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  • Susan Brown

Troubles — But Under His Control


Spastic jerks wrenched Andy’s body as he lay on the dining room floor. Foam flecked his mouth and his eyes gruesomely rolled back in his head. We have seen gran mal seizures before. This was obviously one of them.

It was a long seizure. Long enough to terrify the boys, for them to carry him next door to the big house and to run upstairs to pound on our door. It was still going on by the time I frantically struggled into my clothes with racing heart and stumbled downstairs. Still going on while Paul tried to get an ambulance. Finally the jerks slowed and Andy opened his eyes.

“What happened?” he whispered in Thai. “What’s wrong with me?”

He was weak and confused and had to be carried to the truck for the trip to the hospital. My throat constricted with emotion as I tried to comfort him. Andy is our tough guy. He’s the fitness buff who requested dumbbells for his birthday and who is on every sports team at school. He’s the tenderhearted kid with the constant show of bravado. Seeing him reduced to trembling and tears wrenched my heart.

We didn’t find out much at the ER. They watched him for a while and sent us home with an appointment for the next day.

After an EEG and a neurologist visit, we still didn’t know much. Typically, treatment isn’t given after the first seizure. The official diagnosis comes after the second one and anti-seizure drugs are given then. We were referred to a pediatric neurologist in a few days.

That’s when the picture changed. He had a CAT scan just to be sure there wasn’t anything else going on. And they found a lesion.

We could see it on the scan displayed on the computer. A white blip surrounded by darker brain tissue. The darker color showed brain swelling, the neurologist told us. That’s what caused the seizure.

What was the lesion? Possibly tuberculosis of the brain, but most likely a parasite. Googling his diagnosis – neurocysticercosis – I learned that the parasite comes from tapeworms. Pigs pick up the eggs from feces when they root around for food. The eggs hatch into larvae in the intestines and burrow into the pigs’ bloodstream. They take root in the muscle tissue and start a family. People eat the pigs and pass the eggs, which continues the cycle. Sometimes that cycle gets interrupted, either by eating undercooked pork which lands the living larvae in human stomachs, or by contamination (as in lack of hand-washing) which puts the eggs immediately back in the human intestinal track. They hatch and burrow through the intestines into the bloodstream. They sometimes wind up in the brain.

That’s what happened to Andy. The parasite is in his brain and we have to get it out. The dangerous and painful treatment starts today. The drugs that will kill the parasite cause brain swelling. It’s not a good thing for a brain to swell.

He might have more seizures. He might die or have brain damage. He will almost certainly have a killer headache.

He’s scared, although he is bluffing his way through with a show of bravado, Andy-style. His mother came from her home far in the mountains and is clearly terrified. Paul had to practically drag me away last night.

Our secretary, Pann, has been working on our visa for months and today is the day we have to show up at immigration to get it. We are in a time crunch and I could not talk them out of waiting another day or two until Andy is out of danger.

We arrived at immigration at 4:30 a.m. and I am sitting on a backless stool writing this on my laptop in the dark. We are first in line, so we hope to be through quickly as soon as the officials arrive. Then it’s back to the hospital where I plan to stay until we know Andy is okay.

We have access to an excellent hospital. It is more expensive than the government hospitals, but much less than comparable care in the US. That’s good, because we don’t have insurance. We might have taken him elsewhere for something simple, but he only gets one brain. We don’t want to mess it up, so we made the decision to take him to the place he will get the best care.

I’ll be posting updates on Facebook. We appreciate your prayers always, but especially for Andy today.

Update:  We have our visas for another year!  We are at the hospital but are supposed to go back to immigration at 1 o’clock for another paper. I’m not going unless Andy is okay.  Right now he is sleeping, and drowsiness is not a good sign.  More updates later on Facebook.

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