thirteen hours later he finally got a saline flush. (And I had brought up the eye problem twice more). By then it had progressed to goopy, not opening, and him screaming like a bat out of hell when we pried it open. Sixteen hours later after more followups from me, a pediatrician checked him out. He’s still screaming and refusing to open his eyes. Seventeen hours later he got ointment and a swab to test for pinkeye. The swab would later come back negative, affirming that perhaps if he hadn’t had to wait 13 hours for an okay on a simple saline flush, that maybe he didn’t have to suffer the next few days, even after he came home, unable to see us or his toys. Here I thought being in a hospital was the optimal place to be if something like this happened. Who knew we’d have been better off at home and taking him for an emergency pediatrician appointment? Sixteen hours as a patient in a hospital. What happens if you contract MRSA? Does a limb have to fall off?
I’ll end my diatribe there. But I will say that I’m the calm(er) one, always telling Chris not to burn bridges. God help any hospital that houses me should I ever lapse into a coma.
There was one thing that led me to feel grateful after this stressful stay. After we were home, a friend posted a link on Facebook about the passing of a friend’s premie baby. I didn’t know the parents, but as I was downstairs bitching about Connor’s eye, there were parents above us in a NICU I know all too well losing their child after 77 days of life. Things can always be worse. I can’t even imagine.
As I mentioned, Connor’s eye-rolling “episodes” as I now call them did not show up on EEG as seizure activity. After another day of comparing video of his eye-rolling with simultaneous EEG activity, one correlation our neuro could find was that when Connor is awake, electrical activity from his left occipital lobe tuber spreads over the left side of the brain. When he’s sleeping it spreads all over the brain. However, when he has the eye-rolling episodes, the activity resembles what it does when he’s sleeping even though he’s awake. But it doesn’t build up into a seizure. It’s just a little quick burst of activity from the tuber (which if I understand correctly isn’t uncommon in TSC) that dies away before it builds into anything. So, for the neuro, it still doesn’t explain why his eyes move like that when he has these clusters. He is still looking into it because he’s never seen this before. I’m glad now that he didn’t okay the ambulatory EEG because the test would have been a wash without video.
Anyway, December has been so crazy I never got to do my post about decorating for Christmas, which I love. So here are some shots of our house:
And my new pride and joy: a Lego Christmas village! Put together, of course, by Chris. I don’t have the patience. Chris’s initial plan was to assemble and disassemble on an annual basis since he enjoys Legos. Several hours of construction later, that plan was out the window. I’ll explore the fake snow option next year, but after hours of work, Chris was opposed to anything that required the manhandling and moving of the parts. Very, very opposed. So Merry Christmas. I didn’t break the village!
Shots of Connor’s first Christmas in the next blog entry!
What a lovely evening. I am lying. There is a possibility we will be discharged tomorrow instead of Friday. If there is a God, he will get me out of this place. Oh, Connor’s fine. But I’m going mental. I can actually handle staying here, no problem. It’s the not having control thing that is making me completely insane. Tonight the meds came an hour and 15 minutes past his med time. By then I’d had to give in and feed him although feeding him is essential to getting the meds into him, and we’d missed the window to put him to sleep. So my baby that goes down no problem 98 percent of the time, screamed for an hour, and now continues to stir every so often and wake up to cry enough so that I have to pat him back to sleep. Just when I thought we established a firm schedule of the meds being 40 minutes late. Look, if you won’t allow me to do it, then you gotta bring them on time. And if you’re understaffed and it can’t be done, well, then you’re gonna have to let me freakin’ do it. I’ll sign a damn waiver.
So, the big news! What do we know so far? Our neurologist stopped by to talk about what he’s seen so far on the EEG. Connor has had a few episodes now which could clearly be seen on the video and the neurologist has gone over the activity that coincides with those events…and the conclusion is: Drum roll please!!!! (you better be pounding your desk at home)
Nothing. We still don’t know. Nothing is there. No seizure activity is appearing on the EEG. Everything looks good in the abnormal way the EEGs of people with TSC can look good (meaning it is normal for people with TSC to have an abnormal EEG due to the tubers, even if they are having no seizures).
WTF, baby. WTF.
Since all the activity is with the eyes he added two more electrodes right next to them to see if that changes anything. So we shall see. I suspect we will check out knowing no more than when we came in. However, we may be increasing the keppra as his episodes got shorter last time we did. And possibly going down on the klonopin (clonazepam) as that never seemed to do much.
So, I’m glad the EEG looks good, but ummm, apparently we need to work on Connor’s attitude because he rolls his eyes at me at least 50 times a day. Just kidding. I don’t know what to think.
