The bed rocked back and forth violently as Garnet Dewitt clutched the mattress, his fingers turning white with the force of his grip. His eyes rolled, saliva dripping down the corner of his mouth. His entire body shook violently with the force of the seizure. He consciously stopped rolling his eyes and glanced around the room.
Cameras monitored his every move. Electrodes were plugged into his head and hooked to a computer screen that displayed brain activity. He also had a little hand control with a button that he was supposed to press at the onset of a seizure. But the seizures always seemed to take him by surprise, and he never had time to press it.
On the other side of the two-way glass in front of him, doctors watched, taking copious notes. It was late September 2010, and Garnet was in the newly-opened seizure monitoring unit at Calgary Foothills Hospital. He was having an induced seizure, an attempt to confirm that he would make a good candidate for a temporal lobectomy, a brain surgery that would remove parts of his temporal lobe, including the hippocampus and amygdale. Doctors at the hospital suspected this scarred area of Garnet’s brain was the source of his seizures.
This is strange, Garnet thought. I’m actually enjoying myself. I never thought I would see the day when I would actually enjoy having a seizure. Since he’d been in the hospital, now three weeks, doctors had taken him off the anti-seizure medication and had tried to create an environment to induce the epileptic seizures or, as Garnet liked to call them, “electrical storms in my brain.”
So far, doctors had induced 35 seizures, and their analysis would try to determine whether the seizures stemmed from the temporal lobe area of Garnet’s brain, which could then be operated on, or from multiple areas of the brain, in which case Garnet’s epileptic condition would be rendered inoperable.
If that was the case, Garnet would then have to live his life, as he had up to this point, knowing that any little stress could trigger a violent electrical impulse storm in his head.
Garnet had had many such seizures up to this point. Some of them were petit mal seizures, where he stayed conscious but just went completely blank, or absent, for a few minutes. Others were psychomotor seizures, where he would go blank and behave in strange ways. Still others were of the grand mal type, which involved violent convulsions, unconsciousness, extreme soreness and muscle pain when they ended.
During many of Garnet’s seizures, he would only remember waking up bruised and battered in an ambulance or in the hospital, after doctors had medically revived him. When he was younger, one grand mal seizure had been so violent it had lasted seven hours and Garnet had to spend a week in the hospital, recovering.
He had been taking anti-seizure medication for as long as he could remember. He found the medication didn’t seem to help much with the seizures, but it certainly affected his cognitive functioning, slowing his speech considerably and dulling his senses to the point where he had difficulty processing information.
Almost like a scene from The Exorcist, Garnet and his bed continued to rock violently back and forth. The seizure was nearing the eight-minute mark and seemed to be building strength, like a Tsunami wave does before it crests and wreaks a violent swath of destruction.
A smile came over Garnet’s face, and doctors on the other side of the two-way glass exchanged puzzled glances as they looked at the computer screen.
Why am I enjoying this so much? Garnet mused. He guessed it was because he was actually conscious of what was happening, and during many of his other seizures he had blacked out completely. Many of the other seizures in the outside world were probably triggered by stress, and the outcome of those seizures was always unsure. He could fall down, smack his head and die, as his epileptic aunt had done. He also reasoned, in his gyrating condition, that the stress-free and controlled environment he was in contributed to his enjoyment.
He fell short of breaking out into hysterical laughter before the seizure eventually subsided. He felt the bed’s movement slow, and his vice-like grip on the mattress begin to loosen. He felt his body begin to relax, and he could feel the electrical impulses in his brain weaken. I wonder if this is how it would feel to be electrocuted, he mused, before a young blonde nurse with stunning blue eyes and a warm smile entered the room and snapped him out of his reverie.
“How are you feeling, Garnet? You seemed to be enjoying that experience.” She walked to his bedside and began wiping the sweat from his brow with a clean towel.
He realized he was now slumped over in the bed. He processed her words, but it took him a few moments, as he still felt like his mind was in another zone, another reality of sorts.
“Uhhh… I’m okay. It’s the, the stress free environment, I guess… makes it kinda pleasant.”
The nurse removed some of the straps constricting his legs and arms to the mattress. Garnet slumped to one side, soaked in sweat.
“Let’s get you up here, young man,” she said, gently positioning his head on the pillow. “I want you to rest right now, with no stimulus. Your dinner will be here in half an hour. Relax and then eat. Your neurologist, Daniel Carsdale, will be in later this week to talk to you. We still have a lot of data to analyze, but you may be a good candidate for surgery.
Garnet stared at Nurse Janice Priestly. His mind felt numb now, and the brief enjoyment had faded as he contemplated his situation. She left and he stared out the window. He listened to the wind whistling. Flakes of snow swirled and landed on his window, melting on contact. He suddenly felt cold.
