June 30, 2006
It's been three years since the Yale School of Medicine took the MRI photos that introduced us to Congenital Bilateral Perisylvian Syndrome. It's a clumsy mouthful of words that, for reasons I can't fully explain but is probably a tiny act penance for my genetic guilt, I never copy and paste. I always type the words out.
This is it, by the way, in all its mysterious glory. Schuyler's brain. This was taken three years ago, but I assume it looks about the same. It won't heal, after all, although it is also worth pointing out, in that swell, "welcome to Holland", glass-half-full sort of way that it's not going to deteriorate, either.
It's the place where her monster lives, the thing that drives her, albeit without a license and with no regard for the law.
It's the mass of electrified tissue that will likely, one day when we least expect it (and we always expect it), begin to misfire and send her into seizures.
It's the echo chamber where she hears all the words that she knows, the full sentences that she tries to speak. It is also the hall from which those words can never escape except as a mysterious almost-language of vowels and inflections and pitch, but no hard consonants.
And it's also the place where King Kong lives.
Schuyler's brain is the file cabinet where the theme songs to Catscratch and Spongebob are stored, and where the lyrics and tunes to Wheels on the Bus and Itsy Bitsy Spider sit alongside those to the Village People's YMCA and James Brown's Sex Machine.
It is the art gallery where her portraits of toads and her parents (always strangely similar in general appearance) are hung, ready to reproduce in cheap restaurant crayon at a moment's notice.
It is where the lists of things that she IS and is NOT are posted. Both lists are constantly under revision, but currently the list of things she is NOT includes monkey, chicken, dinosaur, boogereater, princess (a recent revision; apparently she has abdicated the throne), good girl and stinkbug The list of things she IS? Mermaid. That's it for now. She's a minimalist.
Schuyler's brain is the place where she remembers that while no, she does not eat bugs, her mother apparently does, because if I ask her if she eats bugs, she says "Noooooo" and then either points to Julie or signs "mother" and laughs like it's the funniest joke ever, which it sort of is.
It's the computer that forgets to go to the bathroom when she gets overly excited (with predictably disastrous results) but remembers every morning as she's running down the hill at summer camp to turn and blow me a kiss, an act that should help to untie the knot in my stomach that I get when I leave her with other people, but doesn't, at all.
Schuyler's brain is is the thing that amazes us all with what it can do and breaks our hearts with the few things that it stubbornly refuses to do. It is the place where she runs through life as a little girl like every other little girl in the world, and the cage where she exists as an entirely unique creature, never alone and always alone.
June 25, 2006
"And you'll be at home in the sky..."
Originally uploaded by Citizen Rob.
Too light to stand on the ground
Nothing you do is done
And I can tell
You are not real
Girl, what are you doing here?
I don't know why I am here myself
No one else seems to know
Nobody likes a spook
Or so I've deduced
But I have loved some ghosts in my time
But that doesn't mean I want them around
I'd rather be lost than found
I thought I would lose my mind
But through your eyes I see
Past the billboards to the trees
And the flowering weeds
Grow throught the cracks of the city
And all these things will go
And all these seeds will grow
And you'll be home in the sky
(Lyrics and music by Jolie Holland)
June 24, 2006
Schuyler had a great time at the amusement park, as everyone figured she would. When I dropped her off at summer camp yesterday morning, I talked to the impossibly young, impossibly pretty and impossibly perky counselor who has been my usual point of contact, and she said that the trip was a huge success and that Schuyler had no problems at all. Most of the staff are sort of gleefully clueless, but this one girl seems to know what's going on and is always polite to me, in a "I'm being nice to you, old man, but please stop looking at my tits" kind of way. I'm not sure why she still bothers after all these weeks, since it clearly isn't working.
That was a joke. Settle down.
When I got home from work and gave her the Big Box of Words back, Schuyler wasn't very communicative about her day. That wasn't a huge surprise. She's still at the stage where answering questions and making very direct statements are what she's most comfortable with. Observations and descriptions are still difficult for her, although every now and then she'll surprise us, like in a restaurant about a month ago when she heard an infant crying in the distance and, without any sort of prompt, used the BBoW to say "Baby sad."
