Old Souls – Segment 3

Old Souls Segment 3

“The dreams began six months ago. She’d wake up crying, sweating, and in hysterics. We’ve tried everything, chest rubs, soothing songs, night lights and changing her diet. The pediatrician said it was night terrors, gave us pills for short term use, but the drugs make her lethargic and sullen for days after she takes them. She actually started refusing to take them. She says they make her “stuck” in the bad.  What 6 year old says something like that?”

Bethany Randall looked at the doctor scribbling notes as she talked.

“Dr. Risten recommended we see you.”

She didn’t really believe in psychotherapy, but after months of sleepless nights and exhaustion anything was worth a shot.  Dr. Hu continued writing for a moment then carefully placed his pen next to the pad, he removed his glasses, placed them in a black case, slowly looked up at Mrs. Randall and smiled.

“Mrs. Randall, children have vivid minds. This is very likely nightmares, or perhaps terrors. I’ll need to spend some time with Ashlynn to get a better idea about what is going on.”

He paused for a moment, “This is not a quick fix. It takes time and many children simply stop having these problems before we find the causes.”  Dr. Hu leaned forward slightly and let his piercing gaze settle heavily on Mrs. Randall. “I believe I can help her, but you,” he paused again, “you, Mrs. Randall, must believe that as well. Children are very empathic. If Ashlynn senses that you have doubts, she will have doubts and this will take much longer to resolve.”

Dr. Hu leaned back, placed his hands together and measured Mrs. Randall’s reaction.  Bethany met his gaze with a practiced ease. Being a senior vice president of a leading marketing research firm had groomed her for these moments. This was the sell. She was as comfortable in this game as any and had held her ground in million dollar deals.  Bethany mirrored his body language and let the seconds tick by uninterrupted.  Dr. Hu did not move or speak. The clock on the wall seemed to tick louder and louder.

Bethany finally broke the silence. “Fine. I understand this my take time and that I need to fully buy in that you can help her. What’s the next step? I have a meeting in 20 minutes.”

Dr. Hu smiled warmly, and handed her the folder his hands had rested on. “I took the liberty of preparing a detailed initial treatment plan. It includes a specific dietary and exercise program. We’ll begin as soon as you can arrange your schedule to accommodate the plan requirements.”

Bethany took the folder and smiled. “I see you’ve done your homework Dr. Hu, I’m duly impressed.” Dr. Hu tipped his head in acknowledgment. “I’ve had much practice, Mrs. Randall.”

He stood to gently shepherd her to the door. “Contact my office if you have questions and when you are ready to schedule the sleep study. It will take a few days as it is completed in your home. The details are listed in the plan.”

Bethany had turned to question him but he was already closing his office door.  Bethany had to admit, he knew how to manage her.

Ashlynn watch with eager curiosity as the technicians set up the monitoring equipment. She sat on her bed, carefully out of the way but near enough to ask a multitude of questions about each box and wire.  The tech humored her and answered. “This one makes popcorn and cooks mac and cheese in 4 minutes.” Ashlynn giggled, “Why would I need that?” Her giggles continued until she tossed herself backward on the bed, “I can’t even have any of that right now!” The tech laughed with her then launched into a technical explanation of how the equipment measured brain waves and sent the signals to the monitors in the guest room down the hall. Ashlynn looked serious for a moment, “do the signals make pictures like the television? Will the monitors show my dreams?” The tech was highly impressed with her level of inquiry. “No honey, not quite, more like a fuzzy bunch of colors and bunches of squiggly lines. We aren’t quite at the live streaming show level yet.” Ashlynn smiled, she like that the tech didn’t talk down to her. “Someday though?” The tech nodded, “yeah, someday.” He scooted the bed away from the wall to run the wiring behind the headboard.  “I think we’re all set. Do you want to help me test the linkages and calibrate the monitors?” Ashlynn jumped off the bed, “Heck yeah!” She swung around the door frame and was down the hall with a flash of pink jeans and brown ponytails. The tech gathered up his remaining tools and laughed again at her high energy. “I’m old and slow, I’ll be right there. Don’t touch anything ‘til I get there!”

