Authors: Susan Stoker
“I have a sister, Laura. She has Down syndrome and lives in Arizona.” He shook his head at the look of sympathy he obviously saw on her face. “Don’t feel sorry for me. Laura is amazing. I’m five years older than her and always looked after her, but as it turns out, she didn’t need much looking after. Yeah, she was bullied, but she has such a cheerful personality, it didn’t seem to bother her much.”
“Does she live by herself?”
Dean shook his head. “No, she’s not quite independent enough to do that, but she’s perfectly happy living in a group home with other men and women like her. They have jobs and do everything any able-bodied person would. There are a few caretakers who live in the house and make sure everyone eats healthy meals, and assist in everyday activities.”
“That’s amazing. And your parents?” Adeline rested her chin on her hand and leaned her elbow on the table, giving Dean her full attention.
“Still alive, healthy, and madly in love,” he told her, smiling. “Seriously, I think they’re more in love today than they were when they first got married. They’re amazing. When they found out about Laura, they didn’t even blink. Even with the difficulties of raising a handicapped daughter, they swear they wouldn’t have changed one thing about their life.”
amazing,” Adeline said honestly.
“They are,” Dean responded immediately. “And I want what they have. I want to be the first person my wife thinks about when she gets up in the morning. I want to buy her silly gifts to let her know I’m thinking about her, and I want to go to sleep at night holding the woman who understands the kind of man I am, and respects that. That’s the kind of relationship my parents have.”
Adeline didn’t have a response to that, either. It was sappy and extremely romantic—and exactly what she wanted in her own life. Luckily, she was saved once more by Ruth with their food. Moving her arm, which was still stretched over the table with her hand lying beneath Dean’s, Adeline sat back in her seat.
“Here we are!” Ruth chirped in a perky tone. “BLT with tomatoes and ranch, fries and a side of ranch, and a bowl of our broccoli cheese soup. Is there anything else I can get for you?”
“No, this looks great,” Dean told her.
Adeline folded her napkin in her lap, relieved to have a bit more space between her and Dean. She liked him. Way more than she should for a first date. But there was just something about him that made her immediately feel at ease.
They were quiet for a moment as they dug into their meals. Finally, Adeline broke the silence and asked, “Why a firefighter? Did you always want to do that?”
Dean wiped his mouth with his napkin and shook his head. “Nope. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. None. I was a senior in high school and all my friends knew exactly what they were going to major in when they went to college, or they had already signed up for the military. I wasn’t sure what it was I wanted to do.”
“How’d you get into it then?” Adeline asked, extremely curious, wanting to know everything there was to know about the man sitting across from her.
“Laura. When she was twelve, and I was seventeen, she fell over in a dead faint in the middle of dinner. She just keeled over out of her chair, and I swear I thought she was dead. My mom called nine-one-one and we all just stood around helplessly, having no idea what had happened or what we could do to help her. Then in came the firefighters. There were three of them. One went to my parents and started asking questions about Laura’s medical background, and the other two went to work on my sister. They were completely calm and confident in what they were doing. Before the ambulance even arrived, they had her hooked up to an IV and had a heart-rate monitor on her.
“It turns out that because of her DS, she had a cardiac defect. We knew she had a slight heart murmur, but not about how serious it could be. Her blood pressure dropped really low and she passed out. She was fine, but it scared the crap out of all of us. The thing I remember most was those firefighters. They swooped in when we had no idea what to do and they took control. I knew from that moment on that it was what I wanted to do with my life.”
“So it’s not about fighting fires? I thought that’s why people became firefighters,” Adeline asked.
“It is and it isn’t. It’s about taking control of the situation. That could be a sick person, a structure or grass fire, or extracting someone from their wrecked car. It’s an adrenaline rush that can’t be replicated any other way. I’m not saying that I don’t like throwing water on an out-of-control fire,” Dean told her with a grin, “but for me, it’s more than that. It’s the camaraderie with my friends. It’s knowing that when push comes to shove, I won’t feel helpless ever again like I did when I was seventeen and had no idea how to help my sister.”
