Two days ago, right before I left for work, I picked the FTS up to say goodbye. He smiled at me; I smiled back.
Then, without warning, he arched his neck and back and made his entire body as rigid as a 2 x 4, he turned bright red, and he foamed at the mouth. The whole episode lasted less than a minute, and when it was over, the boy crashed and crashed hard, falling almost instantly asleep in my arms.
We had seen three similar episodes in the weeks gone by, but thought we could explain them as the FTS straining to move his bowels. (Sorry to be graphic.) But this episode was more intense and had no clear explanation, so we called our doctor.
“Get ye to the emergency room,” we were told.
After hearing the FTM and I describe the episode, the ER doctors became immediately fixated on one notion: seizure.
Bit of back story here: A colleague at work has a daughter with a seizure disorder and developmental issues. I’ve watched him live through three years of this and I don’t know how he’s done it, because I can tell it’s been a living hell for him, his wife, and their daughter. Hearing the ER doctors say “seizure” about our own son made me feel like Jimmy Stewart in the opening scene of Vertigo. The world was about to fall out from under me.
Before we knew what was happening, a battery of tests was ordered -- MRI, EEG, Spinal Tap – and the FTS was going to be admitted for observation. There were two directions this could go. I could let it spiral out of control and become the basket case I very much needed to be, or I could figure out how to buck up under pressure and be there for my wife and son. Like Eddie Murphy in Bowfinger, I kept repeating the mantra, “Keep it together, keep it together.” I kept it together. (It helps to be married to a saintly rock of stability.)
After getting our pediatrician on the phone and hearing her concur with the opinion of the ER doctors, we set everything in motion. The next few hours were a blur, but here are my scattered memories:
* We sat outside the triage room in the ER listening to the hospital pediatrician try but fail to do a Spinal Tap; she couldn’t find any fluid. So the FTS felt all the pain, but with no benefit. Listening to him wail in agony was something I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy.
* When we were summoned to the MRI room, a six foot, three inch tall male model of a male nurse with a New Zealand accent wheeled the FTM and FTS -- the FTM was on the gurney cradling our son -- down the hall, and all I could think was not only am I going to lose my son to some horrible seizure disorder, but this oily Kiwi bohunk is going to wheel the FTM right out of my life.
* We were taken to the semi-dark and vaguely creepy hospital basement to wait for an EEG technician who never showed up. Instead of the oily Kiwi bohunk, we were wheeled there by a 90-pound, female, Slavic orderly who needed my help to push the gurney.
But the worst part of the day, by far, was waiting for the neurologist to come tell us the results and diagnosis. It was like waiting at the DMV combined with sitting in summer Saturday traffic on the Garden State Parkway combined with watching the phone and waiting for a prospective employer to call you back...times 100 million. It was the Bataan Death March of waiting. (Side note: I used to think that was called the “Rattan Death March,” but really, who would march themselves to death for bamboo furniture?) Finally, he arrived.
The pediatric neurologist was a young man with a bedside manner that put us both immediately at ease. He interviewed us, examined the FTS, and told us that while he wanted the radiologist to confirm his reading, the MRI looked good. “You know what,” he finally said, “this just doesn’t smell like a neurological problem. I don’t think it was a seizure.”
Clouds parted, a choir of angels sang, sunlight shone through a hole in the ceiling of the hospital room. Hallelujah… Halle-freakin-lujah!!!!
24 hours later the EEG confirmed the doctor’s instinct, and neurological problems were all but ruled out. “I can never promise anyone that a one month old didn’t have or won’t get a seizure -- seizures are deceptive -- but I just don’t think that’s what’s going on here, and the evidence supports that theory,” said the neurologist.
The ultimate diagnosis is that the episodes are caused by some form of Reflux, with formula sneaking its way up the esophagus and sometimes causing distress and maybe a bit of choking for the little guy. This is something we can get our heads around and manage. And while it may make for a long infancy, a healthy, normal childhood is waiting for us on the other side. (And if we can successfully burp the boy, things will go even more smoothly between now and then.)
So what did I learn from my ride on this emotional Yo-Yo? I learned that FTF doesn’t really stand for First Time Father; it stands for Full Time Father: As I stared at my son, with 23 electrodes being taped to his scalp by the stoic EEG technician (it was like something from A Clockwork Orange); as I sang him to sleep in the MRI room, so he wouldn’t need anesthetic; as I somehow managed to block out my own basic needs for sleep and nutrients, I knew with metaphysical certitude that I would do anything and everything to protect my son, to make him comfortable, to give him every chance to have a good -- strike that -- to have a great life. From here on out, there is nothing in my life that doesn’t somehow involve, even tangentially, the FTS. And as trying as the last couple of days have been, this realization makes me very, very happy.
Coming in a future post -- the one "person" who was absolutely NO help during this ordeal: God.