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The Thousand Yard Stare

The star man of the house is lying next to me, tying to get in a snooze before lunch. Despite the fact he only had breakfast about 11 o’clock, it’s now 1pm, he knows lunchtime has still to come. It was a late breakfast so I tried to introduce the idea of brunch to him…he wasn’t having it…


“This is a big breakfast,” I said bringing in the tray to him “it’s like having lunch and breakfast together.”


“This is not my lunch,” he said indignantly, looking at the plate and then at me, hand furiously waving in dissent, “this is my breakfast, I’ll have my lunch later!”


No point arguing I thought, I’m not going to win this one.


The reason for the upset in schedule was that old favourite, epilepsy. All day yesterday, it was hanging over our Fred. His was finding speech difficult and his eyes had that far away look or the ‘thousand yard stare’ as I sometimes call it. Wikipedia describes the thousand yard stare as… “The thousand-yard stare, or two-thousand-yard stare, is a phrase coined to describe the limp, unfocused gaze of a battle-weary warrior.” Used initially about US Marines during the horrors of the WW11, it somehow catches our battle weary warrior on days when epilepsy is trying to sneak up on him. During the day he was shaky and a bit out of it. Around 1pm, Lisa got him to snooze for a couple of hours and he was someway improved when he woke up. Later however it started to sneak back in and we feared the worst.


Because he’d had a big snooze during the day, we couldn’t get him off to sleep at his usual time, so the two of us went off to bed about 11pm. In our bedroom, he had that stare again, badly this time but he assured me he was fine. A telltale sign that he wasn’t, was that he only wanted me to read one bedtime story. Normally I’d be lucky to get away with three; indeed I was expecting the demand for five.


“Do you want three stories?” I asked.


“No, just the one,” was the answer.


We cuddled up in bed, reading Farmer Duck. About three pages in and the head turned in that stiff, involuntary jerk, his glasses flew off and the shuddering began. All I could do was hold him and whisper gentle thoughts. It was all over in about a minute, the after jerks lasted for another minute or so and I called Lisa.


We both knew it had been on the way, wished it wasn’t but it eventually caught up with us. Lisa gave him a shot of diazepam and he rolled over into my arms, still not fully ok but fighting back with all his might. Soon Fred was in a deep sleep and I was wide awake. Sometimes I wonder, if, in those early hours of the morning I have the thousand yard stare as well. After a while I started read my book and the sound of it falling to the floor woke me about 2am. Switching off the light, I turned and kissed the sleeping man before catching the night train again.


About 6am, I woke and he was sleeping soundly beside me, sending up Zeds as my father used to say. Lisa came down about 7am to give his medicines and a glass of water. He hardly woke, not a great sign, I thought. Immediately he was back in a deep sleep, a very deep sleep.


About 7.45 the epilepsy came back for another go. The seizure wasn’t as severe as last night’s one, almost like a car trying to start on a winter’s morning but still lasted the minute or so. Settling him in next to me, I called Lisa and she took over. She despatched me to the upstairs bedroom while she cared for the man. The family slept till mid-morning, thence the late breakfast and the trying to introduce the concept of brunch…


Last Tuesday Lisa popped out to the butchers on her own, I was at work but Ruby was home on mid-term break. The two were cuddled up on the sofa, doing drawings and watching TV. Not long after Lisa had gone, the inevitable happened. The one time she finds it in her to leave Freddie, a seizure strikes. Luckily, if that’s the right word, Ruby was well able to cope; she’s witnessed enough of these happenings to know what to do. Moreover, she has the Shanahan female gene of being able to cope no matter what the circumstances. To her mother’s chagrin she hasn’t got the housekeeping one, but the coping one kicked in on Tuesday.


Ruby was able to care for her brother till Lisa got back and by the time I was home from Dingle all was right in our home. Fred slept for the evening, waking for dinner about 8pm and carrying on as if nothing had happened.


That’s the great thing about Freddie; he is able to carry on regardless. No matter what the epilepsy throws at him, he keeps going. He may be a battle weary warrior but he’s always ready for a tour of duty. It now looks likely that we’ll have to introduce a new medicine to the mix, the Tegretol, while stopping the clusters, isn’t preventing the seizures on its own. The new AED, Phenytoin, is an old one, developed in 1908 but well tested and sometimes the old things work much better...Richard Nixon was on it, for anxiety, but Tricky Dicky was able to function on it and being able to function is our main concern. No more zombie Fred for us, not after we’ve seen the great improvements over the last two weeks…


Even now, after the night and morning he just put down, Freddie is sitting up watching Jaws 3 while making Lego Ben10 figures. A curious mix I know…


It is amazing what a bit of RnR can do for a battle weary warrior…


Posted by John Verling

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