Dr. Hu noted the time on the sleep record and looked up to watch the live stream from Ashlynn’s room. The girl’s readings indicated her brain activity was increasing but there are no outward signs of the dream state.  The EEG indicated that Ashlynn was in a strong delta wave period.  A few minutes passed as the EEG digitally recorded repetitive sleep spindles. Then, REM sleep tool over. Dr. Hu marked note of the change in the girl’s sleep stage. In her room, Ashlynn began moving, kicking her feet and jerking her hands back and forth. Dr. Hu made additional notes and watched the cycle continue. Ashlynn still appeared deeply asleep but had sat up in the bed, her hands out in front of her and her mouth moving as though she was frantically talking to someone. Dr. Hu reached over and flipped on the speakers. Whatever it was she was saying sounded muddled, perhaps not even English.  The doctor studiously made additional notes. Ashlynn’s dream stage continued, the machines recorded the signals and Dr. Hu scribbled notes. The doctor clicked a few markers on the EEG and watched as flashes of activity began lighting up in some unexpected areas of the child’s brain.  Ashlynn’s temporal lobes were exceptionally active. Suddenly, Ashlynn screamed. It was a long, high pitched, wailing scream. The only break came as the child inhaled deeply and the piercing, wailing, racking scream continued.  Sweat beaded on her skin. The only motion was her chest rising in the next inhale. Her body, up right, muscles rigid, was locked in whatever hell was being depicted as bright colored streams and spikes on the equipment. The cameras recorded Ashlynn frozen in position, screaming over and over. Bethany burst into the room and gathered her sweat drenched daughter into her arms. Ashlynn was disoriented, confused and crying inconsolably.  Bethany rocked her gently, her hands were visibly shaking but smoothing the girl’s hair. Bethany worked to calm and comfort, she sang softly to her daughter and the girl slowly settled down. 2 hours later, Bethany closed the bedroom door and leaned against the wall. Dr. Hu joined her, “Well, the interesting news is, this isn’t night terrors. We’ll need to continue the testing, but I can rule that out.” Bethany nodded then turned back to her bedroom to try to capture a few hours more of precious sleep.

Fifteen days and an unexpected two day overnight hospital admission later, Bethany and Mike Randall arrived at Dr. Hu’s office for the follow up meeting from the sleep study.  Mike had flown back from his research project in Scottsdale when Ashlynn had been admitted to the hospital. Before that, he’d been gone for months but tried to stay engaged with his family through video chats and text messages. Ashlynn’s challenges hadn’t been an easy time, career-wise, for either of the high powered couple.  Mike knew that Bethany had borne the brunt of the day to day where he had dived into his out of state research. The tension between them was obvious as was the silence. The assistant showed them to Dr. Hu’s office asked if either wanted coffee while they waited.  Both declined and settled into the comfortable chairs, and escaped into their handheld devices. Dr. Hu came in, followed by a serious, suit glad man. He settled behind the desk. “Mrs. Randall, Mr. Randall, this is officer Andrews of child protective services.” Bethany gasped and Mike simply looked confused. Dr. Hu cut them both off before either could move from stunned stuttering to parental ranting. “Let me explain, please.” Dr. Hu continued, “Anytime we feel there may be even a hint of abuse, we must report it. In this case, Ashlynn’s behavior and results from the sleep study could have indicated abuse. Mr. Andrews is an expert who works with our group.” At this point, Mr. Andrews stepped forward, he offered a business card. “This is the case number, and my contact information.” He raised his hand as the couple began what looked like would be a storm of angry words. “Mr. and Mrs. Randall, our office has concluded there is no evidence of abuse. Ashlynn was thoroughly examined and met with our counselors. We have no findings and will be closing the investigation.” Mrs. Randall gathered herself and launched into a typical ‘protective parent, disbelief, what have you done to my baby” tirade that lasted for nearly 20 minutes. Mr. Randall had stood and was supporting his spouse while pacing and angrily confronting the two professionals.  It was a good 40 minutes before things had run their course on both sides and the couple had once more settled into their seats.  Officer Andrews nodded to Dr Hu and made a practiced exit.

Dr. Hu removed two matching file folders from his desk drawer as Officer Andrews exited. “Now we can proceed with that unpleasantness out of the way.” Mr. Randall harrumphed and crossed his arms over his chest, still glaring at the doctor. Dr. Hu graciously ignored him, “As I noted with you at the house, these are not night terrors. The brain activity during these events are centered in the temporal lobes, vision and speech centers. These disturbances appear to be located in the portion of the brain that controls memories, not dreams.” Neither parent quite grasped what the doctor was saying.

