Eighteen Years Ago

Eighteen years ago.

Eighteen years ago, I was in the hospital, awaiting the birth of our one and only daughter. Her original due date was October 11, and I loved the thought of 10/11 as a birthday, because right out of college, I was a flight attendant for a while, and one of my favorite planes was the L-1011. It sounded like the perfect birthday to me. And honestly, October 10 sounded good too…10/10. It’s also former NFL quarterback Brett Favre’s birthday. Don’t ask me how I know that, because I don’t know how I know…I just do. I have been a football fan all my life, and he is one of my favorite quarterbacks. (Joe Namath is my absolute favorite.) So sharing a birthday with Brett Favre was pretty cool. Obviously, neither of those worked out.

Three weeks before she was born, my husband and I went out to dinner at a local restaurant. We were discussing how we had no idea what day our baby would actually arrive when the waiter delivered our appetizer to the table. As he placed the plates in front of us, I noticed he had October 12 written on his hand. As he walked away, I said to my husband, “Do you think that was a sign? He had October 12 written on his hand.” We had a good laugh. Little did we know then…

She was born on a Sunday night at 10:31pm…after I had been admitted on Friday at 7:00pm to be induced. Don’t do the math. It’s frightening. There had been a doctor checking on me for two nights, but when the next doctor arrived on Sunday night, he was ready for our daughter to be born. He knew I was exhausted and offered to do a C-section, but I said, “We could have done that yesterday. If you think she’ll be born before midnight, let’s just get this done.” And we proceeded without the C-section.

Our baby girl was a beautiful baby with a head full of dark hair. She weighed 7 pounds, 7.7 ounces, which they officially rounded up to seven pounds, eight ounces. I should have known something about her personality when we got her home. She would not sleep. She would not be quiet.

Some things never change. She has never been a sleeper. She is always busy. She is always on the go. She simply doesn’t sit still. It wore me out when she was an infant and a toddler, but after that, I took full advantage of it. When she was two, we never stayed home anymore. During the summer, we went to a local amusement park almost every day. It was somewhere we were both happy, because we were outside and interacting with other people. I had (and still have) great friends with kids the same age, so we all got together almost every day. And we traveled. I would throw her in an umbrella stroller, strap a carseat on my back, throw my carry-on into the basket underneath the stroller, and get on planes to visit family or just go somewhere. I remember pushing her through the airport with a car seat strapped on my back and hearing people say, “You go, girl!” Or one said, “Wow! You are a real woman!” I got things done. I wanted to travel, and my husband didn’t always want to go with us, so I just made it happen.

And that has never stopped. I learned a long time ago that if she got fussy as I was dragging her all over the country, all I had to do was throw some food down her throat, and she could keep moving with me. Now, she’s two or three inches taller than I am and in way better shape than I’m in, so I have to keep up with her when we travel! I try to make sure we make as many travel memories as we possibly can before she goes off to college next year, because I know she won’t want to go with me so much anymore. And that’s OK. I want her to be independent.

The way I see it, we have 42 more weekends before we drop her off at college next fall. We have another Thanksgiving week, Christmas holidays, one more spring break, and a summer before she flies the coop. If I subtract some of those weekends for things she wants to do without us, we’re down to about 36 or 38. Sounds crazy that I’ve counted, but I want to make sure we take full advantage of this time. I’ve planned a little trip for Thanksgiving, and she and I are doing a spring break with her classmates. I haven’t figured out what we are doing over Christmas break yet, but I’m working on it.

She is eighteen today. As of today, I no longer have access to her medical records without her permission. (I need to get her to get a notarized HIPAA form done, so if she gets sick and lands in the hospital, I can get information.) That baby who could do nothing for herself now does most everything for herself. She is eighteen, so she can even leave the country without my permission…alone, if she wants. Of course, she would need money from us, so I doubt that will happen without our knowledge. She even said to me recently, “As soon as I turn 18, I’m taking Life 360 [an app] off my phone.” I replied, “That’s fine! You’ll need to buy a phone, though, because your daddy and I actually own that one, and we want Life 360 on it. Oh, and you’ll need to buy yourself a car, because without Life 360, you’re not driving the one we own.” We had a good laugh!

I can’t believe it. We have come a long way! I remember when she turned one, I thought, “Wow. I survived a whole year with a baby.” It wasn’t easy. Lots of folks thought I was a lunatic, because they all had sleeping babies. Some of them later actually had babies who ran and jumped and climbed and dodged like mine did, and then they had a new appreciation for what I was dealing with. Yes, she nearly killed me that first year, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. That first year seemed crazy long, but the next seventeen seem to have passed in a flash!

Eighteen! How did that happen so fast?!?!

Our Marriage Survived My Husband’s Brain Surgery

When our daughter was six years old, in 2010, my husband had brain surgeries. Yes, plural…two operations that were nine days apart.

We got married in 2000, but prior to being married, we hadn’t lived in the same city. I was in Mobile, Alabama, and he was in Charlotte, North Carolina.

As soon as we were married, I moved to Charlotte into what is now “our house,” and I soon noticed he had “spells.” I didn’t know what they were, but he seemed to “lose time.”   He would suddenly start blinking hard, fidgeting, and mumbling…for 30 to 45 seconds.

I spoke with his doctor, who ran tests, and while she saw a small spot on the left temporal lobe of his brain, she wasn’t concerned.

He had a series of unexplained car accidents, always saying afterward that he didn’t remember what had happened. I knew we had to get some answers. I was angry. I wasn’t angry at him; I was angry that the doctor hadn’t addressed the problem. I called her, telling her we needed to see a doctor who could help us.

