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Tuesday, February 2, 2010

on friday

Zoë woke at 1:30 am with a fever. She’d had a cold for a week, but this was the first sign of a fever. She was inconsolable, so I brought her into our bed. “Cuddle me, mama,” she said, wrapping her arms around my neck. We had a fitful night of sleep, and in the morning her temperature was 101.3.

I usually get very irritated when my kids are sick on preschool days. (This sounds horrible, I know.) But on Friday, I didn’t feel that way. I had a lot on my plate, a handful of things that needed to be checked off my to-do list, but it didn’t matter. I wanted Zoë home with me. We spent the morning cuddling, wiping her nose, and watching her favorite baby songs video (a classic—circa 1982).

She napped a little, and when she woke up she felt hot. I made some soup and was letting it cool on the stove while I held her in my arms. But all of the sudden, she sat up with a start, cried out in pain, then began to shake, her body going rigid in my arms. I knew immediately that she was having a seizure. I stood up slowly with her in my arms and walked to the phone. I dialed 911, and when I heard the woman answer, I said: “My daughter is having a seizure. She has a fever.”

Then I started to cry. Zoë was still rigid, her eyes rolled back. The receptionist got my address, my name, and connected me to a paramedic. All I could do is hold my daughter and cry. I knew that febrile seizures weren’t uncommon. My good friend’s daughter had one about a year ago. Still, there is nothing like watching your child go rigid, unresponsive, in your arms. The skin around her mouth turned purple. What if she stays like this? Her backed was arched. What if she doesn’t get better? The paramedic on the line asked whether she was breathing.

“No. Yes. She’s drooling, frothing at the mouth.”

“Let’s count her breaths. Tell me every time she breathes.”

Zoë made a sputtering sound and took a ragged breath. “Breath,” I said.

“Okay,” he said.

“Breath,” I said. And again, “Breath.”

“Good,” he said. “She’s breathing. I won’t leave you alone. I’ll stay on the line until the paramedics arrive. Is your door open?”

I looked down at Zoë. Her eyes still staring off, unfocused. I carried her onto the porch, unlocked the door. “I hear the sirens,” I said.

“Tell me when you see them.”

I looked down at Zoë, whose eyes were now closed. And then I saw the fire truck in front of our house. “I see them.”

“Okay,” he said. “I’m going to let you go.”

“Thank you. Thank you,” I said, but I’m sure I wasn’t able to convey my gratitude that this man was there with me, waiting with me, talking to me.

I have seen someone have a seizure only once. It was almost ten years ago, when D and I lived with Mimi, and I had taken her to Byerly’s, the upscale grocery store where she always shopped. I was pushing my cart along the meat aisle when I saw a man holding onto one of the frozen food containers. I walked past and glanced at him because he was standing there frozen himself, and that’s when I noticed he was jerking slightly and staring off in that dazed way. What I should have done is gone to the meat counter and told the butcher to call 911. (I didn’t have a cell phone back then so I couldn’t do it myself.) But I didn’t go talk to the butcher. I wasn’t sure the man was having a seizure. I moved on a little, and then thought, no, something wasn’t right with him. I went back and said, “Excuse me,” and of course he didn’t respond. He was standing right in front of his cart, so I moved it to the other side of the aisle so he wouldn’t fall on it if he fell. Then I turned to the meat counter to have someone call 911, and that’s when he hit the ground. He fell hard, like a felled tree. I heard it. When I turned, he was flat on the floor. The paramedics were there in a few minutes, and when the man started to come out of it, they asked him whether this was his first seizure. “Yes,” he said. I continued to hover around, feeling guilty that I hadn’t acted more quickly, that I was too worried about minding my own business to get the paramedics there sooner. It wouldn’t have made a difference, but still. I was shaken for the rest of the weekend, and I think about this man still, wonder what happened, what caused his seizure.

I know as seizures go, a febrile seizure is the best possible kind. I kept thinking this. This is the best kind. This is the best kind. And I thought about those of you whose children had and have seizure disorders. I thought of how powerless it must make you feel, every day.

The paramedics tromped into out house, dwarfing it with their huge bodies, their gigantic boots and jackets. I kept apologizing for the mess, worrying in a completely illogical way that they would think that the Little People and crushed Cheerios all over the floor reflected bad mothering and that somehow this untidiness led to my daughter’s seizure. Crazy, I know. “I usually pick up,” I said.

They waved away my worrying, crouched down, and checked Zoë, who couldn’t keep her eyes open. They told me she would be fine. They told me about their own children. They told me I did just the right thing. They were fabulous.

A neighbor popped in his head to see if I needed help, and I shook my head.

The paramedics said they could take us to the ER, but that it probably wasn’t necessary.

I thought about the ambulance. Stella would be off the bus in a half hour and there was no one there to wait for her. I also thought, shit, we can’t afford an ambulance. I hate that I thought that, and if they had said, we should take her, I would have gone, of course.

They gave Zoë some Tylenol and were on their way. I called our clinic, and the nurse said I should bring her into the ER to be checked anyway. So I called my sister to see if she could come over and spend the afternoon with Stella. Then I tracked down D, who was in a workshop. He met me in the ER and Zoë, poor Zoë, underwent a slew of tests. But they were all reassuring. She just had a virus and a fever.

When we got home later, my dad brought us take-out and my sister and her husband and son came over for dinner. Zoë wanted me, only me. She was feverish all night—next to me in bed, saying, “Cuddle me, mama.” D and I were up and down, alternating Motrin and Tylenol every three hours.