I just scanned over what I’ve written so far and it reminds me of why I hate baby discussion forums. Everyone talks in acronyms and I got sick of having to google everything they said.
The day was otherwise exciting as the kids got a visit from the seizure dog today. Connor loves dogs. I’m bummed I wasn’t able to snap a pic of the big smiles he had when the dog came in. It makes me really want to get him one, but Chris and I both agreed they were too much work. So we had a baby instead.
Connor also managed to massacre the electrodes on his head today. Two factors contributed to this. One, he inherited this crazy gene from his father that makes him sweat even when it’s 20 degrees out. Two, he likes to yank on things, especially wires and hair. Once he had created a sweat lodge inside his gauze turban, it was all over. It started to unravel around 4. Previously someone had come in right away if something came loose, but this time no. I casually mentioned it to a nurse, but I guess I didn’t properly express the imminent danger of these tiny little hands. Later, Aunt Donna came to watch while we went to dinner. It was straight raggedy by then. And when we returned, I guess one of the techs had shut it off from their remote monitoring station (perhaps located in the Lost hatch?).
Just then the nurse arrived, so I addressed the elephant in the room.
“So we’re here for an EEG, and jeepers this is awkward, but there is no EEG. Does this mean I can go home and hit the Jack Daniels?”
I will say, someone was there shortly after to redo it. Shift change had just occurred. When I replied 4 o’clock to her inquiry about when this started coming off, her expression was, well, I will call it “interesting.”
…because people are driving me insane. In order to maintain my positive thinking, I must vent somewhere, so even though I’m about to do some more complaining, I’m just emptying the irritation can so I don’t kill anyone who looks at me funny tomorrow.
So first, the good thing. Since I’m reporting to you live at Connor’s hospital bedside, I can tell you he’s had two episodes while hooked up to the EEG. Finally. They weren’t able to thwart us this time. He’s having more clusters a day, though the clusters tend to be shorter than before. Today I saw five for the first time since this eye rolling started, although the last one, may have only been a couple quick rolls.
Now here’s the part where I unload. What can I say? I’m tired. This EEG business has been going on since 6 am (and I don’t count the ordeal of getting this appointment-see previous posts). I had to wake up to call the transfer center to see if there was a room for him. There wasn’t. But that was okay because I knew it was a possibility we would be on standby at first waiting for one. At least they let us wait at home. So I have to call back at 8. Then I have to call back at 10. Then they say call back at 12. Okay. Deep breath. Sick kids get precedent and apparently there’s a massive influx of RSV cases. I’m not a monster. I do understand that. Another deep breath. Then YAY! They call ME back at 10:30 and say to be here by 12 because they will get him hooked up in the lab and hopefully a room will be ready by then. So we come to the hospital. Where we wait. And wait. And wait until two hours later he gets his electrodes. But there’s still no room, so the test isn’t going yet. So we wait. And nap. And wait. And we finally get a room at almost 5 pm. They almost broke me waiting for the electrodes. Oh yes, it was close. But I maintained.
That was nothing. Here was what really got my heart thumping. We went over all his meds earlier in the day and they had been submitted to the pharmacy. It was made very clear that all meds during his stay would come from the hospital pharmacy and must be administered by the nurse even though we do it at home every day. I will cut them a break on that given the litigious nature of this society. But, one of Connor’s meds is not easy to obtain. I was highly doubtful they’d even have it in stock considering I heard they recently ran out of a major antibiotic. But hey, they have all their information hours before his med time, right?
His med time in the evenings is at 8. At 8:25 I was about to call and see what was up because he was getting sleepy and cranky, when the nurse comes in. We administer Klonipin. Then Keppra. Then…taking vitals? “Are you giving him his vigabatrin?” I ask. “Oh the pharmacy wanted me to ask you about that. They wondered if you had it here because they don’t have any.”
For a moment I flashed back to the night a few years ago that I was at my favorite bar, Fado (before it moved and stopped being awesome), having too much to drink and breaking up with a guy via text (don’t judge me for the text. I don’t usually condone that. There’s more to the story). I was, shall I say, not in a good mood, and fueled by alcohol. Fado had recently hired a new valet, and he, how do I say this politely, sucked a fat one. Drunk girl was ready to leave, he had my keys, and was nowhere in sight. (Disclaimer: I am not the one who drove my car home). Thirty minutes later, after inquiring to his whereabouts with several bartenders, he wanders out of the kitchen where he was hanging out. I said, “There you are! I need my keys!” And he said…are you ready for this? He said, “Relax.”