Mrs. Randall broke in, “Memories? How could these be memories? Ashlynn is a happy, intelligent, well-adjusted little girl!” Mr. Randall joined in, “Ash can’t be remembering something so horrible that hasn’t happened!” Dr. Hu interrupted them, “Actually, Mr. Randall, there is significant science around the fact that she could indeed be ‘remembering’ something she has not personally experienced. Her brain is operating incorrectly and I believe we can work on that. What we need to figure out is what is going on, and that is going to take more time.” With that, Dr. Hu handed the parents the folders, with detailed treatment plans. He launched into a protracted explanation of how they intended to help Ashlynn. He outlined what he felt were the best options for their family and how helping the girl understand and control the events occurring in her ‘dreams’ would allow her to move past this traumatic time and return to a normal childhood.  His recommendations included inpatient treatment, medication, dietary controls, physical exercise, as well as a rigorous amount of counseling. The treatment timeline was 18 months. Then Dr. Hu paused and asked the couple a surprising question. “How old was Ashlynn when you traveled to Syria?”  Bethany glanced up from the treatment plan, “We’ve never taken Ashlyn out of the country, much less Syria. Why?”  Dr. Hu appear puzzled for the first time in their interactions. “Has Ashlynn been frequently in the company of anyone from that area of the world or might have family from there?” Again, Bethany and Mike were adamant that no such scenario had occurred and again questioned the doctor. Dr. Hu, made numerous notes before finally answering. “During the sleep study, Ashlynn was speaking perfect Kurmanji, a very specific dialect.”  The couple were stunned. Bethany looked hard at the doctor, “This isn’t possible. There must have been a corrupt file or previous recording that got mixed up. Ash certainly doesn’t speak Kurdish!” Dr. Hu corrected the woman, “Kurmanji. Northern Kurdish if you must.  I’ll have my technician review the files and equipment.” Dr. Hu then barreled back into the treatment plan details.

Bethany and Mike tried to keep up, made notes, asked questions and finally, overwhelmed, sat back and tried to take in the information Dr. Hu was shoveling at them. Bethany finally put up both hands, “Stop, just, just stop.” Dr. Hu sat back down from the whiteboard he’d been using to explain brainwave theory. He sat back and waited for Bethany. The woman looked at him, then at her husband, then back to the doctor. “We need a few days to work through all this.  This has been information overload. I’m not allowing any more testing or treatment until we, her father and I, have had some time to talk about this plan.” Dr. Hu smiled, “Of course, Mrs. Randall, by all means. As before, please contact my office once you are ready to proceed.” Dr. Hu had no doubt they would be calling before the month was out.

Bethany sat at the kitchen table sipping coffee and nibbling at homemade cinnamon rolls. She glanced out the front window and watched as Mike helped Ash onto the school bus and turned to dash back through the light rain toward the house. She watch as her mother, Ann, skillfully whipped up a hearty breakfast. “I’m so glad you came, mom. I hated to ask, I know you’re swamped at work, but this has all been so scary.” Bethany’s mom turned back from the stove. She was a striking woman, mid 50s, silver hair, a bit heavy set, and piercing green eyes. “Honey, you could have called me sooner. It’s an easy flight and I needed a break from the office politics.” Mike came in wiping the rain from his arms. He smiled at Ann, kissed Bethany absently on the cheek and headed for the food, “Oh, bacon! We haven’t had bacon for months!” Ann swatted his hand as he reached for the greasy treat, “Back off buddy, we’ll sit and eat like real people, not frat boys.” Mike laughed, “Fine, I’ll set the table on the patio for m’lady.” He swept into an exaggerated bow and the set to the task of gathering the implements of breakfast. Bethany just smiled into her coffee and watched the two banter over turf in the kitchen.

Once they were settled and had taken a few bites of their food, Ann wiped her mouth and looked at both Bethany and Mike. “You two look like you’ve been through a war. Start at the beginning and tell me what’s going on.”  Bethany contemplated her bacon, bit into the meat, chewed slowly and then launched into the harrowing tale of their lives for the last 7 months. An hour later, Ann was pouring a fresh round of coffee for all of them as Mike finished railing about the abuse investigation.  He was venting all the anger he’d been holding in since the meeting in Dr. Hu’s office.  He finally inhaled and Bethany took back over, handing her mom the treatment plan. “Now we have to decide what we’re going to do. This 200 page document is Dr. Hu’s recommendation.”  Ann stood up, reading though the summary pages, and wandered along the patio. “Well, I wish you’d called me when this first started.” Mike looked up from devouring the last piece of bacon, “Yeah, we should have. We could have been eating really well while all this insanity was going down, but what do you think of the treatment plan?” Ann looked at both of them, “Have you asked Ashlynn what she thinks of the treatment plan.”  Both of them stared, at her like she’d grown another head. “Mom, you can’t really think we’d try to explain all this mumbo jumbo to a 6 year old? She’s exhausted, she doesn’t understand what’s been happening; she is just a little girl!” Ann shook her head, she returned to the table. “Here’s what I think,” She leveled a hard look at her daughter and son-in-law, “You two know Ash is bright and intelligent beyond her 6 little years. I’m sure she is confused and scared because neither of you has had the parental fortitude to talk with her about what’s been happening to her.” Ann dropped the paperwork onto the table and picked up her cup. “This plan is treating her like she has a mental disorder. In patient counseling, medications, brain wave therapy! The child already told you she doesn’t want the medications. You two need to talk to her.” Ann sighed and sipped her coffee, “The two of you need to sit down and explain what’s been happening. Ashlynn isn’t the first kid to have these kinds of challenges.” Bethany and Mike were sitting in shocked silence as Ann sat back down. “I’ll help, but we have to do this tonight.”

