A major goal of this blog is to create a family history, since I am certain that the girls will have a dim memory of these weeks as being an unhappy and trying time. When they get older, chances are they’ll want to know more about what happened, and I might as well write it down before memories fade.
Sophie’s birthday is April 10, and we were celebrating with her friends on April 12. Twelve 5- and 6-year-olds in our house, each more unrestrained than the last. For reasons unknown, we let Sophie decide whom to invite, and she made some decisions Jing and I wouldn’t have. In our backyard, we have a ricketty old wooden playground set that’s perfectly adequate for Sophie and Quinn. When you get a dozen heavier and more aggressive children, the whole thing sways when children use the swings. I didn’t feel like explaining to any parents that the swing set collapsed on their child, so I spent the first half of the party literally holding the swing set in place, whilst trying to talk the children into some other activity. Kindergarteners are not very receptive to reason under these circumstances, and they knew I had no real authority. Meanwhile, in a bout of unflattering childhood vindictiveness, the older kids decided to gang up on my younger daughter, Quinn, reducing her to tears of anger and rage. It was hard to watch.
Eventually, I herded them all into our basement, where we have a table with Legos and a Harry Potter closet under the stairs. The kids could have been quiet and creative with the Legos, but instead they decided to cram themselves into the closet as densely as possible and scream, loudly, while repeatedly slamming the doors. I didn’t want to explain any crushed digits to parents, either, so I sat and listened to the screaming, whilst propping open the closet door.
Mercifully, parents started arriving to pick up their kids eventually. One child, upon seeing his father, ran as fast as he could through our house and face-planted right in our kitchen. Fortunately, no injuries. Another little girl managed to cut her finger in the basement closet, and I was administering first-aid when her parent/grandparent showed up to collect her. The most out-of-control child of the bunch was picked up 45 minutes AFTER the party ended. Which crossed some sort of line, given the events to follow. Note to parents: if the party ends at 1:00pm, pick up your kids at 12:45pm, because no one wants to deal your little prodigy’s behavior problems without being paid to do so. I kept it together until the last guest left, then Jing and I were lying in bed discussing everything we planned poorly, and which children are not welcome back at our house ever again. Then the seizure started.
I have absolutely no memory of the actual seizure, but I’m told it was a full grand mal and lasted between 2-3 minutes. Jing kept me from cracking my head and swallowing my tongue, which I appreciate greatly. I woke up on the floor of my bathroom, with Jing explaining to me that I had a tonic-clonic seizure, which is a really bad way to wake up. My confusion was tangible. I’ve had episodic migraines my entire life, and in retrospect, I think that they may have been on the same spectrum as a seizure disorder. I certainly recall unpleasant neurological symptoms when emerging from the migraines. It didn’t take too long – perhaps 20 minutes – to reorient myself, although the pain was pretty enormous. I had thrashed so violently that I wrenched my back and jaw muscle severely. I was certain I had cracked a few ribs. Unfortunately, Sophie saw the tail end of my seizure, but given the other unpleasant things she had to witness in the weeks that followed, I reassure myself that she won’t be excessively traumatized by this single memory. She’s a tough kid, and as long as I’m around, I think she’ll be fine, even with that awful memory to carry around. We considered calling an ambulance to get me to the ER, but decided that paramedics invading our house and strapping their father into a gurney would be too traumatizing for the girls, so I ignominously scooted across the floor, down the stairs, and over to the garage where I literally crawled into the car. I recall commenting to Jing that “this is a new low.” Alas, there have been many lower lows that have followed in the next couple weeks. Jing then drove all five of us to the Missouri Baptist ER.
Like I said, I’ve had migraines my entire life, and as we went to the hospital, I self-diagnosed this as “the mother of all migraines.” In support of my theory, I was certainly over-stretched immediately preceding, and we’d had some vile Pizza Hut pizza during the party, potentially with some MSG in either the pizza or the toppings, so I was fully expecting the ER docs to do some blood work and conclude that I had some metabolic or electrolyte imbalance and be given some narcs for the back pain and sent home, no damage done. Instead, they put my head into a CT, and found a mass the size of a chicken egg in my frontal cortex. The image here is not my tumor, but it is an approximate in terms of size and location. I wasn’t in prime form at the time obviously, but when they put me into the CT I knew exactly what they were looking for, and I don’t remember being the least bit concerned. It was inconceivable to me that I might have a tumor.
The Sum of all Fears:
You know as soon as the doctor enters the room. He’s given a hundred people shitty news before, and he has a specific face he saves for these occasions. You see him put that face on, steel himself for the unpleasant conversation that’s coming up, and you know, instantly. I remember hearing the phrase “mass in your right frontal lobe” and I remember screwing my eyes shut as tightly as they would go. Not my bravest moment, but perhaps there’s some virtue in realizing that you can be “brave” without necessarily being brave every instant. I’ve heard cliches about your life passing in front of your eyes; the only conscious thought I had was: “Oh my God, how am I ever going to tell Jing?” (At the time, she was out of the room feeding the girls.) As it turns out, I called Jing’s cell phone and as usual, she didn’t pick up right away. If I’d been in a better state of mind, I would have never left that awful voicemail, but I was very far from my best at that moment, and I left a message saying that I need to see her as soon as possible. I’m sure that she knew exactly what that meant, just like I knew what the look on the doctor’s face meant. When Jing did arrive, a kind nurse took the baby off her hands, and I explained to her that our lives had changed dramatically for the worse in the last hour. Our girls were right outside the room, giggling, as is their way. I recall musing that I keep hoping to wake up, but nightmares rarely have so much back pain in them. Shortly afterwards, I had an MRI which confirmed the tumor, and that it was non-enhancing – meaning not so vascularized, which is really, really good news. So we were able to quickly pivot into “how do we beat this fucker?” mode, which I believe is the right frame of mind to be in.
Mortality is a strange concept for children, and I recall my earliest awareness of death to be when I was 7 years old in 1987, when Dick Howser, the manager of the Kansas City Royals died suddenly from a brain tumor at the age of 51. Brain tumors are right bastards, as they typically affect young, seemingly healthy individuals, and there’s rarely any early warning signs. I recall being devastated by Dick Howser’s death, and I’ve maintained a private fear of brain tumors ever since. The bright side: after this, there’s not a lot of things out there that scare me. As I mentioned earlier, there’s no point worrying about stupid shit anymore.