She finally referred him to a neurologist.

At the neurologist’s office, we explained everything to the doctor, who promptly told us, “He’s having petit mal seizures.” Five minutes into the appointment we had an answer.

More tests showed what appeared to be a benign tumor in the front part of his left temporal lobe.

After months of anti-seizure medications, his seizures weren’t under control. Surgery was recommended. First, he had an inpatient evaluation in June of 2010, meaning he was hooked up to external electrodes in an epilepsy ward to monitor brain activity. The hope was that he would have a seizure while there, and the epileptologist would garner useful information. After a week in the hospital, he finally had a seizure…a full-on gran mal seizure, and the doctor witnessed it.

Working with two neurosurgeons, the epileptologist scheduled surgery for that September. First, they opened his skull and placed electrodes and probes directly into and on the surface of his brain. Wires hung out of the incision while we waited for him to have another seizure, and after nine days, he did.

The second surgery was scheduled for a couple days later, and he had the affected parts of his brain removed…part of his temporal lobe, his amygdala, and his hippocampus. Afterward, he was in pain, but it soon became apparent he had very few lasting effects. His “naming center” was affected, so he has trouble recalling words or names, but the biggest loss was short term memory. It was tough at first, but we have a different normal now.

It’s hard to believe it has been eight years.

Our daughter was six years old. She had just started first grade, and while I don’t claim to be the most organized person in the world, I became even less so throughout this ordeal. God bless her first grade teachers for providing snacks, extra patience, and love.

My goal was to keep life as normal as possible for our daughter. She didn’t need to know how scary it was, and I wanted her life to continue as if nothing were going on.

I needed to be at the hospital every day, but I made it a point to take our daughter to school every morning, so things would seem “normal.” I would rush home after dropping her off and get a shower before spending the day at the hospital. Friends would pick her up after school, so at night, when I left the hospital I could pick her up from their houses.

Thank God for friends…people rallied to keep us going. People who lived near the hospital graciously offered to let me nap at their homes. People filled our refrigerator with meals. Family came in from out of town to help. Friends let us sleep at their houses when I was too tired to drive home.

Both operations went smoothly, and after a couple weeks in the hospital, he came home. It was a tough time for him because of the pain and memory issues.

On top of everything else, he was experiencing what the doctor referred to as “disinhibition,” a temporary effect of the surgery. It manifests in different ways, but his manifested in terrible language. Some people experience far worse types of disinhibition…they walk around naked, or become sexually promiscuous. The excessive bad language was embarrassing, but at least he wasn’t walking around naked or having sex with random strangers. Unfortunately, our daughter heard some words she didn’t need to know. Fortunately, the disinhibition didn’t last.

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Photo from December 22, 2010…two months after the surgeries.

Because of the seizures, he was not allowed to drive. This was a low point. He was angry.  He wanted to drive. It affected everything. I was trying to hold everything together, but on Christmas morning, I had forgotten to put his medications in his weekly container. He came into the kitchen, and when he realized his meds weren’t ready, he became angry. When I said I would get the meds, he said I was trying to control him. It was the brain surgery talking, and I knew it, but I’d had enough.

It angered me, and I said, “You know what? Manage your own damn medicine. I can PROMISE you I won’t touch it again.” And I never touched the meds again. He had to take control of his recovery at that point. I was tired. I was tired of his anger about not being able to drive, and I was tired of being the scapegoat. Frankly, I was just tired.

The next day, our daughter and I went to visit family in Alabama. I took all the car keys with me, because I knew he wanted to drive but legally couldn’t. He called asking where I’d hidden the keys, and I told him I had them with me. He got angry, and I hung up the phone, turning it off so he couldn’t call me for the rest of the day. The next day, he apologized.

I know it was frustrating to depend on other people for transportation. I’m sure he felt trapped. He had an unemployed friend who drove him where he needed to go for those months, which worked out nicely for both of them. But it wasn’t the same as driving.

Eventually, the day came that he could drive again. I joyfully handed him the keys.

He was happy.

He got in the car and drove away with a smile on his face, and immediately, things got better. The anger was gone.

We had survived the storm. Most importantly, he had survived brain surgery and was making a recovery. Our daughter had survived, and except for knowing a few more choice words, she was unscathed. Time had healed his physical wounds, but time also healed our marriage. Once he could drive again, we fell back into a happy place.

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Photo from March 2018

Sure, we’ve had challenges and had to make adjustments. My husband doesn’t like to travel and wants to be home more than he used to. His brain processes things differently. He gets headaches in overcrowded, loud places. He only likes to visit familiar places. He doesn’t mind that we continue to travel without him. I’ve told him before, “God put us together for a reason. Some women would be angry that you don’t want to go anywhere, and some would be afraid to go without you, so they would stay home and complain.” I’m not angry, and I’m not afraid. Because he doesn’t enjoy being on the go, we spend quality time together at home or familiar places.

A year or so ago, our now-14-yr-old daughter and I were talking about the brain surgery experience, and she asked, “Could Daddy have died?” I responded, “Yes. He could have died. You didn’t know that?” She said, “No.” I smiled and said, “Well, then I did my job. I didn’t want you to know.”

He turns 52 today, and we have settled into our new normal…lots of repetitive conversations and lots of reminder notes. It would seem strange to a lot of people, but it’s our normal…and thankfully, that doesn’t include seizures anymore.

Happy Birthday, Cary!