Ashlynn helped her mom and grandma get dinner on the table. She sang a little song as she put each fork in its place. She folded the paper napkins and then filled each of the water glasses from the dispenser in the refrigerator door.  Grandma Ann brought in the pork chops and gravy. She smiled at the girl, “Are we all set, Ash?”  Ashlynn hopped up onto a chair, “Yep, everything is perfect! It’ll be a three star meal.” Ann laughed, “And just what would you know of such meals?” Ash smiled and straightened a fork, “Grandma, everybody knows about Michelin stars. It takes years to get good enough to earn even one! To earn 3 means you’re a destination. Someplace worth traveling to, just for dinner. You traveled all the way here from Chicago to have dinner with us so it has to be special. ” Ann cocked her head, and thought about how few people actually knew about Michelin star ratings. It was another strange topic for her granddaughter to seem to matter-of-factly understand. Ann tousled the girl’s ponytails, “True enough, I did travel all the way here, so you better go wash those grubby mits and let your dad know dinner is ready.” Ashlynn jumped off the chair with a whoop, “Daaaad! Dinnnnner!” Ann laughed at the sudden shouting, “I didn’t tell you to wake the dead!” Ashlynn didn’t acknowledge her words as she bounded into the other room to find her father.  The girl returned, father in tow a few minutes later. She also held a tattered, dirty, crumpled notebook in the other hand.  Mike settled at his spot and Ashlynn stood next to him, “Sign my notebook, dad! The teacher won’t hardly believe you’ve signed two whole weeks worth!”  Mike flinched slightly at her nonchalance about his absence.  He glanced up, hoping that his wife or mother-in-law hadn’t heard. Both were standing at the foot of the table with dishes of food. He sighed heavily and returned his attention to the notebook. “Hey, Ash, you’ve got another set of good marks in here!” He grabbed and hugged the girl, kissed the top of her head and smiled broadly at her, “You are doing great, honey! I am so very proud of you.”  Mike flipped through a math test, a handwriting assignment, and stopped at a drawing tucked behind the other work. “Oh what’s this?”  Ash smoothed the page. It depicted a tall man with bright peacock feathers behind him. She became very quiet, “it’s an angel I see in my dreams. At the end, after…” her voice trailed off. Mike lifted her up on his lap, “Is this part of the scary one?” Ash rolled her eyes and shook her head, “No, daddy. See all the bright colors? There like long feathers. It’s magic and super strong. I can’t draw how pretty it is, it comes and then everything is ok. Like mom.” Mike looked confused, “Like mom?”  Ash nodded, her fingers traced the outline of the drawing, “Yeah, bad things happen, then mom comes and everything’s alright.”  She hopped off his lap, suddenly uncomfortable with the conversation.  “I’m hungry! I helped make the potatoes, daddy.” Mike looked from Ash to the two women as they settled into their seats. His daughter was trying impressively hard to change the subject. Grandma Ann took point on the conversation while dishing up food for herself and Ash. “Honey, the drawing is really beautiful. We can put it up in your room after dinner.” Ash nodded and smiled slightly. “You said the bird comes at the end, do you remember the dreams?” Ash took a mouthful of potatoes and shrugged. Bethany noted the noncommittal move and patted her daughter’s hand. “It’s ok to talk about what’s going on, Ash. In fact, it’s really important to talk about this because we have to decide some things. Dr. Hu wants to try to help but we want you to help decide what will help.” Ash looked at her mom, she seemed to be measuring her mother’s words before responding. She glanced at the other two adults at the table. “So, you want me to help decide what will help with the dreams?”  Bethany nodded. “Yes, these are your dreams, we want to help because we are worried about you. We don’t want to do anything you don’t to do when it comes to figuring out how to make the bad stuff stop. Do you want to talk about things so we can make the best choice?”  Ash stared at her plate, continued eating, her brow furrowed in thought. Mike moved to say something; Ann caught his eye and her look hushed him. Bethany casually took another bite of food and waited. Ashlynn finished off her carrots then looked up at her mom. “I want to talk, but it’s hard, I don’t understand everything and some of it is foggy.” Grandma Ann spoke up, “You just take your time honey. Maybe after dinner you can draw part of it like you did with the bird.” Ashlynn interrupted her, “It’s an angel, grandma.” Ann dipped her head, “Sorry, the angel.  If you can draw what you remember it will make it easier to remember.”  Ashlynn didn’t look too convinced but she agreed. “It will be like playing Pictionary.”  Mike smiled, “Exactly, Ash! Like Pictionary.” The rest of the meal passed in ease.

