When the phone rings, I dread leaving Max to pick Ania up from school after their away football game. It’s two in the morning. I warn Ania about how Max has started seizuring and she looks sickened. She knows what happens.
In the morning, some friends walk over to check on Max. I’m busy wiping up pee and poop from the last seizure when they come to the door. We walk outside to where I left Max, and within moments, he starts to seizure. It’s the first time a friend has seen him seizure. Mystique starts to cry.
It is an awful sight.
Years ago some people believed epileptics were possessed with an evil spirit. They needed to be exorcised or killed so others wouldn’t be infected. Sometimes I wonder if there are still people who believe this since epilepsy tends to be something most people have read about or witnessed in a dark movie, not something they’ve experienced first hand. Perhaps if they did witness a seizure first hand, they’d feel even more strongly that someone was truly possessed by the devil.
Within minutes, Max has another seizure and I cry. It’s been going on nonstop for about the last thirteen hours. It’s been a year since Max had his first seizure.
Until this morning, Max’s seizures have been a somewhat private ordeal. Seeing Mystique cry makes me realize the absolute helplessness of Max’s current seizures. Once again it is a Saturday, no vets are open in town. These are not cluster seizures. No longer do we have a break in between the seizures. He is in status mode. Every fifteen minutes he seizures. Then the frantic pacing. The vomiting. The emptying of the bowels. The urination. The blindness. The madness.
Some say epilepsy produces genius. When an area of the brain is damaged early in life, the corresponding area on the other side of the brain may overdevelop. All that wild, synaptic electrical activity going on with the brain’s wiring during a seizure may cause people to be more creative, more genius. I always wonder how much Max will forget after seizuring. What parts of his memory will be lost forever? Maybe it’s the loss of certain memories and emotions, even if the loss is temporary, that free up the brain to look at the world differently, to allow a person to take the risks involved with being creative.
I wonder what Max is going to with all his genius creativity? So far he finds places to spit out his medication and hide them from me. Genius! He’s only four so I’m sure he’ll come up with something more spectacular one day.
Mystique and Sarah take turns helping with Max. The nonstop seizures are draining all of us. We hold his collar and try to guide him out of bushes, trees, the shed, anywhere we don’t want him to fall and have his next seizure. I don’t want him to suffer from injuries. The seizures are bad enough.
Ania is relieved to leave our yard and baby-sit the neighbor kids. Sarah offers to go home and get Max enough insulin to kill him. “I can’t stand to watch him suffer anymore,” she cries.
I can’t stand the idea of giving him insulin and making things worse for him. Even though he’s seizuring every few minutes now, I still believe he wants to live and will come out of it. Everyone looks at me with sympathy. I’m such an optimist. They probably think I should be put of my misery as much as Max should be. Give me a rest from Max. I’m sure there are many who are thinking, “He’s just a dog”.
Max finally lies down. It’s about five o’ clock. We gather around him in disbelief. Is he finally going to be finished with the seizures? Sarah goes home. The neighbor goes home. I sit with Max. Now I’m alone, weak from exhaustion, from feeling useless, drained from all his suffering. I wonder if those famous geniuses suffered from status seizures or those isolated now and then seizures. Compared to status seizures, those isolated seizures seem like the electric shock I’d get touching the ungrounded old refrigerator sitting on the flooded basement floor in my childhood home. Shocking, memorable, but endurable.
Max wakes and comes inside to eat. He starts a new kind of seizure. He’s so worn out, he doesn’t fall down and go through all that intense seizure business. He foams from the mouth, his body shakes, he vomits, pees, and does it all over again. No aura period. No frantic pacing. No rolling on the ground. Now he stands. It’s quick. It’s like his body is too damn tired to even seizure properly. He’s weakening. He finishes, then starts over.
I put his harness on and drag him outside, hoping a walk will take his mind off seizuring. He walks and I wonder why I hadn’t thought of this before. It’s dark outside and Max is confused, but he’s walking. After ten minutes, the foaming stand-up seizure begins. I rush him toward our house afraid of being away from home when this happens.
Finally my vet calls and agrees to meet me at her office. It’s late at night. She’s doing me a huge favor. She’s never seen anything like this. She puts a catheter on his leg so I can inject him with Valium if he wakes while we drive to the emergency hospital.
“This won’t last long. An hour if you’re lucky. If he seizures, here’s two more shots. You’ll have to give them to him. Good luck,” she says.
One hundred miles and one hour of Valium? I dread this drive.
Max sleeps in the back of the car. I become frenzied and talk nonstop about dead lovers, tell stories about things I wouldn’t normally tell anyone, even camouflaged in a fictional story. I can’t stop talking. None of it is about Max. Sarah says nothing. Every now and then we laugh when we realize how far we’ve made it and how Max is still sleeping. I’m a maniac with words. Weird twisted story after story. Unfortunately they are all true.