Dean smiled at her. “Is that wow, good, or wow, bad?”
“Definitely good. I guess I’ve been lucky and haven’t really been in a situation like that. Although I’m sure my sister and parents would say that when I have my seizures they feel just as helpless as you did back when you were a teenager.”
“I’m sure they do. You seem to have a good handle on them though.”
Adeline appreciated his careful approach to the topic. She typically didn’t like to talk about her illness because most people didn’t understand and gave her clichéd platitudes. But Dean had the kind of medical background that made it easier to talk to him.
“When I was younger, I used to have grand mal seizures all the time. But, thankfully, I don’t have many of those anymore. Now I’m more apt to have a myoclonic episode, which is less stressful on my body, but harder for many people to understand, I think. It looks weird when I jerk and stare into space and people think I’m just ignoring them or whatever.”
“Then they’re idiots,” Dean growled.
Adeline couldn’t help but feel good about how irritated he was on her behalf. Most people didn’t get it. “Thanks, but I think they just don’t know anything about epilepsy or seizures in general. Unfortunately, the doctors also think I’ve got refractory epilepsy now, as well.”
“Damn. They can’t find the right drugs to bring it under control?” Dean asked, obviously understanding what refractory epilepsy was.
“Man,” Adeline mumbled, “I’d forgotten how nice it was to talk to someone who can comprehend exactly what I’m talking about without me having to dumb it down for them. Yeah, I’ve been on just about every popular drug, and some not-so-popular ones as well, and none of them have been able to bring my seizures under control. I’ve got a device under my skin right now that sends signals to my vagus nerve to try to control the seizures, and while it seemed to work pretty well when I first had it implanted, it’s lost its effectiveness over the last year or so.”
“So what’s the next step?”
Adeline shrugged and tried to look nonchalant. “Brain surgery.” Just the words scared the hell out of her, but it was getting to a point where she didn’t have much choice. She’d tried almost everything else.
“Jesus, that sucks,” Dean told her, pushing his now empty soup bowl to the side and reaching across the table for her hand.
Without thought, Adeline extended her hand toward him and tried to ignore the tingles that shot up her arm when he grabbed hold of her.
“How do you feel about that?”
The question surprised Adeline, but made her feel good. So many people had
her how they thought she should feel about surgery, rather than
what she actually felt. “It completely freaks me out, to be honest,” she told Dean candidly. “My sister and mom really want me to consider it, but I’m just not sure I want someone to cut into my brain. I mean, removing a part of my brain to try to reduce the seizures isn’t my idea of a good time. What if they take out too much and I’m not me when I wake up? What if I don’t remember my sister or her husband, or my parents? What if the knife slips and I’m a vegetable for the rest of my life?
“But just when I’ve talked myself out of having the surgery altogether, I think about a life where I don’t have to worry about when or where I might have an episode. About how nice it would feel to not have to constantly be concerned about seizing as much anymore. The surgery scares the hell out of me, but I’m almost at a point where I’m willing to take the risk if it means that I can live a life without seizing so often.”
“I imagine those are all completely normal thoughts,” Dean told her in a soft voice.
When he said nothing else, Adeline lifted an eyebrow. “No other commentary?”
He cocked his head in confusion. “What do you mean?”
“It’s just that usually people have all sorts of opinions about what I should and shouldn’t do.”
“Adeline,” he said in such an understanding tone it made her want to cry. “It’s
body. You’ve lived with the disease your whole life. I don’t have epilepsy and I have no idea what it’s like to lose control as you do when you have a seizure. I would no sooner tell you how you should feel or what you should do than I would someone who was contemplating having cosmetic surgery or any other kind of procedure. I might have my own thoughts on the subject, but one, we’ve only just met, and two, I don’t know enough about you or your history of seizures to presume to give you medical advice about it.”
