On Wednesday (my last blog post), I began writing of the second most difficult experience I have ever had. This is Part II of that experience.
That Christmas there was a lot to celebrate. Chris made the 6 hour drive from Roswell to Colorado Springs with another classmate to spend the holidays at home. My mom and uncle from Ohio also visited that Christmas. Chris and I drove to Denver International Airport one evening to pick them up. Since I have poor night vision without my glasses, Chris agreed to drive us home.
As we were barreling down I-25 at 75 miles per hour and conversing with my mother and uncle, I glanced over at Chris. I noticed his eyes were wide as his head turned from me to the road in front of him. He looked like he had just seen a ghost. His lips smacked, and his fingers on each hand extended with the palms of his hands in contact with the steering wheel.
“Chris? What’s wrong?” I asked. My heart was in my throat.
All he could manage was to look from me to the road in front of him.
Again, I asked, “Chris? Are you okay?”
No response, but again his head turned as if looking at the road and then me.
After a few seconds the event subsided. “What in the hell was that?” I asked. “Are you all right? Do you need me to drive? You looked like you saw something scary!”
“I’m fine,” was all he said.
It happened a few times again after that. Before he went back to school after the holidays, we had him checked out at the Air Force Academy hospital.
What we described to the doctors resembled Absence Seizures. Absence Seizures usually occur in young children. Chris was about to turn 21. According to epilepsy.com website, absence seizures are “lapses in awareness, sometimes with staring. They begin and end abruptly, and usually are so unnoticeable they can go undetected for months.”
The website also says there are two types of absence seizures. Directly from the website, these two types are:
“Simple absence seizures: During a simple absence seizure, a person usually just stares into space for less than 10 seconds. Because they happen so quickly, it’s very easy not to notice simple absence seizures — or to confuse them with daydreaming or not paying attention.
Complex absence seizures: During a complex absence seizure, a person will make some kind of movement in addition to staring into space. Movements may include blinking, chewing, or hand gestures. A complex absence seizure can last up to 20 seconds.”
I had never noticed anything like this in my son ever before.
His father and I stayed in denial for quite a while. However, I will say, I think I began to accept reality sooner than his father did.
Concerned for his safety, his father followed him back to school when he had to return to Roswell after the holidays. In retrospect, we were not concerned enough. We should have NEVER let him drive back to Roswell!
Try as we might, we could not convince him that he should not report to the Merchant Marine Academy the following June. We kept telling him they would send him home as soon as they discovered his condition. However, like all young people, he had to learn the lesson for himself.
That summer, my husband and I along with Chris and his dad flew to Long Island, New York. After a few days, we left Chris to begin his first year at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy.
Two days after we returned home, that fateful phone call came. Chris experienced two episodes and was hospitalized. The academy was beginning paperwork to send him home. They were however, putting his appointment on hold for a year. If he got his medical condition stabilized within a year, he would be allowed to return to the academy.
He never did get to return.
Being away from my child at a time when he was experiencing such mental anguish over the end of his lifelong dream was heart wrenching. I cannot say first-hand how he was feeling, but I can say that I had an ach in my chest so strong that it felt like a burning dagger had pierced my heart. I would have given my life at that moment to stop any pain he might have been experiencing.
To say he was angry (and rightly so) when he returned home was an understatement. Never one to talk about his feelings, Chris took the opportunity to take out his anger on those that love him the most. Isn’t that usually what we do?
As soon as Chris returned home, a long-time friend hired him to work part-time in his archery shop. The friend’s concern was that Chris might become depressed, so he wanted to keep him busy.
Another thing we did right away was have him enroll in classes full-time at the University of Colorado here in town. “Just because the Army won’t take you, doesn’t mean you can’t get a Bachelor’s degree in something and go to work full time,” we told him.
Meanwhile, Christopher tried one anti-seizure medication after another, sometimes a cocktail of three or 4 combined, to no avail. He’d go for a few weeks without an event, and then he’d have one.