So when I asked her what she did at the amusement park, she sort of struggled for words before finally raising her hand in the air and then swooping it down with a loud noise and a laugh in what was clearly a roller coaster descriptive motion.
Holy crap, is my baby girl riding roller coasters? I'm going to be killing boys and burying their bodies in the alley in no time at all.
June 23, 2006
Schuyler had a good time yesterday, like everyone knew she would. I'll write more when I can.
June 22, 2006
Her summer camp is going to an amusement park today, a big one, and none of the kids are bringing backpacks. We thought hard about what to do. We could have insisted that she be allowed to take it anyway, and I'm sure they would have gone for that. But with the counselors occupied with kid wrangling, she would have been responsible for keeping up with it and would have been excluded from a lot of the activities that the other kids would be experiencing. We could have kept her home rather than run the risk of her getting into a situation where she needed it and didn't have it, and believe me, we considered it.
After I talked to the counselors and determined that at least one of them knows sign language, I decided to stop being such a worrying freak and just Let. Her. Go. The park is in the same city where I'm working, so I made sure they had my business card and could call if there was a problem or if she needed her device. I'm like five minutes away.
And so I sit here, trying not to be anxious and trying not to second-guess the decision to send her off to have a day of wordless summer fun. In theory, we've always said that her device is her voice and it should be with her at all times. In practice, that's not always feasible. When she's on the playground, for example, she doesn't take it since it could be damaged and she can't see the screen in direct sunlight anyway. Obviously, when she goes swimming, same thing. When she's older and can take more responsibility, that will change, I'm sure.
The difference this time is that she's going a whole day without it. I wish I knew that we'd made the right decision.
I spent the evening with a good friend of mine who works as a nanny, and there's a small chance that she may be able to watch Schuyler next summer. Here's hoping. She's Schuyler's favorite grown-up, and one of mine, too, come to think of it.
June 21, 2006
If I was still married to the First Mrs. Rob, today would be my twentieth wedding anniversary.
Man oh man. I feel a little like the dinosaur who managed to pull his foot free from the tar pit and walk away...
June 20, 2006
The story sounds familiar, with lots of testing and worrying and trying to identify a rare brain disorder. But it wasn't until I followed some of the links to learn more about Periventricular Heterotopia that I realized just how much she has in common with Schuyler. I recognized the name of the Christopher A. Walsh Laboratory in Boston as soon as I saw it.
Dr. Walsh is one of the doctors who, along with Dr. William Dobyns (the doctor in Chicago that we went to see last year), is a co-investigator in the Polymicrogyria Research Collaboration. It's an NIH-sponsored project to study the probable genetic causes of polymicrogyria (PMG), the group of disorders that includes Cogenital Bilateral Perisylvian Syndrome. The three of us provided DNA samples for this project while we were in Chicago. We are all about the science.
At this point, my interest in Faith's story became more immediate. In a very real sense, she's family. Faith's monster and Schuyler's monster are kissing cousins, after all. I went to do some reading on Periventricular Heterotopia, which like CBPS is an abnormality that occurs in the brain as it develops during pregnancy. It can even develop in association with other abnormalities like polymicrogyria.
Aside from some learning disabilities, it looks like patients with Periventricular Heterotopia don't usually suffer from other neurological disorders like Schuyler does. But the thing that they DO face is the thing that is probably still lurking in Schuyler's future.
Seizures. And bad ones. In Faith's case, they are extreme and life-threatening. The site doesn't make this clear, but this little girl has already flat-lined from her seizures on at least one occasion. She has my deepest sympathies, because her present life and struggle taps into my worst fears for Schuyler's future.
There's been a lot of talk about fear around here lately. And I'll admit, the anonymous threat that was posted here gave me pause. So did something else, something I didn't mention because I didn't want to tell Julie about it immediately. I finally told her tonight, and so now I can mention it here. A few hours after that threat was posted, I received a phone call at work, from what sounded like a woman trying to sound like a man. It was supposed to sound scary, and perhaps it would have if not for one tiny detail.
