Seven months ago yesterday was the worse day of my life. I watched my little boy slump over on the floor in the bathroom, and his eyes roll back in his head. I asked him if he was okay, if he could hear me. Nothing. My heart stopped. I swept him into my arms, yelled to my wife and other kids to get to the car, and said, “He’s had a stroke.” How I knew that, I’ll never know.
I tried talking to him, asking him his name and his birthday, while I carried him to the van. He tried to respond with slurred speech. Sometimes he got his name and part of the date right. Other times he was incoherent. Eventually, he stopped even trying to respond.
My heart raced as I realized my son was dying in the seat just behind me as I sped through traffic to the emergency room.
We pulled up in front of the hospital and I jumped out of the car. I gathered Harrison in my arms again and raced inside. ”He’s had a stroke. He has leukemia. He needs help.”
The nurse calmly took me into a room to get some information. Eventually they took him for a CAT scan. While he was being examined Ginger and I fell to the floor in anguish.
The previous day was Christmas. We had celebrated with grandparents. That morning they had all left to go back to Mobile. Harrison had ventured out to Target with Ginger and had spent the afternoon helping Lachlan burn Christmas wrapping in the back yard. Then, at 3:30 in the afternoon, this had happened.
Harrison was two weeks into his leukemia treatment. He was very sick, but improving. Or so we thought. Actually, one of the drugs he was receiving to try to save his life had caused a problem with his blood clotting. What was supposed to save him was now threatening to kill him.
After the CAT scan, the ER doc took Ginger and me to the family room. This cannot be good.
He told us Harrison had, in fact, had a stroke. There was bleeding in five placees deep in his brain. It was bad. Very bad.
I asked if Harrison might survive. He paused. He didn’t think so. ”We’ll have to see what happens.” There are no words to describe that moment.
Well, seven months later Harrison is still here. Remarkably. Miraculously. He should not have lived, but he did.
The stroke did cause some brain damage. Nothing major, especially when compared with the cancer he continues to fight. Harrison developed epilepsy as a result and has been on anti-seizure medicine ever since. Twice a day he takes giant horse pills to prevent seizures.
But that might all be over. Yesterday, the neurologist fitted Harrison with an ambulatory EEG device to measure brain activity. I asked Harrison what he would do if it said he didn’t have any. At first he wasn’t amused. But then he laughed.
You can see from the picture his head is covered with electrodes with wires attached to a small backpack. He wore it to the mall last night. He is very weak and has terrible pain in his knees right now so is having a hard time walking. Therefore, we had to push him around in a wheelchair. That was a sight to behold. He got all sorts of stares. Although he has a fun, outgoing, extroverted personality, he does not like to be the center of attention, and the stares really bothered him.
This morning he will head back to the neurologist at UNC to have that device removed and the results read by the doctor. I’m not certain that we will know the results today, but I hope we do. If the brain damage is no longer causing seizures, then he can drop the medicine. And with ALL the meds pills he is taking, if we could drop two of them it would be nice.
This is just another part of the journey, another battle in this fight against childhood cancer. Along with his constant joint pain, nausea, fatigue, weakness, and fear, worrying about the epilepsy is another brick in the wall. If we can get beyond this, it’ll be one less brick to bother us.
And just as exciting is the fact that next Tuesday is the final clinic visit in “frontline” treatment. These first seven and a half months have been excruciatingly painful for him and, therefore, for us as well. He’ll still have two and a half years of treatment, but things should get easier. But as they say in the world of childhood cancer, don’t count on anything.
This Sunday I will get to tell Harrison’s story in all three worship services at Bayleaf Baptist Church in Raleigh. The services are at 8:30, 9:45, and 11:00. If you are in Raleigh, we’d love to see you. Either way, your prayers would be appreciated.