One Friday evening around 7:00 p.m., I received a phone call from his father. Chris had been in a car accident. He had totaled his truck. He had a seizure after stopping at a red light on the way to his father’s house. For some reason we were still thinking we could keep him safe while following him while he drove. DENIAL DENIAL DENIAL!
Fortunately, no one, including our son, was hurt. There happened to be no one on the road. THANK GOD FOR SMALL MIRACLES! We were very lucky!
Every state regulates its driver’s license eligibility for people with different medical conditions. Colorado does not require physicians to report when they have a patient that has seizures and does not have a set amount of time it requires a person to be seizure free. It is up to the individual with the disability to self-report to the state.
After the accident, Chris stopped driving. If he needed to go somewhere, his father or I drove him. Sometimes his friends would give him rides to and from wherever he needed to be. He rode the city bus whenever he could, until the city cut back on some of its bus services. Chris began walking the three miles to and from campus whenever he could. I bought him a bicycle, and when the weather was nice, he would ride his bike. I would drop him off at his university at 6:00 a.m. some mornings on my way to work where he made friends with a building custodian who would let him into the building early to wait for his 8:00 a.m. class. Sometimes I would pick him up on my way home.
I agonized over Chris. I wondered if his situation would ever be resolved. Would he ever be able to be independent and self-sufficient? Would he always have to have another person around to help him? What woman would want to marry him knowing he had epilepsy? What would he do when his father and I were too old to help him anymore? What about when we were gone? Would he have to live with his sister? Would it be fair to ask that of her? Would he ever be able to find a job that would provide him with a decent living? I literally lost sleep over this situation. Isn’t that what parents do?
Finally, his neurologist referred him to another neurologist at the Anschutz Medical Campus—University of Colorado Denver. This new neurologist ran a battery of tests on Chris and felt he might possibly be a candidate for surgery. The goal was to find the exact point of origin for his seizures and remove that portion of his brain. I had known about this type of surgery years earlier and attempted to have him seen at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio shortly after he returned from Long Island, but Chris wasn’t ready to hear about it at the time. In addition, his doctors were not ready to consider it yet either. They had to try all of the medications available first.
I took a week off work to be with Chris while he was in the hospital. I told him I was going to stay with him and he yelled at me, “You are not camping out in my room the entire time I am in the hospital!”
“I will if I want to! You might be 25 years old, but I am still your mother and I will be there at least the first 24 hours after you come out of surgery. You can argue with me as much as you want, but you aren’t going to get your way on this one!”
If he realized the seriousness of the thought of brain surgery, he sure was hiding it well. He didn’t seem scared at all. That’s probably because I was anxious enough for all of us.
Two years ago, Chris had a left temporal lobectomy and with the assistance of his medications, he has been seizure free! He began driving again after one year of being seizure free. Except for the time he went away for a weekend with some friends and didn’t take his medications, he has been doing well. That weekend of fun cost him three months behind the wheel. As long as he takes his meds, he is good to go.
Chris does not believe the surgery helped, but I will argue the opposite every time. Before the surgery, the medication alone did not work. Now, it works! It helped.
Chris is finally finishing college. He had to take a year off after the surgery. In a few weeks, he will be finished with his student teaching. He will be a high school physics and chemistry teacher when he is done. He is proud of the scar he has on his head. I think it might remind him of the long road to success it has been. That is okay. Usually the long road makes us ever more grateful and appreciative of the good things we have in our lives. When I asked him why he chose teaching after he lost the military, his response was, “Well teaching is a leadership position, isn’t it?”
“It sure is, Chris. One of the most notable ones there is!”
You make me proud, son.
Here is today’s card.
I really like the way this card turned out. I love the colors! They are Pistachio Pudding and Wild Wasabi. Would have never thought to put those two together. I was inspired by one of the cards in the current issue of Stampin Success.
Hope you enjoyed your visit today. Thanks for stopping by. Until next time…