In the morning I was so tired my face hurt, but I had an interview for a grant I’d applied for, so I showered, grabbed some coffee, and tried not to sound like an idiot in the interview. Afterwards, I rushed back home to find Zoë asleep in D’s arms on the couch.

Her fever finally broke early Sunday morning. That phrase—her fever broke—always reminds me of the historical romance novels I read as a teenager (and I’ll admit into adulthood). I can see the hero pacing a long hallway in his Hessian boots as he waits for word on his young bride, who contracted a terrible fever during childbirth. Or I think of the heroine, dabbing the forehead of her lover after he was wounded in a duel, defending her honor. I assure you, I was no less relieved than my heroes and heroines when I reached over and felt Zoë’s forehead in the middle of the night and it wasn’t burning.

The fever was back Sunday afternoon, and then gone yesterday. I have my fingers crossed that it stays away, and that this is the only seizure she will ever have. That’s what I’m doing. I'm crossing my fingers.


Anonymous said...

Oh no, dear Kate, this made me cry. I'm so glad that Zoe is okay, but so sorry you had such a scare. Sending hugs and get well soon wishes. My fingers are crossed too.

Andrea said...

Oh you poor thing. One of the twins had a febrile seizure when he was one, and it was the most terrifying thing I've ever experienced (I'd somehow never noticed this possibility among the many things they warn you about in the parenting books). At the end of the seizure he was blue and limp and not breating--I was sure he was dead...followed by a late night in the ER, blood tests and lung xrays, and days of a very sick little boy. So scary...even three years later it stops my heart to think of it. Sounds like your baby girl is doing better...hope that you are beginning to recover as well!

Lisa said...

Oh Kate, I'm so sorry your sweet little Zoe (and you) had to go through that! Although Elijah had seizures for his first couple days of life, I've never seen one (I was in a different hospital, recovering). He'll always be at a higher risk for developing seizures and the mere thought of them terrify me. Just as I hope I'll never see another when it comes to Elijah, I hope you've seen Zoe's one and only seizure. I'm sending healing thoughts for your mommy heart.

Unknown said...

This gave me chills. It must've been terrifying but you handled it so well! My twins are 4 years old and while I've heard of febrile seizures, we've not experienced one and I hope we never will. I don't know if I could keep my head as well as you did. Thanks for sharing this.

Pia said...

Ugh, how awful!! My nephew did the same thing, so now with Jonathan I give him tylenol at the hint of a fever. I am a NURSE and it would still terrify me. You did exactly the right thing. Thinking of you!

Elizabeth said...

I'm so sorry, Kate, that Zoe had a seizure. Despite witnessing tens of thousands of them, I myself never get used to it. I'm glad that it was just a febrile seizure, so glad.

Love and peace to you.

Sara said...

I got anxious just reading this . . . sigh of relief Zoe is fine.

Erin said...

Oh Kate! I am in tears for you and dear little Zoe. I am so glad she is feeling better. So scary. I'm thinking of you both.

Anonymous said...

So glad Zoe is OK, and so sorry you had to go through that. You handled it so well (and wrote about it so beautifully). Were the paramedics from HCMC? They're an amazing bunch, with one of the best response records in the country. If they were, and you're feeling the need to pay that good care forward, please consider calling Pawlenty and telling him you support funding the GAMC program to preserve our fragile safety net and make sure hospitals like HCMC are still around to treat everyone who need help.)

Mary said...

Oh, Kate, I'm so sorry this happened. It sounds so scary. I'm so glad she's ok now.

The Blue Suitcase said...

What a harrowing post. How did you write it so beautifully, from very nearly inside the moment?

kate hopper said...

Thank you so much, friends--for thinking of us, for your kind words.

Bmiad, I think they WERE from HCMC, and I'm going to do just as you say. I also would love to track those guys down and thank them.

Ines said...

Oh dear Kate. My heart stopped while reading this. I am not sure I was breathing, either. My goodness! Things can happen so fast, in an instant, literally. I am so, so glad Zoe and you are better. Thank you for sharing this with us. Thank you.
PS. What happened with the grant application?

Jen Johnson said...

Kate, I'm so sorry this happened, but so glad that Zoe is okay. Collin has been sick with a cold for the past week, and I shudder to think how I would handle such a scary experience.

Andria said...

What a frightening experience for you. I'm so sorry you had to go through it.

Febrile seizures are strange because they often happen with relatively low there's no way you could have "prevented" it...not even with a scrupulously clean house and no cheerios on the floor ;). My good friend's daughter had one at Zoe's exact age, also with a low fever. This was the only seizure she has ever had (she is almost 5 now) and of course she had absolutely no ill effects from it. I hope you (and Zoe) never have to go through it again.

kate hopper said...

Thanks guys.

Andria, that's what's so scary about them. The seizure can actually be the first sign of a fever! Yikes!

Ines, I didn't get the grant. After all of that! There has been much saying of the f-word in my house. And now I don't know how I'm going to pay for the extra childcare for Stella so I can write. Cursing loudly seems to make me feel better, at least for now.

Anonymous said...

I'm a week late catching up on your blog - I am so sorry you went through this! My heart went out for Zoe and for you as a mother...I hope she is better now and that you never have to deal with such a scare again.

gillian said...

Oh my, I totally missed this! So glad your little one is OK. Polly's seizure's and stroke, all in one day, was the single most scary thing in my life. Hugs!