I Seize

(CW: Sick babies)

It starts with a click. A sound so small it doesn’t seem like it matters, except when his face starts to turn pink. Then a twitch—the right eyebrow shivering, then later the eyelid, winking and wincing to the rhythm of that click in the back of his throat. The jaw joins in, as if toothless, he’s trying to chew off his tongue. His heart races. His face turns purple. Then his arm, his hand gripping my finger with that preternatural strength all babies have, starts jerking in time to that horrible click.


In Greek, it means “I seize,” and they called it the sacred disease, a sign of the divine. In Babylon, as in most places, it was demonic. You could return an epileptic slave as “defective” according to Hammurabi.  In England they called it “falling sickness.” A hundred years ago, epilepsy would land you in an asylum. My baby would be in so much trouble, without the hospital that’s making me feel as if my whole nervous system is cycling on and off in a panic attack that will last a whole week. I remind myself of this nonstop, as more doctors and residents and nurses and technicians than I can count pass through the room: you are so fucking lucky to be right here right now.


Nobody can agree if these are seizures. Sometimes they seem like they must be. Sometimes they seem totally different. We have to do a chest x-ray. We have to do a CT-scan. He’s two months old and I will do whatever it takes, but for fuck’s sake, someone tell me what we’re looking for? They do, kindly, carefully, and I can’t focus. Someone gives him an IV and it misses and his whole arm swells up purple and he’s screaming. The heart monitor keeps beeping wildly, until the nurses just seem to accept it with a cautious eye. Finally (finally) they do an EEG and confirm: multiple focal seizures.


Even now, two months later, when I write this, I want to cry. I want to vomit.


There are approximately a bajillion reasons for seizures. I have been told most of them. Some are scary, some are concerning, some are kind of mundane. There are brain injuries (that’s what the CT scan was for; negative). There are structural abnormalities (that’s what the MRI was for; negative). There are viruses (multiple swabs of nose, throat, eyes, diaper area, plus lumbar puncture, plus antivirals to be safe; negative) and bacteria (same, plus antibiotics; negative). There are metabolic disorders (another lumbar puncture, more blood; negative). There are genetic disorders (blood, another lumbar puncture that didn’t work; negative).  There are developmental disorders that might be one of these or another I don’t know they all blur together in a swamp of panic and needles and kind nurses and being sent off to get coffee so I won’t faint.

People faint a lot, they tell me, when someone sticks a needle in their baby’s back. Makes sense.


(The reasons they won’t tell me, I try to Google. I find one answer so indescribably terrifying I immediately throw up and almost can’t stand back up. It takes me a day to confess this to the neurologist, the one I like and am by then starting to trust, and I only do it because she insists. Negative–oh, God, negative, and she promises not to hide it from me if they know anything like that.)


They glue wires to his head—the fumes smell like a nail parlor, the kind with mannequin hands sporting fanciful acrylics in the window. They have to monitor him for days to watch the medicine take effect. Or not take effect. We’ll see. In the meantime, I can’t hold him. And he can’t nurse—he can’t even eat. He might throw up, he might aspirate, he might, he might…


The hardest part (aside from needles) is the fact that no one can give you answers. Even knowing he has seizures, it might be something minor (they don’t say this with a lot of enthusiasm). It might be something lifelong and serious (they say this quickly so you don’t dwell). They have to do tests and they might not find the answer. You might never know. Even if it stops, you might never know if it’s coming back.

I start to realize that this is really the terrifying part of being a parent: Ultimately, you cannot protect them. At any moment, I could lose them.


I refill my clonazepam prescription.


I write a lot about parenthood. (I think sometimes that people don’t notice because they get distracted by the fact that people also have sex in my books and this is something everyone seems to get het up about.) I write a lot about that part of parenthood where you have to let your children go off and make their own mistakes and their own lives, even if it scares you. The point where your family becomes your “family of origin.” It started, if I’m honest, as a way to wrap my head around doing this with my own parents, the push and pull of trying to escape into adulthood that honest to god felt as if it took until I had my own children to settle.

I feel like I get it—I can certainly imagine it. The thought of my own little sons deciding to move across the country or across the world leaves a knot in my stomach even as I know that I’d want them to have adventures. When they’re older. Like twenty-five. Or you know, thirty-five.

But buried in this, I see now, is the truth that being a parent means more than accepting you don’t have control over your kids—you don’t really have control over anything. And you can’t let them know that too quickly.


My older son is four. I tell him his brother’s in the hospital because the parts of his brain aren’t taking turns with each other. They’re shouting out of order, and the doctors have to figure out how to make them take turns again. He can’t visit because his brother’s on a floor with other kids who are very, very sick, and any germs he might have would be really bad for them. He tells me that he wishes he were a doctor, so he could touch his baby brother’s hand.


The grease pen they use to mark where the leads go is bright red, the same color of my baby’s blood in the endless samples. “Why do you use that?” I ask. “It looks ghoulish. Don’t they make green or purple or black?” The technician agrees—it looks terrible. But she doesn’t have a reason. I tell her that the editors I know—the ones that still work on hard copy—have switched to other colors of ink because red has become kind of traumatic to writers. I don’t know if it helps. Maybe we just end up scarred by green.


