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My Dad just got his own Month!

This is my Dad. Douglas E. Beardsley. Towards the end of 2016 he was on the top of his world. He was serving as Bishop over the local church congregation. He was the head of the County Health Department with increasing roles and influence in Health services State and Nation wide. He had a healthy, united and growing family extending several generations in either direction. When everything is so good, where does one go from there?

For my dad, he came 2 centimeters away from brain dead.

The Symptoms

November 6th, 2016 was the last time I had a conversation with my dad the way I’d always known him. My family tried to Skype with my parents every Sunday. Sometimes we miss a week or two, but I am so grateful we made it work that day. But even then at the time, dad was miserable with a headache, and couldn’t participate all that much. He thought it was just a sinus infection, perhaps.

The next day, the symptoms became much more serious. Dad didn’t feel well, but he still attempted to go to work. He ate a guacamole waffle for breakfast and packed himself a bottle of syrup for lunch. He didn’t get much done at the office, because he couldn’t figure out why none of the application windows would open on his computer; it wasn’t even on. These mix-ups are admittedly a little funny, but they did indicate that something was very wrong. Mom came in and convinced dad to take a car ride with her, and she took him to the Hospital.

The Diagnosis

The scans showed that dad had a potato shaped swelling in his right Temporal Lobe. The Temporal Lobe is used to connect meaning to objects, which explains why he had trouble figuring out which foods go with what. But that specific location and shape of swelling also pointed to Herpes Simplex Encephalitis (HSE). A rare (only 2 cases per million population per year) complication from the otherwise harmless cold sore virus. While cold sores are dormant, the viruses “hibernate” in nerve cells around the mouth area. But every once in a while, the virus might travel up the nerve and sneak its way into the brain.

I began to google HSE right away, and my findings made my heart drop. “Without treatment, HSE results in rapid death in approximately 70% of cases; survivors suffer severe neurological damage.[1] When treated, HSE is still fatal in one-third of cases, and causes serious long-term neurological damage in over half of survivors. Twenty percent of treated patients recover with minor damage. Only a small population of survivors (2.5%) regain completely normal brain function.” – Wikipedia entry.

Statistically, he’d have better odds if he’d been shot through the heart with a gun (24.5% mortality rate) or had brain cancer (30-50% 5 year survival rate). I’ve graduated college with a degree in Biology and watched all 8 seasons of House twice, yet somehow this devastating illness has escaped my attention*. And it’s not like the virus is rare; over 50% of all Americans carry Herpes Simplex Virus I, it’s just that many are asymptomatic. This crisis was as “Out of the Blue” unexpected as possible.

*There was a House Episode featuring HSE, Season 2 Episode 19, but it was from the Herpes Virus type II (Gential Herpes) which is sexually transmitted and thus more avoidable.

The Treatment

Dad was rushed to the Neurology wing for treatment. Brain infections are difficult for both the body and doctors to treat, primarily because the Blood-Brain barrier limits what chemicals and antibodies can come in contact with the grey matter. Plus, viruses are already difficult to kill. The only medicine that really had an effect was Acyclovir, which interferes with the Viral DNA replication and slows it down, giving the body a better chance at catching up. Unfortunately, the only way the body can stop a virus in the brain is to kill off infected brain cells before they can spread the virus further. And every cell lost is permanent damage.

My brothers and I all flew/drove to Iowa as soon as we could. I first got to see dad on the 11th, which also happens to be my Birthday. The couple of days prior to my arrival, my dad’s condition seemed to be on the mend. But when my mom took me in to see dad, he’d had something of a lapse and was breathing through a tube as a precaution against seizures (the monitors had detected seizure activity, even though outward symptoms were not readily apparent).

Dad seemed miserable. He had a fever and a headache and just seemed exhausted. He couldn’t talk, couldn’t eat and couldn’t get out of bed (though he really tried his best and gave the nurses grief as they tried to convince him to stay connected to the machines). He hadn’t shaved since he was admitted, so mom brought his electric razor and gave him a trim. The blades caught and pulled on a few of his whiskers and made dad wince. It might sound odd, but I was so relieved to see such a familiar expression on his face, even if it was pain. It showed that my dad was still in there.

He got the tube out the next day, but he was still steadily feeling worse. His voice was weak, and he had trouble recognizing things, but he did manage to give me a “Happy Birthday Alan,” which felt so good it almost made me cry. Mom was a hero, because she got a doctor friend to take dad’s case and re-evaluate his progress. New scans showed that swelling in my dad’s brain was nearing critical levels. If it got much worse, he would be at risk of a mid-line shift (where the brain moves too far off center) or damaging pressure on the brain stem. They decided to give dad a Craniotomy and removed an iphone sized section of his skull to give emergency relief to the pressure.