"See how easy it was to find you? It'll be just as easy to find SHOOLER."
If you're trying to be menacing, you might start by getting your target's name right.
I'm not afraid of anonymous callers or the Jane Book Club or anyone else capable of using Google or directory assistance.
I'm afraid of seizures.
I'm afraid of the monster that kills some kids with CBPS, because that's the thing, along with choking and breathing issues, that does it. Their parents have written to me, they've sent the most heartbreaking emails you can possibly imagine. Not many kids with seizures die from them, but if you're a parent, ask yourself how comforting that would be. I remember when Dr. Dobyns told us that only a few of his PMG patients have died from their seizures. That's great, Dr. Sunny Side. Thanks.
Schuyler does not suffer from seizures. She has problems with fine motor control, both in her hands and in her mouth, and some mild swallowing issues that she compensates for with a lot of success. She suffers from a very significant developmental delay, but it is unclear whether that is a result of some cognitive defect or her communication issues. And those issues are extreme; she can't speak, and she hasn't developed verbally in any significant way in probably three years. She is (and almost certainly will always be) mute, and Dr. Dobyns said she would be a clumsy girl for the rest of her life, but she doesn't have seizures.
Not yet. But two facts loom over her like the Sword of Damocles. The first fact: Dr. Dobyns estimated her chances of developing seizures at over 80%, probably between the ages of six and ten. The second fact: based on his examination of her MRI, Dobyns estimated that between sixty and seventy-five percent of Schuyler's brain is profoundly malformed. When he met Schuyler for the first time, he was surprised to see that not only was she not confined to a wheelchair, but was completely ambulatory and not visibly impaired in her physical development. In my book, I quote him:
"Now, this just illustrates exactly how little we still know about the human brain. From examining this MRI, I can tell you that I certainly didn't expect to walk in the room and find a little girl running around and playing like a neurotypical child. I wouldn't expect Schuyler to be functioning at a significant level mentally or physically, but there she is. She looks and behaves like any other kiddo, and she's obviously functioning cognitively at a reasonable level. Those affected areas of her brain are working, they’re doing something. We just have no idea how, or what her brain is capable of."
So when you wonder what we're afraid of, that's simple. We're not afraid of internet bullies hiding behind anonymity and private forums. We're afraid of Schuyler's mysterious, medically inexplicable brain and what it has in store for her. We're not afraid of someone stalking Schuyler because in a very real way, she is already being stalked.
We're afraid of Schuyler's monster.
June 19, 2006
June 18, 2006
I think it's safe to say that when she showed up at Summer Camp in time to see Schuyler sitting on top of another, much larger kid while choking him and ignoring the teenaged counselors as they told her to, you know, like, stop and stuff, Julie had some concerns.
I'm pretty convinced that it was a case of wrestling and horsing around that got out of hand, but still. That's a disturbing thing to hear about your sweet princess, your pretty ninja. Choking a kid? What the fuck? And why was she ignoring the staff? When she finally was pulled off the other kid, she then ran off and refused to cooperate.
The thing is, this is the sort of stuff that the rest of you deal with all the time. Little kids are barbarians. They are figuring out where the lines are, what they are allowed to do as primal being and what rules govern them as humans. Without those rules and that guidance, you get Lord of the Flies. So I understand that it's an important part of every kid's normal development, and I'm trying to stay cool about it.
With Schuyler, there is the added burden of finding a way for her to express her anger and, as I've mentioned before, to tell her side of the story. I know she's been bullied by neurotypical kids who take advantage of her lack of a voice to spin their own versions of "okay, so here's how it went down". I've watched it happen before, and not just with strangers.
It's bad enough that she can only give her side of the story in simple verbal expressions, sign language and miming the action. But when she is upset and tries to use her Big Box of Words, Schuyler freezes up. She becomes daunted and punches buttons helplessly before finally giving up in frustration. She's a little like Melville's stammering Billy Budd, who is so upset at false accusations of mutiny that he is unable to answer with his voice and instead strikes and kills his accuser, and therefore himself.
