On the weekend of April 11, I thought the worst thing that had happened was our minivan blowing a tire while I was driving our six-year-old to softball. It was a troubling experience, being my first flat tire, but I managed to get off the road, fill the tire with Fix-A-Flat, and gimp over to a Dobbs Auto where we spent the entire afternoon. Sophie was bummed about missing softball, but at least nobody was hurt and the car got a new tire. We drove home that night thinking the drama of the weekend was over. Being the good dad that he is, Michael even took Sophie out that evening for a private batting practice. All was well in family life.
Then seizure day happened.
It started without warning. One minute we were lying in bed chatting about birthday parties, the next minute he became rigid, shaking, gasping, unresponsive. I reflexively rolled him on his side and cradled his head to keep airways open; I tried ineptly to coach him, “stay with me,” “keep breathing” – as if he could hear me. Time froze as I watched him; it lasted forever. Yet there was no time for me to be frightened; I had to stay clear and do the right thing. Airway, breathing, circulation. What else did they teach in CPR/First Aid? Why is my husband having a seizure? Was this sleep-deprivation, dehydration, or did he eat something depraved? A young healthy male having a first-time seizure, could this be C- … No, there is no time for differential diagnoses; just get him through this and everything will be all right. At one point during this eternity, I saw Sophie standing in our doorway, with fear and alarm in her eyes. I heard myself telling her, in my calmest voice possible, that things are okay and to go back to her room. And then I found myself supporting Michael as he staggered to the bathroom – for some reason he wanted very much to walk, but was also very much a fall risk. I quickly spread some towels on the bathroom floor and convinced him to lie down, then watched him as he came out of the darkness back to me.
At some point I remembered that I needed to get him to a hospital. First time seizures must be checked out, I thought, even if this was certainly just a metabolic derangement. It was Sunday afternoon, and the kids had a busy week coming up in school; let’s not disrupt their routine too much. We will take daddy to the nearest ER, do a few tests, and get home by dinner time. I had an upcoming busy week, too, as did Michael himself, being due to travel overseas in three days. Then I realized, he shouldn’t travel right after a seizure – we’d have to cancel his entire trip! The ER docs had better be quick so I could send some emails and phone calls on Michael’s behalf as soon as we got home. Little did I know that the subject matter of my emails and phone calls would have been a lot more difficult that night.
To say that Michael’s diagnosis was a surprise is an understatement. We were shocked. I simply refused to believe it. I screwed my eyes shut after seeing that CT scan, hoping the picture would change when I opened my eyes again. How can a 35-year-old who has been healthy all his life, with absolutely no signs or symptoms, have a large brain tumor? Moreover, how can a loving father of three young children, a budding scientist with grants and papers in the pipeline and an entire productive career in front of him, be forced to put life on hold to deal with this? Surely, the absurdity of it all meant it was not true.
Alas, we have been dealing with the truth of stage II oligoastrocytoma since that day. Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.