During the weeks before Thanksgiving, I was high on anticipation -- counting down the days until our two sons were scheduled to come home from college for the holiday break. It had been three long months since we'd laid eyes on our college kid who moved to Michigan, and the thought of having all five of us together again made me giddy.
The day finally arrived. Our oldest son drove three hours home just in time for us to go to the airport and get his younger brother. Our youngest kid, 15-year-old Kate, made a huge poster with her brother's name on it so we could hold it up as passengers trickled off the plane. When I finally got to hug him, it was like a piece of my heart clicked back into place.
Before I went to bed that night, each of my three ducklings gave me a goodnight hug, just like old times. And I slept so peacefully knowing we were all safe in our beds at home.
The next day we chopped, cooked, and baked -- our mouths already watering for the Thanksgiving feast to follow the next day. We're night owls, and it was just past midnight when we heard the crash. In a two-story house, something hitting the floor above is loud. I called up the stairs to Tom, who I assumed had dropped something. He hadn't.
That's when we both started calling out for Kate. I ran upstairs and told myself to stay calm because, like most 15-year-old kids, she almost always wears headphones. Maybe she just couldn't hear us. We called louder. Ran faster, searching each room. Panic squeezed my throat. When I found her, she was on the floor having a seizure.
We've learned so much about epilepsy in the past three years since her diagnosis. And part of me thought that if we just kept doing everything right -- taking meds on time, getting plenty of sleep, lowering stress -- maybe the big seizures would go away for good. We'd had a streak of more than two years without one.
That doesn't mean she has been seizure-free. There are more than seven types of seizures, and not all of them cause a person to fall or have uncontrolled movement. The small seizures Kate usually has can look as subtle as a daydream or an eyelid flutter.
But on the night before Thanksgiving, it only took seconds to go from daydream to nightmare. After the crash, we launched into response mode. We rolled her onto her side, cushioned her head, timed the seizure, and grabbed her "rescue medication" in case it lasted 5 minutes. Thankfully, it didn't. Like most seizures, it was over in a little over 3 minutes -- the longest three minutes you'll ever feel when it's your baby on the floor.
When it ended, she was still unconscious but not moving -- the sleepy ending phase of a "grand mal" seizure. Her service dog Mac crouched next to her and licked her face. One brother scooped her off the floor while the other brother prepared an ice pack for the bruises blooming around her eye -- evidence she'd crashed into the nightstand during the fall.
We stroked her hair and waited for her to wake up. When she did, she asked what happened. "You had a seizure," I said.
Groggy, she muttered, "Oh man ... It messed up my streak."
"That's OK," I said. "We'll start a new streak."
So here we are, on Day 12 of our new "no big seizures" streak. What the recent crash taught me is that a chronic condition -- epilepsy or any other kind -- doesn't grant time off for good behavior. You can do everything right and still get kicked in the teeth by the bad times.
And it can happen even when you feel happy in your home cocoon with all your favorite people. Anticipation of good times and dread of the unpredictable bad times live on opposite sides of the same coin, separated by only a sliver of hope and circumstance.
The good news? Kate feels fine again. She's went back to school and was even on stage in a Christmas play. Her older brothers are due back home for the holiday break any minute. The anticipation is wonderful.
And if a crash should come, we'll be cushioned by love. Then we'll get up and begin again.
Gwen Rockwood is a syndicated freelance columnist. Email her at [email protected]. Her book is available on Amazon.