Wednesday, September 28, 2016

One Foot in Front of the Other

Adulthood throws curveballs, that much I've learned.

In my twenties I was naive enough to think that I had it all planned out, how our life would go.  And why wouldn't I?  I was doing everything right, checking the boxes.  Kids and job and health and suburbs and nice vacations - smooth sailing.

At first, blips in my steady line would literally sweep me off my feet.  Family turmoil, peanut allergies, post partum depression, sudden deaths in relatively young relatives - it would all become overwhelming in a way that I could barely cope, for the short term.  The loss of control over my life trajectory, and the reminder that I really had no control, would send me into a tailspin, complete with insomnia, anxiety attacks, and a general malaise.  I like to think, thanks to therapy, medication, and just the wisdom of getting older, that I can now handle these blips better - that I am more accepting, more in the present moment, more at peace.

My husband had a seizure last October while he was on a jogging trail, and it came out of nowhere. He was discovered by fellow joggers and taken away on a stretcher, when he called me from the ambulance.  My first view of him at the hospital was jarring - he was out of it, bloody, and bruised.  No, no, no, I remember thinking, This is not our life.  This is not how it goes.   MRI's, CT scans, and EEGs followed, all coming out normal.  I impressed myself with my sense of calm throughout the whole ordeal, and had an odd sense of confidence that everything would be fine. And it was. After six months, we exhaled.  He started driving again.  Onward and upward.

My husband was drowsy and a bit detached on Sunday night, but after some marathon conference calls, I couldn't blame him.  He was stressed, and hadn't gotten much sleep the night before, thanks to a law firm cocktail party, where both of us had indulged in one too many.

Was that what did it?  The alcohol?  The lack of sleep?  The stress?  

We both got into bed at 9pm, and engaged in the bad habit of scrolling through our phones, eyes scanning the electronics.  The TV was also on - lights flashing, noises coming from all sides.

The flashes?  The sound?  

I showed him a political quote someone posted about Donald Trump - "If you ever wonder what you would have done in 1930s Germany well then my friend here is your fucking chance to find out."

I don't get it.  He said.

Annoyed, and convinced he just wasn't really paying attention to me, I tersely responded, What don't you get about it?  

And that's when he left.

He let out a loud groan and his eyes rolled into the back of his head.  His muscles tightened and he rolled into the fetal position, then quickly straightened out, and started shaking.

I think I called out for him.  I think I put my hands on him to try to rouse him.  I'm not sure.

But I know what I did next.  I ran out of the room.  It was a pure fight or flight response.

I wanted out.  I wanted to disappear, I wanted him to disappear.  I didn't want this to be happening.

I stood outside the room for 5 seconds, came to my senses, and ran back in.  There he was, still convulsing on the bed.  His face was beginning to turn white.  I picked up the phone and called 911, and clearly remember saying: My husband is having a seizure.  Send someone.  Please.  

Later, numerous doctors would ask me how long the seizure lasted.  I can honestly say I don't know. Two minutes?  Ten minutes?  Time stopped and then moved slowly and then quickly again.  I know I turned him on his side.  I know I went downstairs to unlock the door for the paramedics, put the dog in a closet so she wouldn't run out, and closed the children's bedroom doors so God willing, they wouldn't wake up when the ambulance got there.  I remember continually asking the 911 operator, Where are they? and then apologizing for my hysteria.  I remember crying.  I remember my heart racing out of my chest.  I remember feeling faint and willing myself to remain calm.  I remember the immense feeling of relief I felt when the paramedics arrived.  By then, he was starting to rouse.

What is your name?  What day of the week is it ? Who is President of the United States?  

He could not answer any of their questions.

They carried him downstairs on a stretcher.  I had the wherewithal to give one of the paramedics my husband's phone, knowing that when he came to he would want it, and it would be a way to communicate with him.  I closed the door, texted our babysitter, and then waited, in a quiet house, for her to arrive so I could go to the hospital.

I called my sister in law.  I paced.  I dry heaved in the bathroom.   I gathered some clothes for my husband to bring to the hospital, since he was carried out in his underwear.  I ordered an uber, because I didn't trust myself to drive, and thanked God that my children slept through the whole incident, and would be none the wiser in the morning.

When I arrived at the ER, I was directed to his room, and realized it was the same room he had been in 11 months prior, when he experienced his first seizure.

I was blissfully ignorant that first time around.  Convinced that this was a freak accident, a blip, something to get through and deal with and then put behind us.  I was stoic and calm then, having had the benefit of my own ignorance of what it exactly was that my husband had just gone through.

This time, I had seen it with my own eyes.  He was there, talking to me.  Then he wasn't.  His mind - the essence of who he is - was taken over by electrical impulses in his brain that went haywire, taking him away from consciousness, from reality, from me.  The fact that he came back from that, from the involuntary writhing body I saw lying on our bed, is a miracle in and of itself.

I wrote a post last year about my husband's first seizure, and in it, I quoted a non-fiction book I had just recently read, Do No Harm - Stories of Life, Death, and Brain Surgery, authored by a neurosurgeon.  Having witnessed my husband literally lose his mind, it now takes on new meaning:

"In neuroscience it is called the 'binding problem' - the extraordinary fact, which nobody can even begin to explain, that mere brute matter can give rise to consciousness and sensation."  

