Cotton ball clouds on postcard skies. Seventy degrees. Spring’s sweet perfume. Today’s reminiscent of childhood, when Tampa weather underlined the season with grass so lush, wearing shoes was a sin.
Brandi’s 24 years old. It’s 2008.
She stands with her extended family by a park picnic canopy after an Easter church service, where this morning, by grace, she reunited with her father after a 10-year estrangement. Today’s already been one of the best of her life.
But now under the mourning dove’s song, Brandi stands breathless with her family. Her 13 month-old daughter, Alannah, lie in the dirt, motionless and in a postictal state. She’s had a seizure.
Brandi’s never seen this before; she isn’t even sure what it is. She’s dizzy with confusion. Overwhelmed with worry. And.. what do I do next? I’m supposed to take charge now, Brandi knows–that’s what moms are for. But she’s too flooded with emotion. She doesn’t know what to do. Her mother takes handle.
What once she deemed a beautiful day she perceives now as eerie, too out of order, stark in contrast to the nearing sirens and ambulance lights.
The ambulance arrives. Out pours an older man who’ll serve as Alannah’s paramedic. He puts her on a gurney much too big, rubs alcohol on her arm, and administers an IV. The scene is unbearable.
Inside, the ambulance reeks of ammonia and Brandi feels sick. She hovers over her daughter, hoping for a sign of familiarity.
“Everything’s going to be fine,” says the paramedic, and though she trusts it’s true, Brandi can’t help but think the worst.
At the hospital, Brandi talks with doctors. It’s uncomfortable here–too sterile, she thinks–a place filled with misery but somehow devoid of emotion.
A doctor tells Brandi that Alannah has merely had a tempter-tantrum and that there’s nothing to worry about. A tempter-tantrum! Brandi gawks at the notion, and soon develops an angry courage missing from before. Confusion and concern become command and resolve. This is no tempter-tantrum, Brandi knows, and how ridiculous the suggestion. The doctors here aren’t taking her seriously, but they’re going to–they better. There is something wrong with Alannah, and these doctors are going to find out what it is. Brandi chastises Alannah’s flippant doctor.
A taken-more-seriously hour later, Alannah’s test results come back normal, but her doctor concedes she’s had a seizure. Not to worry, he says, childhood seizures aren’t rare, and she’ll likely never have a second.
Over the next several months, Alannah has more than a dozen seizures. She’s diagnosed with epilepsy. The time is nerve-racking–every day brings with it the possibility of another episode, maybe one from which Alannah won’t recover.
MRIs, cat scans, and endless check-ups follow. The medical bills pile high and, though Brandi knows now how to react when Alannah seizes, her worries remain. Will this be the Rest of Her Life?
On top of it all, Brandi has two other children who need feeding and clothing. The responsibilities, the worries, the To Dos seem insurmountable. There isn’t a moment passed without worry, however strong she seems. She clings to faith–and family–to press on.
The troubles don’t end here. Doctors are concerned that, after so many seizures at so early an age, Alannah’s development may be handicapped, and an already worn-down family is dealt another blow. Is this somehow my fault, Brandi asks. Is there something during my pregnancy I should’ve done–or shouldn’t have?
… Years pass.
Four years later and Alannah is ready for kindergarten–a day for which Brandi has prepared. She’ll no doubt hear news that Alannah has a learning disability, that she can’t keep up with the other kids, that she’ll require “special attention.” But Brandi is undisturbed with the imminence. Her daughter is happy and healthy–for what more could she hope?
A day finally does comes when school sends feedback regarding Alannah’s learning ability: it’s news that she’s been placed not into a special education program, but at the top of her reading class, and has been recommended as a gifted student.
And that brings us here, to today, with the family sitting on the couch, watching 7th Heaven (the kids’ favorite show), and living the life of a normal family–now with real, always-annoying but sometimes-cute temper-tantrums and all–knowing that this is better than any springtime grass or postcard sky.
Brandi R. lives with her family in Tampa, Florida. Alannah, meanwhile, has taken a peculiar liking to vienna sausages dipped in ranch with macaroni and cheese.