Surprisingly, getting a 3″-5″ hole in his head made dad feel a lot better. He still was feeling really ill, but this was the point at which he started making a comeback. He began eating and talking more. He started getting up and walking around with help. At this point, the infection had spread to about half of his brain, but it seemed to be slowing down. And not a moment too soon, because the front line was only about 2 centimeters away from his brain stem. If it got to there, then it could very likely stop his heart and other vital functions.

The Recovery

I should mention that throughout this whole process dad’s sense of humor was spot on. I think he’d have to be dead before he’d be unable to throw out a quick pun. I was no longer scared for his life, barring any relapse of the infection. But the question on everyone’s mind now was how far could he recover?

Most of the friends and family seemed super optimistic. Maybe overly optimistic. A lot of people in the world can eventually make full recoveries from brain injuries, but many of those were cases of swelling from a traumatic injury or an infection of the meniscus layer around the grey matter. Once the pressure goes away, the brain can keep on just like before. But in my dad’s case, his brain would need to reteach itself a lot of skills and rebuild a lot of connections using the remaining healthy cells. Nothing is going to be gifted to him automatically.

Dad had to go 2 months before he could get his skull put back together. They’d kept the removed plate in the freezer until he was ready for it. In that time he’d already begun physical and speech therapy to help him get moving and gain some independence again. He made news headlines for using ballroom dancing as part of his exercise, using a traveling harness for safety.

So a quick list of things that my dad has retained, despite his injury: Dancing, a Quick Wit, his French Language skills, his Cooking skills, and his Religious Testimony. Things like his short term memory, naming objects and things, and getting the right date and location have been the most difficult, but those are hardly the really important things in life. He’ll still do funny things every now and then, like try to put two contact lenses into one eye or use the wrong condiment on his food, but those too are brief and easy to get past.

Moving on

My father is a great man. He was before, and he still is now. The people who know him love him, and those who have worked beside him respect him. Proof of that came on March 7th, 2017 when Johnson County Iowa proclaimed March to be Brain Injury Awareness Month. Dad stood in front of a board of County Directors and gave a short speech about his experience. You can access a recording of the proceedings at this link:

http://johnsoncountyia.iqm2.com/Citizens/SplitView.aspx?Mode=Video&MeetingID=1962&Format=Agenda

Also, here is a link to some of the news coverage about the declaration:

http://www.kcrg.com/content/news/Johnson-County-Proclaims-March-as-Brain-Injury-Awareness-Month–415660403.html

I’m glad that my dad is still with us, both mortally and mentally. He’s going to be able to enjoy years of great experiences and be able to watch my children grow up. I hope that anyone reading this can have an appreciation for the miracle of modern medicines and medical care, and recognize the power of Faith.

Many of you may know friends or family with Brain Injuries, or perhaps you’ve experienced them yourself. Know that society does care about you and that awareness is spreading. So if your County or State wants to get on board with Brain Injury Awareness Month, share these links and these stories. Thank you.

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Finally… found time to… type something!

If you had been following my blog posts last year, you probably noticed an abrupt cessation of activity on my site, right around the beginning of May. It is no coincidence that this change directly coincided with the arrival of our two lovely twin boys; Myles Kieve and Remington Tal!

Do you know that the only nights in which I’ve had a full eight hours of undisturbed sleep in the past 9 months were when I left home to visit my sick dad in Iowa for a week? (And Jessica is SOOOOO jealous of me for them, despite the unfortunate circumstances behind my vacation). And my lack of writing has not been wholly the result of having less free time; which while true, I am forced to admit that I could have made the time if I really really wanted to. But do you know what sleeping in 2-3 hour increments every day for nearly a year does to your wants? It makes you want things like 45 minute cat naps on the couch, and half-hour episodes of mind-numbing sitcoms that you can binge play on Netflix in the background while trying to stay awake to keep two rambunctious infants happy between their morning naps. I have gone through My Little Pony twice just since December. 90% of the time the mere thought of being productive is laughable.

