December 7, 2008
Tiny Maybe Monster
God knows we've met plenty of kids fighting those big monsters. Kids in wheelchairs. Kids with CP whose bodies betray them when they attempt the simplest movements. Kids with autism for whom the world in which they live bears only a passing resemblance to the one that the rest of us occupy. Kids fighting battles with their bodies just to be able to eat, or to live without crippling infections. We've met kids with big, daunting, obvious monsters, and in her own way, trying to communicate the simplest concepts and so often finding frustration, Schuyler has lived with a sizable monster herself.
When she received her diagnosis five and a half years ago, we met polymicrogyria, her big monster. That day, we learned to fear the even bigger one that might be waiting for her. I think we knew on some instinctual level that Schuyler was not mentally retarded, so grand mal seizures were the ugliest monster we feared. There was a ninety percent chance they would develop, we were told, and in rare cases (but how rare can they be, really, when they are a subset of but a thousand cases in the world), those seizures could be lethal monsters.
Big monsters are bad, that's for certain. But the little monsters, the ones so subtle that you're not even sure they're there, they bring their own special anxiety.
It's been a strange week. Nothing really changed, just the falling together of enough puzzle pieces from different sources and perspectives to reveal what seem likely to be tiny monster footprints. Looking back, we realized that if Schuyler really has been having absence seizures, it probably began this summer. But it's hard to say for sure. It's hard to say whether she's having short spells at school where she loses her focus because she's having tiny seizures, or just because her father's disinterest in school turned out to be genetic. It's hard to say with absolute certainty that Schuyler's little fade-outs at home with us are a product of tiny electrical storms in her head, or just the inevitability of her growing boredom where her parents are concerned.
Julie and I have been watching her all week. Just watching, waiting for a glimpse of her tiny maybe-monster. Schuyler was home sick for a couple of days, and Julie found herself unable to stop staring, waiting. Schuyler noticed, too. "What, Mama?" she said irritably. If what I'm reading and hearing about absence seizures is true, she has no idea she's having them. IF she's having them.
Tiny maybe-monsters aren't much fun. They are like the world's most challenging Whack-A-Mole game, where not only can you not hit them, but they move so quickly that you're not even sure they are there.
Tomorrow we see a doctor. Not a specialist, not yet, but just getting Schuyler started with a new general practitioner. Mine, actually. She knows me, and she's read the book and has at least a basic understanding of Schuyler's bigger monster, which is more than any other doctor of hers has ever had at the first appointment. Most of all, I trust her, completely. From there we'll get a neurology referral, and then start down this road.
It might be that there is no tiny monster, and that Schuyler continues to dwell in that sweet spot, the hundred or so polymicrogyrians of the world who live free of seizures. I live between two mental states right now, the one that clings to that ten percent hope and then the one that's ready to take on this next phase. More than anything else right now, we simply want to know which path we're taking. It's been a long time since we were in this answer-seeking limbo. I'd forgotten how much I hate it.
Yesterday I was driving with Schuyler, and I was listening to an opera because I am just that much fun of a father. The opera was in English, and the characters were mentioning "war" frequently. (Again, fun dad.) After asking me what the music was about, Schuyler hit me with one of those Big Questions that kids drop on us like, well, bombs.
"Daddy," she asked, "what is war?"
I gave her the best answer I could think of. I left out the part where she's fighting a war and doesn't even know it.