It was nine months ago, but I remember every moment like it happened yesterday. That day, our 21-month-old daughter had a febrile seizure due to a rapid fever spike. I’m writing about it now because I’m reminded of the approaching cold, flu and fever season.
Little Olivia woke up with a fever that morning. She didn’t have any other symptoms of a cold or flu and she was acting normal. I gave her some medicine for the fever which subsided shortly.
We went about our Monday, including school drop-offs and pick-ups. When we arrived at Jack’s school to pick him up, I noticed Olivia felt warm again. I had already calculated the medicine math and knew that I could give her another dose after we picked up Jack from school. I commented to Jack that Boo was feeling warm and we needed to get home to give her some more medicine. But we didn’t make it home for the next dose.
We were almost home, approaching the main intersection to enter our neighborhood. Tangent: It’s amazing how mothers can track a carload of kids and what they’re each doing while she drives the car to and from school, sports and such. Moms follow it all. Those hilarious conversations and innocent observations, the fighting over toys and the music demands. We can’t exactly see them in the rear view mirror, just the tops of their heads, but thanks to our super sonic ears, and that stealth mommy sense, we know exactly what they are doing at any given moment.
Well, I knew my very chatty toddler was suddenly strangely quiet. Something in me told me to turn around and look at her. And in a split-second I knew something was wrong. I stopped the car and jumped out before I even got to the four-way-stop. She was convulsing and not coherent. I took her out of her car seat, panicking, “Olivia, Olivia! Wake up!” She was unresponsive and continued convulsing. I was so scared.
I had three more kids in the car – Sophia, Jack and our carpool buddy, Liam – all watching this happen. I told them that everything would be fine and to stay in the car. Sophia started crying. Jack was holding back his fear.
The seizure lasted about a minute and a half, but it felt like an eternity, holding her little body in my arms, in the middle of the street, crying and praying. An eternity. My mind was telling myself to be calm, but I was anything but calm. I was scared for my baby’s life. I had never felt that before and it was the most terrifying feeling I’ve ever experienced.
Almost instantaneously, our neighborhood community came together to help us. Many neighborhood moms were on their way to and from their kids’ schools and the street was buzzing with after-school mom taxis. One neighbor mom appeared immediately, parked her red minivan and called 911. She was on the phone as I said, “She had a fever and I think she’s having a seizure.” I kept asking her, “What do I do? What do I do” She was my rock. Calm and collected, she delivered instructions with her phone still pressed to her ear. “Strip her clothes and her diaper,” she said. “Lay her on her side.” I found out later that she was the perfect person to be my rock in that moment – her son has had a seizure before as well.
Another neighbor mom came right up to us, embraced us and comforted me. She helped me take Olivia’s clothes off while I held her in my arms. I asked her to help my kids in the car. And another neighbor mom had already laid a blanket down on the street, in the little patch of shade beside her car, for Olivia to lay on. These women were amazing. I’ll never forget how they responded immediately with care and wisdom. I’m sure they had schedules to keep and their own kids were probably waiting at school for them, but they were there for me and my baby. The bond of motherhood is powerful.
The seizure finally ended, but Olivia was still unresponsive when the paramedics arrived. I was still crying and shaking, “Why isn’t she responding? What’s wrong?” They gave her oxygen and checked her vitals as her little body lay naked on the street. They explained that it will often take a few minutes before the body can recover from a seizure. They said they needed to take her to the hospital and asked if someone can watch my other kids.
Jack, Sophia and Liam had been ushered out of the car and sat on the curb with the neighbor. Someone had already called Liam’s Mom to explain the situation and she was there in an instant to take the kids to her house. I hugged them and told them Olivia needs to go to the hospital so the doctors can check her, but she will be OK.
Another neighbor Mom appeared and offered to drive my car to my house. And before I knew it, we were in the ambulance and Livy had started crying. I was relieved to hear her cry, but I knew she was still not coherent because she wasn’t making eye contact with me. I leaned over her, talking and singing. And praying. And crying.
That ride to the hospital took forever, but the sirens actually seemed to soothe Olivia a bit. The paramedics did a toe prick to measure her blood-sugar level. They explained that sometimes diabetes can cause a seizure. Her blood-sugar level was normal, but her temperature was 106-degrees. I called TJ and told him what had happened. I was still shaking. One of the paramedics told me how his son had a febrile seizure when he was young. Apparently, it happens to about one in 25 children.
When we arrived at the hospital, I asked if I could ride on the guerney with Olivia on my lap. They pushed us both into the pediatric emergency room with no waiting whatsoever. It was then Livy started crying for me, “Mama, Mama.” That moment was a huge relief, knowing she was coherent, making eye contact with me and crying for her mama’s comfort.
The nurses and doctor were in right away. They checked her vitals and placed monitors all over her chest. She was still crying. TJ walked in through the curtain and I was so happy to see him. Our eyes locked in the understanding that a mother can only share with the father of her children. It felt right to be together with our baby girl.
The doctor told us he thought she had a febrile seizure, but he wanted to rule out other possible factors and monitor Olivia for a few hours. Soon, Olivia calmed down and fell asleep on my chest. When the doctors and nurses left the room, I lost it. I was trying to hold it together, to be strong for Olivia and comprehend what the paramedics, nurses and doctors were telling me. But when she was sleeping peacefully and my husband was standing beside me, I exhaled. Then I cried. Tears of relief and tears of fear. Tears of worry and tears of love.
All the tests and monitoring came back normal and our little girl was back to her happy self. They eventually cleared us to take Liv home that evening. She was happy to see her big brother and sister that night, and they were thrilled to see their little sister, Boo, playing and laughing. We talked about the events of the day, how our faithful God watched over Boo, and how our amazing neighbors showed up to help us.
Olivia recovered brilliantly and hasn’t had a febrile seizure since then. Typically, children outgrow febrile seizures by the age 4 or 5, though they are more likely to have another episode once they’ve had one. Needless to say, fevers have taken on a new meaning in our household.
Talking to other parents, many have not heard of febrile seizures before. While my oldest two children have never had one, I was aware of febrile seizures through family members whom have experienced them. So when Olivia was convulsing, I was thinking that it was most likely a febrile seizure because she had a fever that day. I had some background knowledge and it was still terrifying. I think it would be even more traumatic without that basic awareness. Note: I am not a medical professional and have no intention to impose fear. Talk to your pediatrician if you want to learn more.
It took me a few days to recover from the emotions of that day. It really rocked me, but gave me a renewed gratitude for my children and their health. And more empathy for families with children facing serious health issues. I’m so thankful for all those neighbors who dropped everything to help a fellow Mom in need. It was a modern day Village experience, minivans and all. My Village people rock!
Mama Nugget: Go hug your kids and love on ’em. You’ll never regret it.