I. Lost. My. Sh#%. Lost it big time. It is the only time in my life I have ever gone off on someone in the service industry. And as I did it, I could see my friends Lili and Angel desperately looking for an exit so they could disassociate from me. I went batsh#% crazy. But I don’t feel bad because I would be vindicated another evening when he blocked a bunch of cars in and failed to take the keys from the owners blocking them.
But Connor cannot duck away from me. My actions can affect him and his future treatment, whereas I knew our favorite bartender Kevin would never fail Angel and Lili, so I calmly replied, “Yes. I did wonder if you would have that drug.” What I did not scream was, “ARE YOU EFFING KIDDING ME? THE PHARMACY JUST FIGURED THIS OUT? WHAT IF I DIDN’T HAVE IT? IT’S ONLY HIS MOST IMPORTANT MEDICATION!”
And when I was asked to turn it over to have the pharmacy verify it, I stashed a bunch out of sight. Navigating the medical world.
Last night was a little bit of a bummer for Chris and me. I think it just suddenly hit us with great frustration, the ways that Connor is behind physically. We’re really focused on getting him sitting independently, but he’s definitely not where an 8.5 month old should be. It’s not that we didn’t already know he was behind, but as he gets older and babies can be more active, it’s so much more obvious. I find myself obessing over other babies I see doing more that appear to be smaller in size. Granted, the fact that he’s a chunk doesn’t help, but it used to be if the baby turned out to be older, it didn’t bother me so much. Even if the baby was just a little older, I’d feel okay. But a few days ago we were having breakfast at J. Christopher’s and there was a small, but very active baby girl in a high chair. Even though she was much smaller than Connor, I guessed her to be 9 months. Plus she had older siblings. And she’s a girl! Girls develop faster, right?! I’ve seen kids running, literally, that were smaller than Connor and when I ask, they turn out to be in the 18 month range. When mom replied, “Seven and a half months.” I clenched my teeth and faked a smile. She was supposed to be older than Connor, even if only by a couple weeks.
Whatever these eye rolls are, presumably seizure activity of some sort, I think they are slowing him down. I’m anxious to get our EEG done so we can hopefully adjust meds. Better yet, would be to find out that it’s some sort of harmless electrical activity, but considering they mimic seizures by occurring when he’s very sleepy or right when he wakes up, I don’t know if that will happen. He sped up so much after surgery when the complex partials stopped, but we’ve been on the edge of sitting independently since September. Yes, he’s better, but I thought it would have been mastered long ago.
Why do seizures have to be so annoyingly complicated and present in so many ways? Before all this, when I heard the word seizure I envisioned the classic grand mal (now called tonic clonic) as presented on TV shows and movies. Even if you read descriptions of the different seizure types it can be very confusing because the written description may not match what you’re seeing. I was baffled forever because we were told that his original seizures were complex partials, yet when reading about them online, the physical description was nothing alike. His body would jerk, in a manner more resembling a tonic clonic. But it has more to do with how it works in the brain. A tonic clonic is way more intense, even if it does have similar jerking movements. Some seizures are just staring. Some people have what seem like anxiety attacks, but in fact could possibly be a tyoe of seizure. Take his eye rolling for example. We see the TSC neurologist, and yet he’s never even seen this before.
Argh! I try not to let it get to me. It doesn’t mean he’s not going to do these things. I know he will. Developmental delays are extremely common in TSC, and it doesn’t mean he can’t be a normal kid (albeit perhaps dealing with some TSC issues), but it’s still nerve wracking. I get comfort from interacting on the TS Alliance website with adults who have TSC, and have lived pretty normal lives. That’s not to say they don’t have issues to contend with, but they went to college, have kids, have jobs, etc. Some of them, being born at a time when jack was known about this disease, say their parents were told they would be dead by the time they were 3, 5, or 8. Some parents were told they would be vegetables unable to function at all. And here they are, talking to me on FB. Medicine has come a long way. I don’t think most parents upon diagnosis today get these doomsday diagnoses, because they simply aren’t true. Yes, there are severe cases to be sure, but such predictions can’t be made about a baby. I am thankful that we live in a big city, though, because from time to time I come across people in small towns whose doctors have been practicing since those olden days or can’t work the Internet because they still throw that stuff at them. Oh, your kid will never walk, talk or read. Wrong. There is no shortage of parents who were told that and it wasn’t true. Their kids did all those things.