But at long last, Milo and Remi are starting to grow into the toddler phase. This means ever expanding capabilities of independence. They no longer have to be held or nestled or buckled in all their waking hours in order to be comfortable. They are expanding into solid foods, allowing us some relief form the relentless demands of their nursing schedule. They can go relatively long stretches with minimal mental investment in a baby safe room full of toys, requiring only the occasional assistance when getting stuck or having bonked a head while crawling about. They are also sleeping in longer stretches through the night with greater regularity, though often this is done out of sync with one another. Very frustrating. But I feel myself slowly waking from my zombie routine and feeling my creative wheels squeaking back to life.

It will be some time still before I feel fully back in the game, but it feels good to at least get this far. I should be able to finish a handful of my incomplete drafts (yes, I have attempted to post something a time or two before) and get updated on where my life stands, over the course of the month. There, I said it. I hear that announcing a goal publicly drastically increases the odds of achieving it. On that note, I guess I’d better get to work!

So who are these guys?

At just over a day old, the Beardsley twins are already showing us a good bit of their budding personality.

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Myles Kieve

“Smiles” Myles:

Little Milo may be the smaller of the two, but he’s certainly the most eager to grow. Within his first few hours in the open air he began taking to his pacifier, mastering the suckling motions in only a few tries. Well, except sometimes he forgets to come up for air. Air is new. We’re still learning that it’s important.

When he cries he mostly just squeaks and coos. And what makes him most upset is when we have to take him away from Grandma Wallace, who he’s grown very attached to already. Besides sucking on his pacifier, he enjoys skin-to-skin snuggles and looking at his incubator light (which he no longer needs now that his temperature is self-stabilized).

Myles favors his left hand for exploration and thumb-sucking, though most of the time it misses his mouth and gets caught in a nostril.

 

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Remington Tal

“Rowdy” Remi:

Remington is affectionately referred to by the NICU staff as the “little bruiser.” Bigger and stronger than Myles, the nurses learned quick that you have to swaddle him extra tight, or else he would simply bust loose to splay his little limbs in the open air. His eyes are bright and full of curiosity and you can often catch him just looking around the room, trying to find out where the beeping sounds are coming from. Oh there it is; it’s just the SpO2 reader kicked loose… again.

Skin-to-skin time with mommy is great, but with daddy he keeps coming away with unwanted souvenirs in the form of stolen chest hairs attached to the tape on his leads. I mean, Jessica keeps telling me that its a good activity to help with bonding, but I just didn’t expect it to be adhesive in nature…

At this point in time, Remi definitely favors his right hand. Even before birth, he was often spotted with his right hand to his mouth during the ultrasounds. Sometimes he gets frustrated because of the IV line and all of the bandaging on his arm prevents him from sucking on his fingers, but he’s adapted and learned to just mouth the plastic instead. I can tell he’s inherited my upper lip, because he can already tweak it to one side Elvis Presley style just like I can.

Both babies are ticklish like me and act like their being murdered whenever they place a thermometer tip under their armpits (I’m so proud). And while I intend to train them to be ambidextrous when they’re older, I’d like to believe their Left and Right handedness is due to their respective positions in the womb. For most of the time ever since they turned head down, Remi’s right hand was to his brother and Milo’s left was to him. Whenever their respective limbs moved, there was always a friend there to respond.

Introducing…

Remington Tal and Myles Kieve Beardsley!

Myles: Born at 3:08 am, weighing 3 lbs 10 oz,       17″ long
Remington: Born at 3:09 am, weighing 4 lbs 15 oz,  18.25″ long

A C-Section was necessary, but both came out healthy and cried right away. The C-Section was little Remi’s fault, as he cut in line ahead of Milo (who was the original “Baby A”) and then insisted on staying “sunny-side-up” in the birth canal. But he learned a life lesson literally right out of the womb; budging is rude, messes up the system, and doesn’t get you anywhere in the end. Myles still came out first, and Remington got a nice little cone head pressure imprint as a consolation prize.

But truthfully, I think Remi did what he did for his brother. Milo was much smaller, and Remi probably wanted to stall and buy him as much time as he could so his brother could grow enough to be healthy when he was born. Mission accomplished.

So in the end the pregnancy and delivery didn’t go exactly as we planned, but the final results are still fantastic! At long last, Jessica gets to have a nice long victory nap. Me… I can hardly sleep! Gonna post this and then see if my baby boys are ready for a visit!

Bonus: I got lucky with the C-Section and weaseled out of having to cut the cords 🙂   I have a phobia-ish of blood vessels, and those things are basically giant veins.

Bonus #2: In the operating room I had a chance to confirm or dismiss a number of stereotypes I’d learned from TV and Movies; They are NOT all dark rooms with interrogation lights over the patients, and the doctors really DO listen to rock music while they operate!