I keep telling myself that Schuyler is better off in this environment, that for all the dangers and all the obstacles, she will benefit from making her way in that grand rough neurotypical world for a few short summer months before returning to the shelter of her Box Class.
I'll let you know when I actually convince myself.
June 16, 2006
But then it happened.
Rob, I just want you to know that if I ever see your kid in public (and since you've nicely told everyone where you live, that shouldn't be too hard to arrange), I'm not going to wait for her to attack. I'm going to beat the shit out of her right then and there and see if she learns a lesson.
And that was it. That was the line. That was the first and last time anyone will ever threaten Schuyler on this website. I'm not sure how we're going to address this, since my presence on the web is part of what is being sold to editors by my agent. Going away completely feels like an overreaction.
But things will have to be different. For now, I'm going to go through and delete all the references to where we live, and I'm hiding (and turning off) the comments. That's obviously not going to stop anyone who's already been reading and preparing to beat the shit out of a six year-old, but it's a start. Today wouldn't have happened if not for the mob mentality and the piling on. I won't provide the platform for that kind of thing.
As soon as I saw the comment, I called Julie on the very remote chance that this threat was more than just someone trying to be an ass and going too far, which is honestly what I think it was. I needed her to be a little extra aware and vigilant.
From her reaction, I can tell whoever it was that left that comment, as well as your hateful friends, that you can be certain of one thing.
If you do actually try to harm our daughter, it will end tragically, and not for Schuyler or for us.
Julie and I can't be any more clear than that.
I'll be back when I know what to do here.
June 13, 2006
Metformin ER. (generic form of Glucophage XR) This is the primary drug addressing high blood sugar for type 2 diabetics. If you know a type 2 diabetic, they are probably taking some form of this, unless they reached their "fuck THIS" stage and gave it up. Each pill is huge; they come in a bottle roughly the size and shape of a Red Bull can.
Potential Side Effects: Good lord. One 500mg pill did nothing to or for me, two made me vaguely nauseous and fatigued. It was when I went up to three that the real fun began. Extreme nausea, diarrhea cha cha cha, and a fun thing where you burp a lot and the burps taste like you have been eating a skunk, ass first. I finally had enough and stopped taking them while I was working over the weekend, and guess what happened? I INSTANTLY felt 100% better.
Actos. This is another drug for high blood sugar. Starting today, I'm taking one of these a day instead of that third Metformin.
Potential Side Effects: A whole new set of possibilities! Shakiness, dizziness, sweating, confusion (beyond my usual level, I assume), nervousness or irritability, mood swings, headache, facial numbness, pale skin, sudden hunger, and my favorite, seizures! Wouldn't it be ironic if I got seizures before Schuyler? I went and read what other patients said about Actos, and a lot of them complain about weight gain. Which is funny, since two of the other drugs I'm taking are supposed to cause weight loss. A war is shaping up inside the Rob!
Lisinopril. Okay, so this is the thing I didn't want to talk about last time. This drug is normally used to address high blood pressure, but my BP is normal. In my case, it is being prescribed to arrest and hopefully reverse early signs of kidney failure. Yeah, that's the thing I didn't and don't so much want to talk about.
Potential Side Effects: Dizziness, headache, fatigue, dry cough, muscle cramps, numbness, nausea and diarrhea (well, of course), and a rash (delightful!).
Phentermine. This is my supermodel diet pill.
Potential Side Effects: Restlessness, nervousness, anxiety, headache, insomnia, cha cha cha, and extreme sexiness! Oh, and it is habit forming.
Cinnamon Bark. This is my new age natural supplement to address high blood sugar. No idea if it works.
Potential Side Effects: No idea. Cinnamon taste will make me a more attractive target for cannibals and vampires. Fucking vampires, man. As if life wasn't hard enough already.
Banana. A tasty treat.
Potential Side Effects: Improper disposal of the peel may result in comical injury.
