By Tiffany Shedd
After I earned my graduate degree in 2004, my thoughts were on finding a job or getting into a Ph.D. program. Little did I know, I was only a few days away from meeting my future husband and having my world, and my idea of home, completely rocked. Ten years later, we’ve crisscrossed the country as we PCSed from Fort Campbell, KY to Fort Wainwright, AK and back to the east coast to Fort Bragg, NC.
Our latest PCS brought us to Aberdeen Proving Grounds, MD. This was our toughest move. It was our shortest PCS, distance-wise, so you’d think it would have been a breeze. But, we had one major difference this time. Our son was born a week before my husband was to report for duty. And we were closing on our first home, which needed a lot of work before we could bring a newborn into it.
Luckily, we had a lot of help, and things went as smoothly as they could.
I came to motherhood later in life than most of my friends and most of the spouses I’ve met during my time as an Army wife. We were usually the odd couple out, because we didn’t have kids. It seemed like this made it tougher to meet and make friends with each move. I thought that our son would be our instant friend finder. What I found was that I was just too tired to even care about finding friends for the first year we were here.
During my son’s first year of life, everything seemed to go smoothly. We felt lucky compared to some of the horror stories we’d heard. He spoiled us by sleeping through the night at a month old (I mean from 7 p.m. until almost 7 a.m. most nights). He did seem to turn into a little monster while teething, but luckily, that only lasted a couple of weeks at a time.
My little man and I settled into our routines in our new home. Everything went along smoothly for almost a year. Then, one day, he didn’t respond to me in the way he normally did. He seemed to be in a daze. It didn’t last long, but it was odd. I was worried, but didn’t know what was causing this. He did this several times over the next couple of weeks.
My husband went TDY for a few weeks in August, so my little man, who’d just turned 10-months-old, and I went to visit my family. We were getting ready for the day and little man was crawling around, and then all of a sudden, he wasn’t. It was as if he’d forgotten how to crawl. He started crying, but then he was just limp and unresponsive. I immediately picked him up and tried to get him to respond. He snapped out of it after about 30 seconds.
I mentioned these episodes to his PCM on our next well baby visit. She did not seem too worried about them, but she did note them in her notes.
A month later, I was home alone again and my husband was TDY, again. Little man was crawling around, and all of a sudden, just flopped forward. He picked himself up but just flopped over again. I picked him up, thinking he was really ready for his nap. He had a thousand yard stare and stopped responding to my voice. His eyes got really wide and his muscles went rigid. Then, he started convulsing. His little body jerked violently and he stopped breathing. I have never felt more helpless in my entire life. I was not calm. I did not realize what I was witnessing. I just wanted my baby to be ok.
To make a very long and scary story short, after a rough couple of weeks and being admitted to the hospital several times, my son was diagnosed with epilepsy. With medication, we were able to get the seizures under control in about a month. Luckily, the medications work, and he has been seizure free for nearly seven months.
Once we had a diagnosis, our journey to getting our son into the Exceptional Family Member Program began. Funnily, my son’s PCM was one of the people responsible for getting the program started in the 1980s. She suggested that we get the process going, because sometimes it can take a while to get all of the paperwork filled out and processed. She also told us that the DD Form 2792, the official 13-page document you must fill out with your PCM, is a far cry from the original one page document.
I asked if we were required to enroll in the program and she said it is a mandatory enrollment program. If you’re like me, you may not like the feeling of being forced to participate in a program that you know little about. But with a little research and reassurance, I came to the conclusion that this was what was best for my son and our family.
According to the Army Medical Department, the EFMP is supposed to be a comprehensive, coordinated, multi-agency program that provides community support, housing, medical, educational and personnel services to military families with an EFM. Basically, this just means that if your spouse is given orders to some very remote post, without proper medical facilities within a reasonable distance, you and your child may not get the option of accompanying them. It’s a tough choice, but if you’re like me, you will do anything to make sure that your child receives the best and quickest medical attention possible.
We started this process in mid-April, and we’re still working on getting into the program. It takes time, and with budget cuts and understaffing issues, it takes more time. If your child needs to get enrolled, start early. Do not wait until a month before you need to PCS.
I hope to be able to help some of you through this process as we try to get through it ourselves. I look forward to writing each month and helping other spouses by answering questions that you may not even know you had.