Playing on the conversation from dinner, Ann pulled out crayons and paper while Bethany, Mike and Ashlynn cleared the table and cleaned the kitchen.  She waved them into the living room, “Come on, let’s get our crayon on!” The trio moaned at the bad hip reference.  Ann just grinned and waved a magenta crayon their way, “You better hurry up or I’m going to have all the really good colors.”  Ashlynn danced over singing the odd tune she’d picked up somewhere. Ann sat on the floor next to her, “Ash did you learn that song in school?” Ashlynn looked pensive, “I don’t think so. I hear it, sometimes, floating around in my head.”  Ann looked at her, “Would you mind if I recorded some of it? I could Google the rest of the words for you if you wanted.” Ashlynn took up paper and crayons, “Cool, Grandma that would be awesome.”  Ann pulled out her cell phone and fiddled with it for a minute. “Ok, Ash, sing the words you know.” Ashlynn began singing, more a loud hum than words but a melody Ann didn’t easily recognize.  It seemed mournful almost haunting. Then Ash added the few words she could remember. “De lorî lorî kurê min lorî. Bavê te kuştin dayik bi gorî.” She started humming again then stopped. Ann smiled, “that sounds sad, but very pretty.”  The woman tucked her phone away. Mike leaned into Bethany, “Sounded like made up babble to me.” Bethany nudged him hard in the ribs, “Hush!” Ashlynn was drawing and talking to Ann about music. Ann was coloring right along with her, creating a flower garden on the page. Mike slipped down and grabbed a blue and gray crayon. “I’m making an Indy car.” Ashlynn rolled her eyes at her dad again. “There’s no race car in the dream, dad, it’s a truck. An old white truck with lots of holes, red ugly spots, and no bumper.” Mike nodded, “Ok, an old rusty truck it is then.”  He used the gray crayon to start the image of the truck. Bethany joined them, “What can I draw, Ash?”  Ash looked up from her page, “A big mountain with a cave.” Bethany picked up a crayon, “With pine trees like when we went on vacation last year?” Ash shook her ponytails in dissent, “No, no trees, just lots of rocks, and super hot, no water. Like the moon!” Ash spread her arms wide with as she described what she dreamed.  Ash talked almost as much with her hands and gestures as she did with words. “There’s a long road for the truck and dirt everywhere.”  Ann laughed, “You are dream traveling to the moon, granddaughter? That’s quite a ways!” Ash snorted, “No, it just looks like the moon, there’s air and stuff. Sheesh Grandma.” Ash looked at the flowers Ann was drawing, “There’s no flowers, grandma but don’t stop, I like your picture.” Ash turned back to her drawing as the mood in the room dampened.  Mike was helping Ann clean up crayons and images while Bethany tucked Ashlynn into bed. The child was tired but seemed to be happy about being included in the discussion of the treatment plan and had opened up more as the evening wore on. Ann dropped the crayons into a Tupperware container, “Mike, was there anything in Dr. Hu’s manifesto about that little song Ash has been singing?” Mike shook his head, “Nope, I don’t think he knows about it. He did mention that he thought Ash was speaking Jumanji, or Kurdish or some bullshit during the sleep study. Bethany shut him down though and thinks it is equipment error of some sort. It’s not like that’s something Ash could just pick up on the playground.”  Ann thought about that as she stared at the angel with the peacock feathers. “I’ve got a sorority sister that works at the University of Michigan. She specializes in Middle Eastern studies. I think I’ll shoot her that audio clip and some of these drawings, see what she thinks.” Mike looked at his mother-in-law with a bit of a smile. “I bet you were quite the Sorority girl!” Ann just winked at him and laughed as she used her phone to take shots of the bright colored pages. She composed the email while watching the late news and hit send before bedding down for the night.

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