I’m just really ready to do this video EEG and see what’s going on finally. If the neurologist’s office hadn’t stepped in to help us, I’m certain we wouldn’t have heard by now. I hear it’s quite common for it to take some time. While I understand there’s some coordination that has to take place, and perhaps expecting a same day answer is unreasonable, the fact that I was supposed to receive the accompanying paperwork via e-mail two days ago leads me to believe that patients are waiting longer than they should have to. I was told it would come the night we made the appointment. It didn’t. Out of concern that it didn’t go through I contacted the hospital again to make sure that wasn’t the case. It hadn’t been sent yet, but would be sent that day. Still didn’t come. Day number 3, we shall see… People don’t have EEGs for fun. They are indicative of a problem. They should be scheduled as quickly as humanly possibly. But, hey, what do I know.
But things always seem brighter in the morning, even at 5 am surprisingly. Connor decided to wake up nice and early. Since Chris had to go into work today, I brought Connor into bed with me where his hijinks continued. He was enjoying some early morning shrieks (for fun, not upset) and kicking the mattress. I was half asleep “talking” to him, repeating his sounds back. And if I dared nod off, he’d manage to seize my blanket and yank it off me (Baby danger! Baby danger! Can’t let him suffocate under my blanket! Man, he knows how to play me). At one point I awoke to him yanking my hair. So much for the 10 inches I cut off. We’ve been reading books all morning, aside from the nap that was required for both of us. He’s also getting pretty good at feeding himself his bottle, although he needs help with the second half because the concept of tipping the bottle hasn’t quite taken hold. We started sippy cup training, which is going great (insert sarcasm). He hates the sippy cup so far. We started with a regular one with a hard plastic mouth piece. That was a resounding “oh hell, nah.” Then we got one that’s flexible like a nipple but shaped like a sippy mouth piece. He did take a few sips before the resounding, “oh hell, nah.”
Progress is progress, right? Perhaps the fact that it’s 4 p.m. and we’re both still in pajamas means I’m not setting the best example for motivation…
Mixed Up Mommy is just really in a pissed off mood today. All these years I’ve taken crap for being part of the teaching community, and everyone likes to crap on the teachers all the time. (“I pay your salary!” Oh yeah, well I pay taxes too, so I guess that makes me self-employed.) How about we turn that energy and focus it on the medical community…I’ll exclude nurses there since much of the time they seem to be the only ones doing anything, with the exception of Connor’s time recovering from seizure surgery on the seizure floor. They didn’t impress me much, but otherwise, they seem to be the only ones who get anything done. First of all, I’m sick to death of the administrative people. I hate them the most. They don’t give a damn. I’m sick of waiting for phone calls to be returned. This past summer, just to make an appointment with our surgeon, the scheduler took a week to call me back. Scheduling surgery? Another week. I received a bill that made no sense for $200 from the Emory-Children’s Clinic. I spent a month trying to get the billing department to call me back and explain it. I didn’t get a response until I mailed them a letter and sent a copy to every single member of the board, including the CEO. And it was a mistake. We didn’t owe anything. I’m sick of having to call doctors over and over and over. I’m sick of inordinate amounts of time in waiting rooms. I’m annoyed that we spent so long waiting for our eye appointment this morning that the doctor couldn’t even do the full exam because by then Connor was in one of those deep unarousable baby sleeps, and we had to go off the intial exam done by the tech for part of it.
I’m also pissed that I found out that the results of the ERG that was done on Connor’s eyes at Scottish Rite September 7 were never shared with anyone. His eyes have to be monitored because of a risky medication he’s on. This was just the baseline test to see where his vision started out before starting meds, so I wasn’t concerned, but I did notice they never contacted me with results. It was stupid of me not to follow up, but up until now, the one thing that does seem to go well in baby medical care is the sharing of the information. All Connor’s doctors and specialist do a good job of contacting one another about everything and always have on file what has gone on elsewhere. So I stupidly thought that a test that required sedation and admission through day surgery at Scottish Rite would warrant sharing with SOMEONE. But apparently we went through all that so the results could sit somewhere in lala land not be used for anything. Now I get to track them down and get them sent to the other doctors.
But, hmmm, how does one get another department to return your call when one can’t get a return call from the one she’s been trying to get in touch with since Wednesday? Thank you to the EEG department for closing for the weekend without returning any of my calls. Cuz God knows it ain’t no thing to squeeze in a 3-day EEG during the holidays. So I guess it’s the battle of the EEGs and ERGs.
But hey, it’s not your kid. What the hell do you care?
Living in Atlanta, loving travel and watching my son kick tuberous sclerosis complex's butt.