The minute we pull up at the hospital, Max starts to seizure. We haul Max into a kennel while they process my credit card. I want to hug him before we leave but I can only touch him through the bars.
“Hurry up,” someone tells me. “We need to start treating him.”
It’s Sunday, two am. I must pick him up by seven Monday morning. They figure he’ll be dead within the hour.
We drive home much slower. We’re beat. I cry. Then I stop. I’m finally quiet.
Then Sarah wants me to talk, keep her awake. She must dread what I’ll say.
We make it home. Sarah returns to her dogs. I crawl into bed. An hour later a vet calls, tells me he’s never seen anything like it. They’ve pumped tons of Phenobarbital and Valium into Max and he’s still seizuring. Any other dog would’ve stopped by now. Or died. He wants to know if they should put him to sleep.
“Is he suffering?”
“Well, no. We’re keeping in a semi-coma state.”
“Not yet,” I say. “If he suffers, end his misery.” I’ve paid for all the drugs and care through Monday morning. They’ve only had Max a few hours. They can at least induce him into a coma and give him a little more time.
“Your dog keeps crying,” he says.
As if I haven’t heard that moaning for hours on end. They can return him to coma state and shut the door. “If he suffers, put him to sleep, but not if you’re suffering from his crying,” I say before hanging up.
In the morning, a kinder vet calls. He tells me there hasn’t been any change. He can’t believe he’s still alive.
“That’s because he wants to live,” I say.
“But he’s still seizuring. He won’t be able to last much longer.”
“Don’t put him to sleep yet. My daughter will be waking soon. I need to talk to her. She may want to drive to Little Rock to be with him.” I hang up in tears.
Ania opens the door shortly after I hang up. I explain the situation.
“Don’t let them put him to sleep!’ she screams.
I call the hospital. Tell them to keep trying. The kinder vet says he’ll pray for Max. This is better than the whining vet who can’t stand hearing Max’s crying.
Throughout the day, they tell me they’re keeping him in a coma and he seizures whenever they bring him out. “But is he suffering?” I keep asking.
“Well, no, because we have him so heavily medicated.”
“Keep him alive then.”
At ten o’ clock Sunday night, the vet tells me he can’t believe it but Max has stopped seizuring. “You can’t bring him home. You know that, right? And you can’t leave him here. We’re emergency only. He may still die in the night. He’s a mess. I’ve never seen a dog like this.”
I have no idea what I will do with Max when I pick him up. I never thought about the future. I had no idea I couldn’t just bring him home.
In the morning, Mystique rides with me to the hospital. I’ve been trying to call a neurologist my vet told me about. No one answers at this hour. Once again, I’m frantic. Talk talk talk about everything but Max. We talk about religion, mostly my lack of it. At least it’s not a monologue this time, though it’s mostly me talking.
We get to the hospital. They want me to get Max out of there. “He’s been crying all night,” the vet assistant says.
“Call the neurologist!” I am bossy. “We’re not leaving until we have somewhere to go!”
I feel possessed. I must have that demon spirit.
I load Max into the car. Mystique sits in the back with him hoping we get there without trouble. “You scared the vet,” she says.
“You were scaring me,” she laughs nervously.
She understands my anger. She doesn’t want to drive Max to my house just to die. He has made it this far. He needs to be hospitalized for at least another week. They probably think he’ll die driving to the next hospital.
I bang on the windows of the hospital and someone comes running out to help bring Max in. I meet a kind vet, not the famous neurologist but another one of the staff. She’s compassionate. I have Max’s bed, some toys. I bring a shirt with my scent, something to remind him of home, just incase he lives.
He licks my face while the vet tells me she doesn’t know what kind of brain damage he may have suffered. “But he knows me!” I say, once again crying.
“This is good,” she says. “And he’s young. And amazingly strong,” she says looking over the lab reports the other hospital faxed. “Amazing,” she says again.
And then I understand his genius. It’s his strength, his power to live.
I hug Max before leaving, not knowing if he’ll make it or not. I must get to work. The vet must do her job. Max will return to his semi-coma state, but at least this time he’ll be on his own bed.
Ten days later, I bring Max home. No brain damage. Our local vet tells me she can’t believe he’s alive. Sarah says she can’t look at Max without thinking of him seizuring. Says she panics when her dogs roll over now.
Little by little, everyone adjusts.
Max hasn’t had a seizure for one year. I dare write about Max seizuring without worrying it may jinx his health.
What an odd use of genius. To live in spite of the odds. Only Max knows what really goes on in his head during those seizures. And, only we know what goes through our heads while he seizures.