love and light

I'm sending love and light to all of the sweet, innocent kids afflicted with seizures—the scary ones, the kind that hurt, the ones that cause broken noses, bloody tongues, face lacerations, the kind that make them feel as if they're being smothered. I'm sending love and light to the parents of these precious ones who have been cheated by no fault of their own.

I am sending love and light to Hannah, the mother of a little boy named Casey whose seizure I watched on video today and, when it was over, whimpered to his mother, "I don't know why." I wept hearing him breathe, watching his limbs stiffen and tremble and his hands cramp up. I saw my own son in his darling face and wondered if Calvin would utter the same sad words in the wake of seizures, if he could speak.

I am sending love and light to Lisa, whose daughter Emma has been crying for a week since a neurologist advised to reduce her daughters benzodiazepine too quickly.

I'm sending love and light to every mother and father trying their best to navigate the complex and enigmatic world of pediatric epilepsy while sleep deprived, spread too thin, despondent and anxious. I'm sending them strength to challenge and question neurologists. I'm sending courage to trust their guts in the face of doctors who cavalierly pile on medications, downplaying their side effects, aiming for seizure-freedom at nearly any cost, neglecting to consider quality of life.

I'm sending love and light to all the little ones who don't understand what is happening to them, and who have been robbed of a pain-free, care-free childhood.

Calvin coming out of a grand mal seizure, 2011


hell and christchurch

Every so often a stranger, acquaintance, or even a loved one will tell me—usually referring to Calvin and his afflictions—that everything happens for a reason. Years ago, I used to kindly swallow my resentment that anyone would use the trope to justify my son's suffering as some sort of divine plan aimed at teaching me a lesson. Then, as my nerves steeled, I began to meet the notion head on.

Recently, I found myself fielding the topic with someone I am just getting to know. I expressed my rejection of the dogma and my disdain for organized religion. The conversation evolved quite civilly, as I questioned facets of the Bible and her notion of Hell. She was slightly hesitant to admit that, because I'm a non-believer, I will end up there someday. In other words, in the minds of some, Hell is still a real place where unrepentant sinners go, along with, I assume, the majority of the world's population who are Atheists, Agnostics, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, etc., even if they're good folks. We spoke a bit further on the subject of Jesus who, despite my secular bent, I think of as having been a righteous dude, someone who I wish more people, namely his followers, would actually embody; the world would be a better place, I feel.

For hours after our conversation ended, I thought on the subject of god and religion. I lamented the fifty Muslim men, women and children slaughtered by a heavily-armed White supremacist yesterday in Christchurch, New Zealand. I regretted some people's rejection that the POTUS is partly to blame because of his maligning of Muslims, vilification of immigrants, regular inciting of violence, and his refusal to denounce White Supremacy.

I was left with many (rhetorical) questions:

What kind of god turns a blind eye to these bloody atrocities? What kind of god neglects the suffering of children? What kind of god would pick one religion over another? What kind of god has such conceit as to damn his own children to eternal Hell simply because they don't accept "Him" as their savior? What about the multitudes of good people who lived before Christ existed, and the billions who may never have knowledge of him? And what happens to shithead Christians? Where do they go?

Pondering those questions about god, while the mist settled on the snowy field behind our house, the wind audibly pressed into the windows, my boy sighed from the room next door, I considered Nature—and came to the same conclusions I always do:

Not one who is merciful. Not one who is just. Not one I can or would want to believe in or trust.

The attack on the Muslim community of Christchurch, while disturbing, was not shocking to me. The White supremacists spouting hateful rhetoric against Muslims, Jews and People of Color are becoming increasingly emboldened to act on those impulses. Their enmity is stoked by bigoted, fearmonging leaders who like to call themselves Christians and who stand to gain from sewing this kind of division. I am once again reminded of the systematic murder of disabled and infirm adults and children like my son Calvin by Nazi's during World War II. Thought to be a stain on the Arian race and a burden to society, they were some of the first in millions of mostly Jews to be exterminated by Fascists under Hitler's rule.

This sickening ideology of White supremacy has never been eradicated. It simply goes from skulking under rocks and in pockets to brazen examples of hatred, violence and bloodshed. It is grounded in abject ignorance. Its zealots exploit baseless fears of other, using scapegoats for their own failings. And, as in the case of slavery and the subjugation of women, they often use God and the Bible as their grounds.

So, perhaps Hell is not a myth as much as it exists on earth in the form of disease, genocide, oppression, war, famine, rape and massacre. Ironically, we even find Hell in houses of worship, and in places with names like Christchurch.

Hands from Hell sculpture, Thailand


good night

After a twelve-day stint in which Calvin suffered several suspicious events (possible seizures), two grand mal seizures, at least eight partial complex seizures and a two-hour pain/night-terror episode, I decided to increase his Palmetto Harmony CBD oil by nearly thirty percent. My gut and logic agreed that doing so was not very risky, and might serve to thwart some of Calvin's seizures.