As I sat in an uber on my way to the hospital, I couldn't get that sentiment out of my head.  All we are are our brains - and those brains are so vulnerable.  In an instant, it can be lost.  No matter how much we kid ourselves, we are not in the driver's seat.

I've been on zoloft for three years now, but there's no anti-anxiety medication that could have quelled my nerves that night.  And as I walked through the ER hallways and passed elderly people groaning, patients hooked up to machines, and heard the sirens wailing as another emergency patient was brought in on a stretcher, I don't think I had ever felt so unsafe in my own skin.

We're all going to die.  Someday.  When?  How will it happen?  Will these people die tonight?  Will I?  Will my husband?  What's to stop that from happening?  What's to stop anything bad from happening? Pain and death are inevitable, and I go through life pretending I'm invincible.  What a fool I have been.  Where can I go?  Where can I hide? How dare I bring my children into such a scary, ruthless, painful world? 

I've been through enough therapy to know that these thoughts were irrational, if not expected.  But as I watched my husband doze, passed out from the Ativan they had given him, my mind and heart raced in a well synchronized dance.  I willed myself to cry, knowing that crying helps release the anxiety, the pain, the fear.  I did a little.  Just a little.

The doctor put my husband on anti-seizure medication, and sent us home that night.  My sleep that night was fitful to say the least, and I was haunted by visions from the evening.  One vision in particular has been replaying through my head constantly - my husband looking at the computer. His blank stare.  His eyes rolling back into his head.  My slow motion realization that holy shit, I think he's having a seizure.  His muscles tensing up.  The moment I lost him.

I never, ever want he or I to go through this again.  But I am working on summoning the bravery to face the reality that more likely than not it will - statistics say that if someone has two seizures, they have an 80% chance of having another one.  

This reality has left my husband and I reeling over the past couple of days.  There are the practical implications - no more driving, and no more drinking.  But then there are the questions of how one lives a normal, predictable life, when in a moment's notice, it all can change.  My husband is at the whim of the electrical currents in his brain, threatening to go haywire and taking away his mind.  And so am I.

And so we embark on the quest of learning to live with uncertainty, knowing full well that in reality, life has never held any guarantees.  Coming to peace with that will be my work, and as a recovering control freak, it's work I need.  I know this.

But I'm not too proud to admit that I'm dejected.  I'm sad.  And I'm so, so scared.

For now, it's one foot in front of the other.   And finding grace, and peace, in each step.

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Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Last Birthday Sleepover

For each of my sons, starting on their third birthdays, one of the "gifts" I give them is a sleepover in their bed.  Sleepovers in my bed don't happen all that often, but me sleeping in their bed is a true treat.  And as much as I complain the next day (about being kicked in the stomach, sleeping on a six inch stretch of bed, and being awoken at 5:30am), I really love it too.  When I awake during the night, during one of the many nudges and jabs, I take the time to stare at their sleeping faces and just admire it - remembering the baby that it once was, and the little boy that it has become.

Braden turned 8 last week.  Sleepovers are still something he desires, but this year he opted to sleep in our bed, with both my husband and I.  I have to admit I was a bit slighted at first, and reluctant to share him, but happy to be in a king sized bed.  That night, before I fell asleep, I went through the ritual of staring at his face, and for the first year it was nearly impossible to recognize the baby in him.  That infant face of my firstborn, the way he cried and pursed his lips and fell asleep on my chest. The notion was almost impossible to reconcile - who was that and who is this and how can it possibly be the same person?

Braden is no longer an infant, a toddler, or even a little boy.  He's a kid with long lanky legs that hang to my shins if I ever happen to pick him up (which is getting nearly impossible these days).  He is complicated and philosophical and creative and stubborn and completely his own person.  I've learned in my 8 years of motherhood that I can't take credit for who he is - his intricacies and achievements and failures are solely his own.  He is at times a reflection of myself, with his deep thoughts and anxieties, and at other times a stranger to me, who I get to rediscover each day as he evolves into the person that he is meant to be.

I still lay with Braden each night before bed and we talk about his day, and he professes his love for me.  He always has been one with words.

Gradually these words have taken on a more mature form.   They are no longer gibberish (Me love mommy); instead they are thought out and eloquent.  I am so lucky to have you as a mommy.  I never want to leave you.  I love you more than anything in the world.   He writes these words too, but his handwriting isn't so wobbly anymore when he writes me love notes or makes me cards at school.  And now, with his 8th birthday, his words have taken electronic form - it took him about 2 hours to get accustomed to his new iPod Touch that he got for his birthday, and his first text message to me read: "Can you take me to school today because I love you so much so so much mom."

(His words of aggression can be just as poignant, but I'll save those for another post.)

That boy is the love of my life (along with his two brothers), but I am fully cognizant of the fact that I won't always be his.  Someday the whispers of sweet nothings will stop, as will the love notes, and the love texts, and the birthday sleepovers.

This year I had to share him, and one year, maybe next, he'll decide he doesn't want to sleep next to his mother anymore at all.

I'll understand his decision, but oh how I'll miss it.

Happy 8th birthday to my baby boy, Braden.  What a beautiful ride it's been so far.

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