What disturbed him was the surgery he may have to undergo. A very difficult and dangerous surgery it would be indeed.
Doctors had told him there was a 2% chance the surgery would cause a stroke, rendering him seizure-free, but potentially with severe brain damage. Even worse, severe brain damage and an inability to walk or have any basic motor functions in his extremities. Garnet wondered what was worse; being severely brain damaged with limited motor functions, or carrying on with constant electrical storms in his brain.
Then he remembered what one doctor had said to him and realized the surgery was his only option. About 20 years ago, Garnet had tried to get medical clearance to get his driver’s licence. After a short conversation, the doctor declared, “I am sorry to inform you, Mr. Dewitt, that you suffer from mild mental retardation. Let’s face it, you will never graduate from any university.” That comment had stayed with Garnet to this day. In fact, he wasn’t sure if it would ever leave him.
Although he was not one to dwell on negativity, that statement had ripped Garnet’s heart, and he remained determined to one day prove the good doctor wrong. Needless to say, the doctor did not give Garnet medical clearance to get a driver’s license.
Doctors had also told him there was a small chance of dying and a small chance of continuing to have seizures after the surgery. Still, he didn’t have a lot of options, as he saw it. And it could well be that even after the surgery, he would have to continue taking anti-seizure medication for the rest of his life.
Garnet liked his chances. After all, he had a wife and a 17-year-old daughter to support. And they needed him. Badly.
When Garnet had first laid eyes on Ella in 1986 at The Mustard Seed church, he said to himself, “This is the woman I am going to marry.” And marry her he did, after a two-year courtship.
Ella, although very intelligent, was not a person others would consider normal. At a young age, she suffered brain damage, the result of a late diagnosis of a hyperthyroid gland. The brain damage left her with attention deficit disorder, weak short-term memory, and poor hand-eye coordination. By her own admission, she often tripped over her own feet and stumbled, righting herself moments before falling completely.
The brain damage also rendered her confused, and at times she was unable to process information quickly. She was also prone to emotional outbursts, and Garnet sometimes wondered if those outbursts were due to her frustration with her limitations. She could work all right, but her progress was slow, and this had proven to be a serious impediment to her becoming gainfully employed.
On the other hand, Ella had a certain intelligence and grasp of complicated concepts that most doctors would consider unusual, given her level of brain damage. Her mind drifted at times, and her eyes took on a glazed look, leaving many who met her with the impression that she was retarded.
But through this exterior she could, at times, grasp certain situations and conversations with a whip-like quickness and clarity. Her physical appearance belied her occasional astute wit and razor sharp intelligence. But the appearance of mental retardation had handicapped Ella in many ways.
We live in a physical world, and it is no surprise that attractiveness wins promotions, higher social status, and excellent careers. People who are born unattractive have to work harder to achieve their goals. And with Ella’s physical and mental limitations, life was tough. She struggled to succeed in a society that in many ways equates appearance and material possessions with intelligence. So she went about her life, undaunted by the cultural and social norms. She worked many different jobs, but they didn’t last long.
Ella’s latest job was a foray into selling investments with The World Financial Group. She had to write the preliminary exam six times before finally passing it on the seventh try. Undaunted, she was now preparing for the final exam—her second attempt at it. She sat in her run-down two-storey townhouse in Rundle and contemplated her investment broker career. She had the practice questions in front of her, but was distracted.
Her mind drifted back to Garnet. She looked at her watch. It was 4:15 pm. Visiting hours were over at nine, and she planned on bringing her daughter Susan up to see Garnet within the next few hours. She couldn’t call him, as the hospital did not allow cell phones, and they certainly didn’t have the money to pay for a private hospital phone.
She tried to focus on preparation for the final exam. Suddenly her black cat Pickles leaped up on the kitchen table where she was working, gave her an inquisitive look, then dashed away as quickly as he had landed, sending papers and books flying in all directions. The papers floated slowly down and settled on the already-cluttered floor. Ella was a lot of things, but a good housekeeper she was not. Susan was watching TV when the action caught her attention and she burst out into laughter.
“Pickles, you silly cat,” Ella, said, unable to drown out Susan’s laughter. Pickles disappeared. Maybe he had a plan to reappear after things settled down. I would never know, she thought as she bent down and began methodically picking up the pieces of her life. By this time, Susan’s giggles subsided and she returned to her show.
Ella tried to fix her mind on her homework. Suddenly she was hit by a brainstorm, although not the kind her husband currently suffered from.
She picked up the phone and dialled her realtor friend Debbie. She would try and sell her some insurance, she decided, and make some money so Garnet could have a private line at the hospital.