I have a book due in two weeks. I know there’s no chance of an extension—my publisher’s made that very clear. I finish it, or it goes away. I write the same scene for almost this whole week. It’s dead, the emptiest thing I’ve ever written. I don’t have enough empathy in me to pretend to be a selfish cambion. On the third try, I change the viewpoint to the main character’s father, and it’s hard not to let my fear bleed all over the page. I want to throw out everything I’ve already written: I feel like I know things now I didn’t before. I feel like everything else is pointless.

But if I do that, this book will be abandoned. Someday I’ll care more about that. I’ll care a lot. And here, only here, can I control what’s happening.


There’s a baby next door that gets morphine in her bottle. There’s a boy down the hall who had to be intubated as I walked by, off to feed myself hospital food. I hear the nurse calling his parents, He’s not doing well. You need to come down here. As much as I’m scared for my baby, I’m terrified for these babies, but I ask every day when we can leave.


Enough phenobarbital and he stops having seizures. He finishes the antivirals, the antibiotics. He goes long enough and I plead hard enough that they let him eat again, let me nurse him. He kicks the second port in his foot right out and they opt to leave it out. I cling to every victory like someone’s going to steal it back, and I fight for everything in reach. We move to the regular floor. They start him on oral medication. They finally agree to let his brother visit. After a week, they make plans to let us go home.


The first night, I sleep with his medicine on the nightstand and I miss the heart monitor’s frantic, misplaced beeping. It’s a preposterous amount of medicine—it takes nearly five minutes to get it all into him—but the neurologists assure me that it’s only a moderate dose. We can go up if we need to. The next morning, he spits up bright pink, a mix of milk and red dyed syrup. I call and call and call, trying to figure out the messaging system. Apparently everyone else is calling too—it takes hours to hear back that it’s not a worry, but they’ll log it. He’ll probably keep doing that.


He starts smiling. He starts laughing. He kicks like a mule and swats at everything. He hates being on his stomach, but I make him stay any way I can. His neck was “too floppy” and if it’s because of the same something that makes him seize then I’m glad the neurologist spotted it, but I’m not going to let them do another lumbar puncture without making sure it’s not because he’s got a gigantic head and was lying on his back for a week straight. Sure enough, he figures out how to roll onto his back…then he figures out how to roll onto his belly, and decides it’s not so bad.


Every time he flinches, my heart stops. I can’t stop staring at his right eye.


Three months pass. There are no more seizures. He develops normally. He develops ahead of schedule. He likes the Keppra but he learns to push the phenobarbital out of his mouth with his tongue. The neurologist is so surprised and pleased at his smile and his giggle and his neck strength that she moves up his EEG from six months to the next day. It comes back normal.

I cry again and scream in the parking lot of the pediatrician’s office. It’s funny how the joy and sorrow can make nearly the same noise.


There’s still no reason. There’s still no answer. The hope is that there will never be an answer. This will be a terrifying thing that happened and we’ll never know why. This was the worst week of my life, and while it’s foolish to hope nothing will ever top it, at least I hope nothing tries for a long while.


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ASHES OF THE TYRANT Giveaway Winners!

Good afternoon, readers! The giveaway has ended, the names have been chosen. We drummed up 186 entries–which isn’t too shabby considering I’ve been otherwise occupied, everyone’s distracted by holidays, and Amazon tightened up their algorithms so you hardly see my Facebook reminders.

Lots of you love drow! Lots of you love tieflings! And lots of you brought up cool nonhuman races that I’d almost forgotten were so cool (special shoutout to the khephri entry. I wish I could find the picture of the year I dressed as one.)

That means there are four winners! Here are the entries that won a copy of Ashes of the Tyrant:

Mik Calow
As a player I like either dwarves (I get to be grumpy in a fun surrounding) or tieflings (especially dark pact warlocks – its all your fault 😉 ).

Looking forward to the new book!  I’ve got to say I’ve been playing tieflings since 3rd, and using (as a DM) tieflings since 2nd, and have been really happy to see an author really delve into their history and lore.  Such a fun class to RP!

Ken Hart
Favorite fantasy race: Redcaps. I love fey & fairie myths, and the redcaps are intriguing because they’re the opposite of what typically comes to mind when people think of fairies. They’re rude and murderous (they soak their hats in the blood of their dead foes? Whoa!), yet they are firmly established in the fey hierarchy, such as it is. I like them so much that I’ve inserted one in my WiP just because he raises the tension a bit — and allows for more snark in the dialogue.

And the grand prize winner of a full Brimstone Angels Saga set…

Michael Whaley
I’m torn between Ludo, the gigantic beast in Labyrinth, and Goblins. I know Ludo was  tortured  by goblins, but everyone has a Good and Bad side. . . right ?


Thank you all for participating! If you didn’t win, but still need a copy, don’t forget the e-signing is still on.

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December 29th brings the fifth book of the Brimstone Angels Saga, Ashes of the Tyrant. Here you’ll find links to all the exciting things to help you get ready and remind you what’s in store!

There’s  more coming, so check back soon!

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