June 9, 2006
I know I was pretty upbeat last time about my health, but the past two days haven't gone so well. One of the things that Dr. Hottie did was increase my daily dosage of Metformin (the poor man's Glucophage) by another 500mg, and that, possibly along with the Supermodel Diet Pills, has caused my body to reject the very idea of human life in a rather dramatic way. I won't go into a great amount of detail except to say that I'm glad our apartment has two toilets. You figure it out.
I got a call today from Dr. Hottie's office with results from my last round of tests, and it was basically one of those "I've got some bad news and I've got some good news" calls.
Oo, that reminds me of an old favorite joke!
A man has been having serious dental problems, so he goes to see an oral surgeon. The surgeon examines his mouth and then goes off to analyze the results. After a while, he comes back into the office and sits down with his patient. His face is somber.
"Well," he says, "I have some bad news, and then I've got some REALLY bad news. But then I have some good news."
"The bad news," he continues, "is that a rare but serious infection has attacked your teeth. I'm afraid we're going to have to pull every single one of them out."
"Oh my God, that's terrible!" the man cries. "I can't imagine what the REALLY bad news could be!"
"Oh, it's bad," the doctor says. "It turns out that the infection has also moved into your gums. We're going to have to actually go in and file your gums down, all the way to the bone."
By now the man is in tears. "That's horrible," he says. "What good news could you possibly have?"
The doctor looks up at him. "Did you see that good looking receptionist at the front desk when you came in?"
"Yeah?" says the man.
"Well, I'm banging her."
So the good news is that my blood sugar is actually coming down, slowly but steadily. It's still too high, but not crazy high. More wacky high now.
The bad news, well, just this once I'm going to keep it to myself for a while. I know it sucks to mention something on a blog and then be all "But I can't tell you, tee hee hee!", but we're still processing it and sorting out what it means and what we'll have to do about it. It was unexpected, I'll say that much.
I'm embarking on a crazy weekend where I'm shooting two weddings in two different towns, neither of them local or even all that close, and also working a bridal expo. That's a lot of pretending to be a nice person. This is the first time I've ever been concerned about actually making it through a gig, but I think I'll be okay. The truth is, I feel best when I'm shooting, with all the moving around and thinking on my feet. It's when I'm sitting on the couch watching Battlestar Galactica reruns all day like today that I feel bad.
You know, I'm standing by my assertion that the Diabetes Notes post I mentioned earlier is the worst blog post ever, but now that I look back on it, I think this one maybe runs a close second.
June 6, 2006
I had my monthly visit to Dr. Hottie today, and it went fairly well. I was all prepared to find out that I am even fatter and lazier than I was last month, but I was surprised to learn that I've actually lost three pounds in the past few weeks. I'm still on the wrong side of where I was the day I was diagnosed and was told that I should lose twenty pounds, but considering that I thought the news would be worse, I was happy to hear that I am at the very least not turning into a chud monster at quite the rate I thought I was.
It's hard, losing weight when you've led a free and easy, chocolate-coated, deep-fried existence. I'm proud of some of the changes I've made. I don't find it all that hard to stay away from sugar stuff (although yeah, I miss me some cookies), and what cravings I do have are easily enough satisfied with some items made with Splenda, things like Sugar Free Jell-o Pudding (but not the Jell-o itself, oddly enough) and some fakey-fake chocolate ice cream by Breyers. There are a number of diet soft drinks I can have, but honestly, I mainly end up drinking lots of Propel.
The thing that's hard to fight is carbs. And honestly, I snack more than I should, and I exercise less than I should, and so I lose less weight than I should. This last twenty (okay, shut up, twenty-five now) pounds is going to be a challenge. It's funny, too, because I have lost about, and this is not a lie, seventy pounds since college. Man, I was a treat for the eyes back then.
To help with these last remnants of Jabba the Huttliness, my doctor prescribed Phentermine, a diet pill that I thought was all controversial until I actually started reading about it. Turns out Phentermine was the "phen" part of Fen-phen, and it was the other part, the Fenfluramine, that was messing people up. Phentermine doesn't appear to be a big deal, although it is very tightly controlled and is not intended for the 125-pound purging sorority girl so much as people with a medical reason to lose weight, like the morbidly obese and, well, me.