Yesterday morning, after his newly increased morning dose, Calvin rebounded well after a grand mal and even went to school. After last night's increased dose, he slept soundly until about two-thirty, when he started getting restless. I laid him back down and covered him several times, but he kept sitting up. Finally, I switched on the light and was able to determine that his diaper was soaking, so I got him out of bed, changed his diaper and took his temp since he felt kind of warm. While doing this, he did not seem seizure-ish at all, and when I laid him back in bed he fell right back to sleep.

When Calvin woke up this morning at six, he seemed pretty good. I did not notice any suspicious behavior, no signs of partial complex seizures such as funny breathing, rapid heartbeat, grumbling tummy, pale skin, panning eyes, fingers in his mouth, or clammy hands. He seemed "normal" for the first morning in nearly two weeks!

This lack of seizure activity in the wake of a grand mal, and having significantly increased his CBD oil is promising. It tells me that the CBD oil is likely not the culprit in Calvin's recent uptick in seizures, though I need more evidence to be convinced. In any case, Calvin had a good night. And though I was awake for almost two hours dreaming of spring, of San Francisco, and worrying about my child, I ended up having a good night, too.


risk vs. benefit

Despair is sinking its teeth into me again. After three months, each with "only" nine seizures, already this month Calvin has had at least one seizure nearly every morning, including two grand mals. To add insult to injury, last night he had another of his pain/night-terror episodes during which he writhes and screams and cries in bed for hours. I do not know the source of his misery. He cannot tell me what hurts. I have a hunch he might be suffering migraines, perhaps a latent effect from benzodiazepine withdrawal, but I've no way of knowing for certain. There is no soothing him. Acetaminophen doesn't seem to work. Extra CBD seems to lessen his suffering, but not always. In agony, he lunges at me, grabs and yanks my hair. Light flashes like lightening when he bops an errant fist into my eyeball. He kicks and bangs his head against his bed's panel, which I've padded with blankets and pillows to soften the blow. He's like a rabid animal, and I'm in the cage with him trying to save us both.

Finally at ten, after two hours of this misery, plus some acetaminophen and extra CBD oil, he fell asleep in my arms. But I was wrenched awake at 4:50 a.m. to one of his grand mals.

This month's unusually long spate of seizure activity perplexes me. Maybe I can chalk it up to his recent and significant growth in height and weight. Perhaps puberty itself is the culprit. I don't want to believe it is the CBD oil, but I cannot rule it out. I remind myself to avoid fear-based decisions, and to instead look to logic and instinct for guidance. If I consider what seem to be good side effects from increased CBD—better sleep, balance, mood, walking, appetite—and since I know its therapeutic range to be quite broad (between one and twenty-five milligrams CBD per kilogram of weight) I should not be fearful of increasing its dose, which currently is 3.7 mgs/kg of his weight daily, equalling 110 mgs CBD divided into two doses. 

I understand it is within the realm of possibility that higher doses of CBD or THC can trigger seizures in some individuals, but that is also true of antiepileptic pharmaceuticals. The difference, I believe, is that side effects from whole-plant cannabis are likely less harmful, if not beneficial. And so I must weigh the risks and benefits of raising his dose, and not let fear govern my decisions. Moreover, I will not readily submit that these extra seizures are my son's new normal.

So tonight, I will increase Calvin's CBD to seventy milligrams twice daily ... and hope at least some of them stay at bay. 


love and trouble

Most evenings, sometime between five and six, Michael and I head upstairs with our son to listen to the nightly news before putting him to bed. I sit on Calvin's diaper-changing table and Michael gets into bed with him to cuddle while he chews on his toys. Last night we listened to a rebroadcast episode of This American Life, a two-part installment called Unconditional Love. It was one that I vividly remember hearing for the first time when Calvin, now fifteen, was just two-and-a-half years old. That time, Michael and I had been listening to the second half on the kitchen radio, Calvin perhaps already asleep upstairs, and I recall weeping as I heard a couple describe the trouble of raising their autistic boy.

At the time of that initial broadcast, September 2006, Calvin had not yet received his PDDNOS (Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified) diagnosis, a condition found within the autism spectrum. Seven months earlier he had been diagnosed with epilepsy. In August of that year, he had suffered the worst seizure of his life—a forty-five minute grand mal which did not initially respond to emergency medications, prompting us to believe he might die.

By that point in Calvin's life, while toddlers his age were running about, talking, playing with toys, using forks and spoons, our boy could barely crawl, was just beginning to take first steps, had failed three antiepileptic drugs, and was still being spoon-fed and drinking from a bottle. The parents in the episode described their very large teenage son who was often violent. His twin brother, who did not suffer from autism, described a household full of loud noises, fear and stress. The couple went on to relate their difficult choice of whether to put their son in a group home, and what happened next.

Listening to this episode again was timely. Recently, Michael and I have been talking a lot about where we might live once he retires in several years. We discuss returning to our beloved San Francisco, but we have so many questions about such an endeavor: Where in the city would we live? How could we afford it? Would Calvin live with us? Are there group homes there for people like him? What kinds of assistance and programs does the state of California offer people as afflicted as Calvin? After years of living in a relatively small, college town in the Maine suburbs, would city life be too stressful?