-Picture Updates-

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Myles Kiev
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Remington Tal
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Remi didn’t want a pacifier. All he wanted was the plastic of his IV tubes
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Milo, despite his small size, behaved like a proper new baby, looking around and practicing sucking on a pacifier

Jessica’s Labor: Updates

Alright, because so many of you are in so much suspense, I’ll try to list off all the good highlights that have been going on.

April 16, 2016

  • I get home from my Gymnastics meet around 9:00 pm. At this time Jessica is having some rough contractions.
  • 10:00 pm, we call the doctor’s office and they tell us to go ahead and bring her in to monitor the babies.
  • 10:30 pm, she’s at 3.5 cm and 90% effaced. They decide to admit her.
  • 11:30 pm, we get a room and make ourselves comfortable. Her mom joins us and has remained with us this entire time.

April 17, 2016

  • We get some sleep. Around 4:00 am Jessica’s dad drops off our car and our luggage. He’s on duty to take care of the animals while we’re gone.
  • 6:45 am, Baby B’s water broke. No going back now.
  • 8:00 am they check her again. 5 cm, but it’s getting more painful. With the water broke they suggest starting the epidural now, just in case things progressed quickly. Ha…
  • Between 10:00 am and about 4:00 pm they try readjusting the epidural 3 times because it’s just not doing much for Jessica. In her words, “I could probably get up and dance a Samba if I wanted to.” Despite the failed epidurals, she manages to get a few more hours of sleep.
  • 5:00 pm, she’s up to 7 cm but her contractions are slowing down because she’s having trouble staying awake. They “threaten” to start her on pitocin, so she decides to sit up and make another go of it.
  • 7:00 pm, Jessica did a good job of working up some good stretches of 3 min contractions, but we decide to start pitocin after someone finally explains to us that it’s different than being induced, which we kinda thought it was.
  • 10:30 pm, She’s up to 9 cm and the contractions are right on target. All of the nurses and doctors are being really supportive!

April 18, 2016

  • 12:02 am, Jessica’s at 10 cm and the nurses have her try out some practice pushes for the first time! Going to give her 30 minutes in an upright position to get her ready.
  • 12:45 am, Jessica says she’s “ready.” Probably going to head to the O.R. soon. We have to, because it’s twins and they want to be ready for an emergency C-Section if it’s necessary.
  • 1:50 am, false alarm. There’s still a little bit of cervix at the edges of the baby’s head and they need to call in the doctor to consult. Baby’s are starting to show signs of stress during contractions.
  • 2:10 am, the doctor exam shows that both the cervix and baby are not cooperating. At this point it is recommended to move on to a C-Section. The concern, of course, is that the epidural has not been very effective, so they will possibly try a spinal block. Wish her luck.

You might think this post is about my State Meet,

If you’ve spoken to me at within the last month, you’ve probably heard me brag about my awesome gymnastics team that I coach, and how we were going to compete for the Georgia State title on April 16th. If you kept up with the live updates online during the meet, you would have seen how my little 10-12 year old girls were hitting personal best scores left and right, 9 total to be precise, and racked up their highest team score of 114.275 to place 2nd by only 0.175 points.

What this post is actually about is, IT’S BABY DAY!

Apparently my State Meet was too exciting, because when I came home Jessica was in the early stages of Labor. For REAL this time; not just the episodes of prodromal labor she’s been having for the last 2 weeks. She handled it quite well. Maybe it was because we were so tired from the night before, but Jessica took everything (the exams, the epidural, the contractions) in stride. Or at least that was MY perspective, given her quiet, pensive spells during through it all. My one clue that it might NOT be all peachy is that I’m not really allowed to talk. Even if it’s just a curious question for the doctors or a word of encouragement to Jessica. It appears that the very sound of my voice causes her angst. At least that’s ONE birthing stereotype that holds true.

Which is one reason why I’m sitting here, just updating my blog. Quietly. Time flies when you’re waiting for babies to come. I am certain there will be more updates soon!

Baby Names, Open Discussion

Twins.
Likely Fraternal.
Genders as of yet unknown.
Go.

This is what came up when I did a search for “Top Baby Names 2015,” so probably not any of these. Jessica has had to share her name with too many classmates and co-workers to wish the same on our kids.
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Also, I just thought that the meme I used for the post was funny. I don’t actually hate any of you, even if I don’t want to use your name(s) for my kids.