As for side effects, Phentermine can affect your blood pressure, but my BP is completely, weirdly normal. According to Dr. Hottie and the stuff I'm reading, it also can make you jumpy, and after one short afternoon on it, all I can say is "yep".
So between the Phentermine and a newly invigorated exercise program (I am Bikezilla these days), be ready for the hot new Rob.
Slim. Sexy. And jumpy as fuck.
June 5, 2006
When it comes to contemporary politics and particularly election shenanigans, it's impossible to know who to believe or where the truth lies.
Still, it's a relief to read that perhaps our election system isn't completely rotten.
I'm slightly more comfortable with the idea of a foolish electorate.
June 4, 2006
And while I agreed that the 2000 election was ultimately decided by the Supreme Court rather than the will of the people, it was also clear to me and a lot of progressives that if not for the failings of the Democratic Party and Al Gore to capitalize on the peace and prosperity of the Clinton Administration, the election would have not only gone the other way, but wouldn't have even been all that close.
As for 2004? Another weak candidate who couldn't beat the worst president since the discovery of electricity, it seemed. It didn't make much sense, given how poorly George W. Bush had performed and how badly the war was going, but whatever. No one ever failed in business or politics by banking on the ridiculousness of the American public.
Well, turns out, the problem with the American voting public might not have been our decision to re-elect an apocalyptically bad president after all.
The problem might just have been our trust in the system and the assumption that our votes actually mattered.
Is this how the fall of Rome began? And when it happened, did the Romans actually give a damn?
June 3, 2006
I hear from a lot of parents and readers who talk about how we've become an inspiration for them in some way, and I am always touched by that, even when I don't feel like I deserve it. Well, the parents in the article, Michelle and Jim Foard, have become heroes to me. They are fierce advocates for their son, and they're not ones to sugarcoat the challenges he faces. When something's hard, they say it's hard.
You know how I feel about the "glass half full", "he's my special little guy", "handicapable!" Holland crowd. If that sort of sunny-side approach is what they need, then I certainly think they need to embrace what works for them. But I don't have much use for it, and I certainly don't think broken kids need it, either.
Michelle and Jim understand something that I think most people don't get, and that includes a lot of parents, even some with special needs kids. They understand that their son has limitations that have to be respected, but they also seem to understand that within those limits, their greatest gift to their son is the expectation that he will one day be able to fit into the world.
The title of the article comes from something Michelle said, in the last paragraph:
Michelle and Jim have risen to the profound occasion of raising their son. "We want to give Jimmy every possible chance to excel," says Jim. "We love him. He's perfect. But he's going to have some very serious issues we're going to have to deal with for the rest of his life." It's a future they've learned to make peace with. "It's life now," explains Jim. "It's part of everything we do." Michelle searches for another way to explain what it's like to be Jimmy's parents. Ultimately, you learn to embrace "a different kind of perfect," she says, and "a different kind of normal."
When I first read the article, I wrote to the author, Charlotte Meryman, to tell her how much I enjoyed it. We exchanged a few emails and had a pleasant conversation, and while I don't remember telling her about my site, I either must have said something or she found it on her own and shared it, because last week, I received an email from none other than Michelle Foard herself.
She expressed some of the same things I've felt, about how "usettling" it is to have all this personal information out there in the world about her family and how hard it is to receive unpleasant emails from strangers. Until now, she was unfamiliar with the whole blogging world, so all of the faceless, anonymous bile of the internet is new for her.
I hope she won't mind if I quote her email, but she said something that made me proud, both of what I'd written and of what you people said in response, and I thought you ought to read it:
So after reading a barrage of angry emails and stupid remarks, it was nice to see that someone out there really got the gist of what the article was about and could relate to our situation. So thank you and your other "bloggers?" for reaffirming that going public and being completely honest wasn't a crazy stupid mistake.
So there you go. Good stuff happens here sometimes.