The thought of living back in the Bay Area is both exciting and troubling. Exciting for its mild year-round weather, its amazing public transportation, its proximity to the beach, the bay, the Marin Headlands, its diversity and openness, and for the cherished friends we left behind eighteen years ago. Troubling for all the reasons I listed earlier. The thought of putting Calvin in a group home is equally thrilling and petrifying. I worry about his seizures getting out of hand. I worry his medicines will be mismanaged. I worry staff won't change his soiled diapers, linens and clothes. I worry about neglect as well as predators who might abuse him. Mostly, I worry about who will hug and love him unconditionally like we do. But I know I can't go on taking care of him forever; at some point—hopefully not for another twenty-five or so years if we make it that far—Michael and I may be too feeble to handle him, and/or we may not want to. Once Calvin graduates high school when he is twenty, perhaps it will be better for him to be in an environment with more activity and stimulation than we can offer him at home.

For now, though, we'll keep on keepin' on. We'll traipse around the house and yard with him in endless circles. We'll get up nightly to lay him back down and cover him. We'll give him extra meds in the wee hours of the morning if we expect a seizure coming on. We'll change mountains of dirty diapers. We'll bathe, dress and feed him. We'll burp him, like a baby, on our laps. We'll brush his teeth and clip his nails and wipe his drool. We'll hold him while he seizes. We'll endure his tantrums, mood swings, screeching, agitation, and perseverations—all of which, by the way, have improved on a higher dose of CBD oil. Whenever possible, we'll continue to bring him out into the world. Most of all, we'll keep loving him unconditionally despite his troubles, caring for him as best we can, and searching for other people and new places that will.


snowy milestone

For the very first time in his life Calvin walked a loop in our backyard while it was covered in snow. Managing to keep him upright as he careened along a narrow path of icy footprints was difficult. A few times we nearly toppled over each other. At one point, I looked down at his face and saw him smile. As we plodded clumsily along, he used his free hand to reach out and pat his favorite shrubs. He seemed happy to be outside in the yard again after so many months pent up indoors.

You may wonder why, at fifteen, he's never done so before. It's partly because he cannot walk in snow boots or rain boots; they are too bulky and roomy for him to manage. Also, his current ankle boots, though waterproof, are not high enough to walk in deep snow. And so yesterday, the snow having begun to melt in the sun and mild temperatures, was a perfect time to give it a go.

I wish I had a photo of Calvin traipsing along in the expanse of white, wish I had a photo of his smile. But I didn't have my camera or phone on me, and so I'll just have to make a note of our special, snowy excursion in my mind.


nocturnal hours

It's hard to believe that five years have passed since I began making a THCA cannabis oil to treat my son's epilepsy. Shortly thereafter, I started the difficult and protracted effort of weaning his benzodiazepine, Onfi, aka clobazam. The endeavor took us four years, but we succeeded. What I find most noteworthy since starting Calvin on cannabis oil is that his daytime grand mal seizures—despite the benzo withdrawal—have virtually disappeared. The seizures, which were common in late afternoon, have been largely limited to nocturnal hours; he has suffered only a handful of them during the day in those five years. Calvin's partial seizures, on the other hand, often come in clusters and often occur in the wake of grand mals, usually presenting in the wee morning hours, yet still nocturnal, as they did today and on most if not all of the past six days.

This spate of complex partial seizures is disheartening. For the past few months, the Palmetto Harmony CBD oil seemed to have reduced their monthly numbers from double digits down to three or four. Regrettably, however, as I have been increasing its dose, we have not yet seen them disappear as I had hoped. I might now know why.

Yesterday, after Calvin received a meningitis vaccination, I weighed and measured him. I've sensed he has been going through a growth spurt, but I was surprised to see he has gained nearly seven pounds and has grown over an inch since October. This rapid and substantial weight gain prompted me to slightly increase his bedtime Keppra to equal a previous level, effectively zeroing out one variable as I continue to titrate his CBD oil. My hope is that it will lead to better seizure control. I'll let you know.

This past week's nocturnal seizures have meant that I've been waking up between two and three-thirty and getting little if any sleep from then on. Sleep deprivation is a form of torture, spiking my despair, anger, impatience and resentment. And yet, when I pull myself from its grip, get some rest, take a shower, I can see my way out of its shadow and am heartened when I remind myself of Calvin's seizure-free afternoons. I am pleased with how quickly he now (usually) bounces back from grand mals. I'm consoled by the notion he is finally growing, is taking a fraction of the drugs he used to, is walking tall, standing steady, having fewer mood swings and tantrums, and is more often going to sleep when his head hits the pillow. And though I still have to get up in the middle of the night, watch him seize, deal with the aftereffects of grand mals, change poopy diapers, dress, bathe and feed a fifteen-year-old, I can say with confidence that my boy is easier to take care of these days.

Photo by Phoebe Parker