Tears sprang to Adeline’s eyes and she took a deep breath to try to keep them at bay. The last thing this beautiful man needed was a woman he’d just met bawling in front of him. “Thank you.”
“For understanding. For not telling me how I should feel or think. For just…everything.”
“You’re welcome. Where does your dog fit into everything?” he asked, gesturing to the black Labrador retriever sleeping under the table.
Adeline appreciated his change in subject. “Coco?”
“Yeah. How long have you had him? Did you get him because he was a seizure alert dog?”
She shook her head. “Nope. I was staying home more and more. I was terrified of having seizures in public. They were uncomfortable for me and everyone around me, and dangerous too because I never knew when they’d hit. I got a dog because I was lonely. There’s actually quite a controversy about seizure alert dogs in the epileptic world. Some people claim dogs can’t be trained, others say they don’t actually work at all, and on the other side, proponents claim that this type of service dog absolutely
be trained to let people know they’re going to have a seizure.
“No one was more surprised than me when Coco seemed to actually start alerting me when I was about to have a seizure. I’d had him a year before the first time he alerted. That first time it happened, I thought it was a fluke. Coco had always been loving and attentive, but when he continued to jump on me before I seized, I finally made the connection.
“I noticed that about ten minutes before I was going to have a seizure Coco would jump up on me, or get in my lap and not give it up. After about the third time he did it, I realized that he really
letting me know that I was about to have a seizure.”
“Wow,” Dean said with a small smile. “That’s amazing. Bet he changed your life.”
“You have no idea,” Adeline told him. “Coco allowed me the confidence to travel more, to be able to drive, to go out on dates…in short, he let me live without fear of embarrassing myself for the first time in my entire life. I applied and was approved to make Coco an official service dog, so now he’s allowed to go anywhere I do.”
“That’s awesome,” Dean told her.
“I think so. The only thing it didn’t change, unfortunately, was how others treat me. Many people don’t understand epilepsy and are embarrassed when I have a seizure, even a small one. I told Bud in one of our online chats about my disease, and he reassured me that it didn’t matter. But obviously he didn’t understand the severity of my condition, because he acted as if I’d told him I was going to strip off all my clothes and dance naked around the table.” Adeline rolled her eyes.
“I probably should’ve been upset with the way he reacted when he found out I was about to have a seizure, but honestly, I only felt relieved to learn how he really felt now, on our first date, rather than later.”
Dean looked her straight in the eyes as he said, “You don’t
have to worry about that with me. I learned from my sister that what’s most important is the person you are inside. And Adeline, from everything I’ve learned about you today, I
who you are. I hate that you have to go through the seizures, but it doesn’t affect how I feel about you.”
“Thanks.” Adeline wasn’t sure exactly what she was supposed to say to his impassioned words, but her response seemed to please him because he continued.
“For the record, just in case my pager goes off before we’re done, I’d love to take you out again…when I’m not on shift and don’t have to be worried about rushing out on you. Can I give you my number?”
She must’ve stared at him in disbelief too long, because Dean said a bit sheepishly, “I figured if I give you my number, then the ball is in your court, so if you’re only here because you’re still out of it from your seizure or you really think I’m a creeper, you could just delete it the first chance you get.” He was teasing…but Adeline saw a bit of insecurity in his eyes as well.
Hating that, she hurried to reassure him. “I’m sorry, yes, of course I want your number. And…I’m happy to give you mine as well…if you want it.”
want it,” he said immediately, and then smiled at her and held out his hand. “Here, give me your phone and I’ll put my number in then just text myself, if that’s okay. That way I’ll have yours too. Easier than both of us having to punch in our numbers.”
“Sure.” Adeline unlocked her phone and handed it over. Her lips quirked up in a smile when Dean tilted his head in concentration as he punched in his number. She heard his phone ding a moment later.
“There. All done. Now if I get called away, we can still get ahold of each other and I won’t have to stalk the restaurant in the hopes that you’d someday show back up.” He smiled, then visibly relaxed, changing the subject. “So, you have a sister?”